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Glossary of dance figures
Dance figures are groups of steps which have a name, and are described in technical dance manuals. Dance steps are the individual movements in a dance. A step is usually a change of weight from one leg to the other. Dance patterns and dance movements are informal terms.
The basic movement (also called the basic figure or the basic step) is the most basic movement of a dance. The music and the basic figures form the character of a dance. It is enough to do the basic steps in time with the music to dance socially.
However, most social dancers can do a few more figures: one does need to turn corners. So, for example, in the waltz a social dancer would need as a minimum: Closed change figures going forward and backward; natural turn to the right; reverse turn to the left. Next would come the whisk and chassé (see below).
Chassé (or chasse: the last 'e' is pronounced) is a dance figure with three steps. It is a smooth, flowing figure, with the feet moving sideways to the body in a step-together-step pattern. Originally used in the quickstep and the English Waltz (International waltz).
Closed change is a basic figure in the Waltz. The man steps forward on either foot whilst the lady steps backward on the opposing foot. They will then step to the side on the other foot, and finish the figure by closing the first foot beside the second. Each step takes up a full beat of the music.
Contra body movement position
Contra body movement position or CBMP is when the body is held at a different angle to the feet. It applies to almost every step taken outside partner, so it occurs often in tango and in all promenade figures.
Dosado is a circular movement where two people, who are initially facing each other, walk around each other without or almost without turning. They face in the same direction all the time they are moving. They do not turn to face each other.
The feather step is a basic figure in the Foxtrot. The man makes three steps forward, with the third one (right foot) done outside the lady. Second and third steps taken with left shoulder leading.
The frame is a fundamental concept in ballroom dancing. The standard hold for partners differs according to the type of dance. In ballroom it is of critical importance, since it affects the ability of the two people to move as one.
In a close hold in ballroom the partners are slightly offset, with the lady (or 'follower') slightly to the right side of the man. Therefore their feet are not exactly opposite each other. The lady's shape in advanced dancers is as follows. With her hips firmly against the man, the top half of her body is slightly back and to the left.
In the tango the lady is further to the right of the man, to half the width of the body. The dance is done with a right side lead by the man, and with no rise of the feet. Placing of the feet is delayed to the last possible moment, creating a movement in character with the music.
The other aspect of the frame is the arms. The position of the man's arms should not vary in the course of a dance in ballroom (in relation to his shoulders). Advanced dancers hold the frame wider and higher than social dancers.
In latin dances the partners are said to be in closed hold if they have their hands on each other, if not they are in semi-open or open positions. Most social latin dance is done in closed hold; most competition dancing is done in open position.
The heel turn is a ballroom dance move. The heel of the support foot is turned while the other foot is held close and parallel to the support one. At the end of the turn the weight is transferred from one foot to another. A different version of this is the heel pull, in which the feet are kept apart.
A kick is a movement of the foot and the lower part of the leg. It may vary from a light flick to a full kick of the knee.
A lock step is an action where the moving foot swings behind the standing foot rather than closing next to it. It is an elementary figure in the quickstep, and is now danced in all the ballroom dances.
Going forward, the right foot ends up to the left of the left foot and somewhat behind it. Going backwards, the left foot ends up to the right of the right foot and slightly in front of it. Dancing this figure, the body is held diagonally to the direction of movement. This is an outside partner figure taken in contra-body movement position (CBMP).
In latin dances other versions of the lock step are done.
Natural and reverse turns
A natural turn is a turn in which the dance couple rotates to the right (clockwise). A reverse turn is when the couple rotates to the left (anti-clockwise).
Open turn or figure
A ballroom dance figure in which the moving foot passes the supporting foot, rather than closes to it.
Outside partner steps
An outside partner step is a step taken with the partner beside the moving foot. During this step the feet tracks of both partners do not overlap.
Promenade position (PP) is when the couple is positioned for their inside feet (man's left foot, lady's right foot) to move across to the man's left. It occurs in the elementary waltz figure of whisk and chassé. In dancing this figure correctly, the bodies form a thin v-shape. As they move into the chassé, their feet will point more towards the direction of movement. This effect, rarely achieved by elementary dancers, is caused by the contra body movement position (CBMP).
About half the tango figures are danced in PP.
The walk is probably the most basic dance step. It is used in almost every dance. Walks roughly correspond to normal walking steps, but are a bit different depending on the basic technique of the dance. For example, with walks in Latin dance, the ball of the foot touches the floor first, rather than the heel. In basic latin dances, the ball of the feet should never leave the floor. With few exceptions, heel leads are not used.
- Howard, Guy Technique of ballroom dancing. International Dance Teachers' Association (IDTA).
- Laird, Walter 2003. The Laird Technique of Latin Dancing. International Dance Publications Ltd.
- Moore, Alex 1986. Ballroom dancing. 9th edition, Adam & Charles Black, London. Definitions of terms, p30.