Monday, November 30, 2009

Lesson on Waltz and Foxtrot

Heel Turns
Do not lean into turns which throws off the balance of the partnership. Basically, it will knock the lady over. Secondly, soften legs, and roll across the feet. To review, using the closed impetus as an example,
  1. Man: step straight back with left foot. 
  2. Man: draw right foot back even with LF
  3. Man: turn on left heel, with weight distributed so that the ball of the foot still brushes the ground, a half turn.
  4. As Man rises on his right toe, Man corkscrew up, for up to another 3/8, before stepping back on his left foot, for a total of up to 7/8 of a turn
On the heel pull, Man needs to step the turn on 3 after 1/4 of a turn, and rolling onto the inside edge of the ball of the left foot, push off onto the right foot.

Foxtrot versus Waltz
A difference between waltz and foxtrot. In foxtrot, we only drive on the first step, and swing the leg on the second step. In waltz, we drive on the first and second step, and the swing is what brings our feet together to settle at the end of the third step. When practicing the difference in a waltz natural turn versus foxtrot, in the waltz, after the first step, Man puts his left foot forward on the ground, without weight, pointing it, and then pushes off the right foot. In foxtrot, after the first step, Man turns his body, bringing his left foot under me, before then swinging the left foot back. This is part of the difference between leading the lady to pass her feet or do a heel turn, respectively.

The mechanics of partnership and the axis of rotation on turns. There are three possible axes Man could be rotating around when he is on the outside of a turn. These are the lady's sternum, her outside shoulder (outside of the turn) and her elbow. The first two apply, respectively, to foxtrot natural turn, and a waltz natural turn, for example. The elbow would apply for turning into promenade position, for example. Paying attention to having the right axis of rotation for our turns. When Man is on the outside of the turn, he does not turn around his center, his body should swing like a door.

An exercise to practice: move from foot to foot, side to side, and forward and back, rolling across the foot, inside edge to flat, flat to inside edge, heel to toe, and toe to heel. Within this, when you bring your feet together, practice lowering the heels with different timings. Use this exercise to warm up and get a feel for using the whole foot on the floor.

Sway is a consequence of movement, it is not done for its own sake. It would be technically correct to dance with little or no sway at all, there is a school of thought that promotes this, but it would be most suited for very tall couples that could still travel effectively down the floor with, what is for them, small steps. But movement is required to be noticed by the judges in a competition, so for most couples they will be taking big enough steps to require sway.

Our coach's philosophy is that the lady's elbows are the determinant of proper frame. The man's role is more practical, and the point is to display the lady, so the man's frame should be such to allow the lady's elbows to be even with the shoulders. As a point of reference, when I practice by myself, I should hold my right arm so that if I close my right hand to me, it would come to the center of my chest for the swing dances, and to my sternum for tango. Practice holding one of those hourglass shaped carwash sponges between right hand and chest to simulate having a lady there and keeping my right side frame in the right place.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lesson on Cha Cha

Two key points of technique to work on: locks and spacing.
Most common problem is taking too big steps, in general, but specifically in locks. Backward locks are simpler. The legs remain straight at all times. On forward locks, footwork is ball-flat, ball, ball-flat. On 4, the front foot steps, pointing toe, and landing on a straight leg. Trailing foot crosses behind front foot on &, with feet turned out on ball, and knee bent. On 1, the trailing leg pops straight, lifting the trailing hip, and it is this motion that provides the impetus for the front leg to move forward, a little bit. When changing from left to right and right to left, as in the triple cha chas, a turning of the ribs should be used to effect the change. Do not swing the trailing leg around in a big arc, which is not very attractive.
How far apart the man and woman can and should get: The anchor of the partnership in open position is the hand hold, and so the man and woman should not step further away from the hands than would allows for upright body posture, waist high hands, with bent elbows. A critical element of making this work is small steps. The previous point talks about how small the steps are for locks, but small steps are the rule in general. This goes back to a previous post on hand hold in a private lesson, where the instructor recommended a firm grip in open hand hold. This is the only way the man can effectively communicate how much travel is appropriate. It seems easy for the lady to travel too far without this hold in getting into, for example, the fan position.

Lesson on Waltz

Waltz technique, frame, and heel turns.
Each partner is responsible for the frame's topline on their left side. I had always heard before that the man needs to keep his right elbow high enough to make topline look right. The man's left arm and the lady's left arm should make a straight horizontal line across the top. The man's right arm cannot participate in that line, it needs to go down a bit so that the man can place his hand on the lady's back. The instructor stated that the lady keeps her own elbow high enough to make the line, and the man lifts his right elbow as necessary and appropriate to provide the points of contact for the lead. He also talked about the motion of the head. When the lady moves between promenade and closed position, her head should "go over the moon", i.e., the nose describes an upward arc, to prevent the chin from going down. To a lesser extent, this applies to the man as well, the main point being that the chin should stay up.
Heel turns
First, we talked about leading the lady into a heel turn, in the context of a double reverse spin. This pattern calls for a rise at the end of the first step. In particular, the instructor emphasized that the man should rise and wait until the lady's feet come together before moving into the next step. When the man is executing a heel turn, as he draws his trailing foot in, both legs should straighten, providing the rise for this step.The rise is also late in the step, as a result, as too early a rise will prevent the lady from getting past the man with her step.
The instructor emphasized that the settling on step 3 should occur at the end of the step, and should smoothly go into the next step. He demonstrated by lowering right on 3, which looked sort of like just plopping down on the step. The contrast was changing the count to 3&, where he would be up on 3, and not lower until the &.

Lesson in Samba

The most challenging aspect of samba for the beginner is the fact that the knees and the feet don't move at the same time.

