Slow Foxtrot is one of the most beautiful dances in the world. When it’s danced well, that is. Danced poorly, it can be confusing and uncomfortable to watch, leaving you wondering what dance is being performed. Sadly I’ve seen times when it even resembles the Quickstep because of the way couples are speeding around the room with their body weight constantly over the feet.
The beauty of Slow Foxtrot is in the long, slow horizontal movement with very gradual, minimal rise that extends the smooth linear action of the dance. The bodies look as if they are in continuous body flight like ice skaters, with the feet collecting and sending past one another.
The Slow Foxtrot is called that specifically because of its dreamy, slow character. So how should one move to emphasize those beautiful slows?
In Slow Foxtrot, each typical passing step actually begins when the feet are at the furthest distance apart with the pressure on the heel of the front foot (the toe is up) and the pressure on the toe of the back foot (the heel is up). The step ends at the opposite end of the swing. A “slow” is 2 beats in the music. Thus, when the step is a “slow” you have two beats to accomplish that full extension of movement. The heel of the one leg does not lower until the other foot passes by and the toe of the other foot doesn’t lower until it passes. This rolling action is a key to the long steps you see from the best dancers, but when you think about it this isn’t all that different from how we normally walk.
Far too many times I see dancers ending the step with their body weight directly over the foot, which is incorrect. This causes them to take a small step, creates upper body momentum that leaves them falling into the next step and causes the back foot of the forward-stepping partner and the front foot of the back-stepping partner to get “stuck” in place where it can’t move into the next step properly. Steps like this get faster and faster as the dance progresses, leading to the Quickstep-like timing we often see.
The pressure of the standing foot into the floor is where the required power for proper movement comes from. This pressure creates a low center of gravity and provides impetus for body flight while also supplying a braking type of action that automatically slows down the movement without having to actually move slowly. The power is created in the Slow and then the movement effectively coasts on the Quicks. But without the initial lowering action you will never achieve a slow enough “slow” in Slow Foxtrot.
One of the most common problems I see happens on the last step of the Feather Step when it overlaps the first step of a Reverse Turn. Far too often the man is so busy thinking of his upcoming turn and rise that he makes that “slow” a full beat short of the proper timing, arriving over the foot much too soon and shortening the step. This limits the lady’s ability to do her heel turn and throws off his timing in a way that is usually never recovered for the rest of the dance.
Ladies make the same mistake, because they are thinking about the Heel Turn and shorten that first back step, hoping that doing so will make their Heel Turn better. The opposite actually happens and their Heel Turn is compromised. Pay attention to this in your dancing. Make sure that the last step of the Feather is truly a slow as the lady moves from outside partner position back into normal closed position. Use both beats as you collect the lady, extend the left leg forward, lower and build the power before your turn.
We find the same issues at the end of the Feather Finish and in the Feather Finish action at the end of the Weave. Far too many times the slow is shortened and the result is a loss of the smoothness that characterizes the true beauty of Slow Foxtrot.
If the person moving back places the ball of the foot on the floor too early they end the movement at that point, so the toe should slide back as far as possible before allowing the ball of the foot to take over. This is especially true for the lady, because when she places the ball of the foot on the ground before the man has extended to the limit of his planned step she effectively places a stake in the ground which causes the partnership to “bump” together.
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Another common area of difficulty is the slow at the end of the Reverse Turn leading into the Feather Finish. Too many men shorten that step as well, simply putting the ball of the foot on the ground and thinking too much about the rest of the Feather Finish before the lady is able to move into place prior to her own swing around the man. Use the full slow count as you slide that right leg way back and lower. Allow the hip to collect your energy as you collect the lady before you swing to the left to continue your Feather Finish.
It’s not enough to use the foot alone to achieve the slow action. You must flex the ankle and bend the knee at the correct time to apply pressure into the floor. The forward leg bends as it passes the other foot then straightens as it extends to its limit. The back leg will be slightly flexed even at its limit. If the back leg is too straight it loses the ability to lower into the floor properly to create power for the next movement.
Major Eric Hancock, a famous ballroom teacher, used to say, “Any fool can rise, however it takes a dancer to lower. You can only rise as far as you lower.”
“Any fool can rise, however it takes a dancer to lower. You can only rise as far as you lower.” —Major Eric Hancock
A great exercise
I recommend that couples practice just Feather Step and Three Step on a regular basis, walking all around the floor in a continual sequence to perfect the rolling action of the feet and the power of lowering while extending the foot. You can reverse this to practice the Reverse Wave which is the identical step combination in the opposite direction. The person moving back should be aware of creating space for their partner and extending the toe. The person moving forward should be aware of filling that space with lowering while moving the foot forward as far as possible ahead of the body’s arrival.
Video of Slow Foxtrot movement
I came across this beautiful example of WDSF Professional Champions Emanuel Valeri & Tania Kehlet perform a very unusual Slow Foxtrot combination with an extended Feather step and timing. What’s especially valuable in this video is the slow motion segment where you can see the perfect rolling of the feet and the lady’s heel turn in great detail. Take a look. Study the wonderful footwork and the leg action. Then try that in your own dancing and see how your Slow Foxtrot improves.