Wendy and I just completed an exhausting 3-day workshop upgrading our knowledge of the technique of the ballroom dances.
The class involved three six-hour days covering the Waltz, Slow Foxtrot, Quickstep, Tango and Viennese Waltz. Together with a number of other professionals, we explored a wealth of information that clarified details about individual steps, helped us identify new teaching methods that can help us communicate these steps more effectively, and gave us insights into how ballroom dancing is evolving.
Brain overload? Sure. But it was also exciting and refreshing to have these insights and discussions. The instructors leading these sessions were Jane Edgett and Barb Child, two of Canada’s most highly respected adjudicators and teachers.
I was pleased to discover that, for the most part, I had been teaching faithfully, even in terms of breaking the rules. One of the great challenges of teaching is that you cannot give all the information to all levels. New dancers simply cannot grasp such intricate information as CBM or CBMP. They’re still trying to figure out the most basic principles of movement. So, in some cases we actually have to give information that is not exactly accurate. Here’s an example: in the Waltz Hesitation, those who are first learning the step need to understand how important it is to stay down. So we, as teachers, tell the gentlemen to keep the entire edge of one foot on the ground as they drag it in. This forces them to stay down with their knees bent. If they rise, even a little, the lady will think they are closing their feet and will close her feet instead of doing a hesitation. The technical explanation of the Hesitation asks the foot to be dragged in on the “inside edge of the ball of foot” rather than the inside edge of the entire foot. Using the ball of the foot provides the right position of the knee (allowing it to bend properly) so that it can move forward in CBMP for the next step. In this sense, it’s actually incorrect to tell the gentlemen to use the entire edge of the foot. But we deliberately break the rules because it’s the only way to teach effectively.
These rule-breaking instructions happen all the time. They must! As students get more experienced, we change our instructions and give more details that become more technically accurate. During our workshops, we affirmed a number of these situations, learning that these are common techniques used by all dance teachers, including the best and most experienced.
We also learned when to break some of the rules that are common to all dances. For example, the person on the outside of a turn must always divide their turn into two parts. In the Waltz Natural Turn, the person on the outside of the turn makes a 1/4 turn and then completes another 1/8 turn while closing the feet. But in some situations, this universal rule actually doesn’t apply! We looked at Heel Pulls as an example. In this step, the movement is so slow in comparison to other turns that the turn is not in fact divided. If it was divided the person on the outside would likely not make it into the proper position.
One of the things I learned to appreciate is just how incredibly accurate the Ballroom Technique book really is, in every respect. When it says to do something “on” a step, it really does mean on the step, not at the start of the step or at the end. For example, most dancers begin CBM too early in a turn. They start their CBM as they begin the step (many instructors actually teach it this way). But the book says to apply CBM “on” the step, which means you should only do it as your weight arrives on the foot. This keeps the CBM from inhibiting the partner’s movement and keeps the center of the action in the center of the couple.
We looked in detail at a number of cases where the technique book refers to “side and slightly forward (or back)” vs “diagonally forward (or back)”. There’s a huge difference between these actions and they make a difference when dancing. Side and slightly has a small curving action to it that helps direct the center of the couple in the right direction, while diagonal motion gives the partner a very clear direction to travel. There is also “forward (or back) and slightly to the side” as well as “forward and slightly rightward” (found in some Tango steps). These all have very specific reasons for being and our sessions uncovered what those differences are. This information was enormously helpful.
We studied technical specifics of Heel Turns, Heel Pivots, Toe Pivots, Pivots, Spin Turns and other steps. We studied alignments and directions. We looked at footwork and foot position in a great many steps, gaining insight into the finer details of why the technique book gives the instructions provided. All of it designed to make us better and more accurate teachers.