Exercise with the volta, starting with left foot in front:
  • &--Rise on the left foot, straightening the leg, rising on the ball, lifting the right foot in the air to make sure weight is on the left foot.
  • a --Right foot to side
  • 1--Front foot crosses in front of the left.
A very common mistake would be to use the free leg to drive the motion, rather than the leg with weight. Hips should absorb the samba bounce, so the head remains level. It's important to first get the footwork right, or there will be nothing for the hips to absorb.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lesson on Cha Cha

Cha Cha technique points:
  • Hand hold--In open positions, man should hold the lady's hand with thumb on the back of her hand, the first two fingers on the palm of her hand, with just tight enough a grip to clearly lead and communicate my position. Our instructor says that while little emphasis is given to the hand-hold in most instruction, he finds that if there is any uncertainty about hand holds, including how they change during a figure, his figures will not work right. It is incorrect to hold the hand as if it were holding a cup, the lady's fingers down inside the cup. This is not adequate for anything beyond a basic.
  • Closed position--Fingers of man's left hand closed around lady's right hand. We try to create a large volume between us, slightly pushing away from each other. 
  • Footwork--Heel has to be on the ground on the beat on 1, 2, and 3, but no heel leads. Steps should be small. Remember to step straight back, and not turn, when leading an underarm turn.
  • Lead and follow--Man needs to lead where he wants lady to step. In open positions, he should try to keep his hand at the lady's waist level if possible. Hold the hand too high, and he will tend to tip her over at the top, rather than lead her feet to move.
  • Sharpness in movement.--Torquing the hips. The hips should never be flat, except between movements. It is the hip rotation driving the steps, and in the settling action on the 2, that will lend sharpness to the movements.
  • Natural Top--This happens in a closed position, shoulders square to each other, no hip action, the goal is to show off the amount of rotation. The man crosses behind, the lady has her feet pointing left relative to the shoulders, walking around the rim of the circle. The man and the lady have different footwork to avoid conflict in the feet.
  • Hockey Stick--The hand goes up on 1, but remains to the right side of the lady. On 3, the hand is brought across the lady's face, causing her to turn 1/8. On the & after 3, the lady is turned a half-turn. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lesson on Foxtrot

A Foxtrot practice routine:
  1. Preparation step, facing DC
  2. Feather Step  (SQQS)  
  3. Reverse Turn  (SQQ SQQS)  
  4. Three Step  (QQS)  
  5. Natural Turn  (SQQ SSS)  
  6. Repeat
The way we maintain connection is that our bodies never stop moving, at most they change speed and direction. If I carry through smoothly without stopping my body, it is easier for my partner to stay with me. From the followers side, the followers body should be moving out beyond her feet before she steps forward on her heel turns.

Regarding Foxtrot, waltz, and American versus International Styles: In International style foxtrot, the feet always pass each other, at least at the newcomer and bronze level, whereas waltz is characterized by the feet coming together and the weight settling. Because of that, foxtrot is characterized by a metronomic swing, and waltz by a pendulum swing. In other words, waltz has sway, while foxtrot emphasizes more leg swing. Contrasting American and International, our coach characterized American Slow Foxtrot as American Slow Waltz with Foxtrot timing. She also talked about a fundamental difference being that American Foxtrot allows for open holds. This came up in the context of Wrong Side Outside Partner Position, where my left foot is to the right of the lady's left foot. In American Foxtrot, in two-hand hold, it is possible to go directly from Outside Partner Position to Wrong Side Outside Partner Position. In closed hold, some intermediate positions are required.

The three step was described as feeling like tango in the first two steps. The footwork the coach gave me on the three step is H, HT, TH. This is different from the official syllabus, which says HT, TH, H. We stay flat through the beginning of the second step. The reason for this is that we need a right side lead to bring the lady back in line after a feather finish, which in turn prevents the leg swing that would naturally result in a rise. As we come out of that second step, with CBM for the third step. This understanding will probably have to evolve a bit. But needing to stay flat to bring the lady in line seems to make sense. My instructor says she hasn't yet gotten a satisfactory explanation from her coaches, but will keep asking.

Natural turn: the heel turn and the heel pull - just like on the heel turn, Man needs to turn on his left heel, and then step side with his right foot and settle weight on that foot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ballet Blog

Swan Lake Samba Girl is a blog heavily focused on Ballet, although she does occasionally write about other things.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Newcomer lesson on Cha cha and Waltz

Cha  cha
  • On 'cha cha cha', stay on toes for first two cha's, leg doesn't straighten until last cha.
  • Afro-cuban dances break on two so that the hip action is emphasized on one.
  • On steps that break back, always point the front toe.
  • On basic in place, try to open as big a gap as possible between the front knee and the back leg, while keeping feet turned out. In order to do this, it will be necessary to extend with the hips, enhancing the latin action.
  • On each pattern, first step is driving step, third step is collection
  • Sway is used on second step to step much longer than one could stepping with flat hips. It is also used to slow down sideways momentum and to bring feet together.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More on Samba Technique

  • For voltas to the right, left foot steps in front of right. Feet are turned out, right knee touches back of left knee. Hips face 1/8 to right.
  • & - start with leg rise to begin the the next step, hips tilt back (arching the back), hips start to rotate flat
  • 'a'- continue with foot rise, stepping on ball of right foot, hips are flat
  • 1- left foot closes to right, at the last second, hips tilt foward to allow left foot to cross in front of right, hips rotate right
  • 1- step forward with left foot, turn out right foot, hips rotate right, ribs and shoulders move less, to emphasize hip rotation
  • 'a'- step forward with right foot, swinging leg in same direction of motion, place partial weight on foot
  • step forward with left foot, turning left 90 degrees
  • arms- on criss-cross boto-fogos, when Man is to right of lady, right arm extends straight out, when Man is to left of lady, extend right arm straight up