By Peter Waterson
Dual Fellow I.S.T.D.
A number of years ago I attended the prestigious ISTD “At Home” held at London’s fabled Grosvenor House Hotel. This event features the coveted “Basics and Standard Variations” competition for Professionals, won, that year, by our President, Peter Billett. It also showcases the very best of British medallists competing with their teachers. Congress followed the next day and I vividly remember Bill Irvine remarking in his lecture that, judging from what he had observed from the medallists the previous day, he was convinced that the footwork of the 4th step of the chasse, as laid down in the Revised Technique, was wrong and that it should be heel and not toe. Well, we all know, or should do, that the technique is not wrong, and the 4th step is, and always will be, “toe”. However, our medallists and competitors are still making the same error, ad nauseum, and I want to try to give some guidance to our younger teachers on how to correct this.
Why do so many people use the heel instead of the toe on the 4th step of the chasse, or forward lock, in the waltz and quickstep? To my mind, this fault is caused by a lack of understanding of the Rise and Fall and timing of the figure. The Rise and Fall is described in the Technique Book as “Commence to rise at the end of 1, continue to rise on 2 and 3, up on 4, lower at the end of 4.” It is the UP ON 4 that is so often sadly lacking. It is not good enough just to tell them that they should use the toe. The dancer has to be taught to save a little rise in order to be able to push up and out from the supporting foot, onto step 4, before lowering lightly at the end of the step. The timing is either 12&3 in the Waltz or SQQS in the Quickstep. So the third and fourth steps have a half beat and whole beat respectively in the Waltz, and one beat and two beats respectively in the Quickstep. Which means that the fourth step should take twice as long to dance as the third step. This will not happen if the rise is lacking and the dancer crashes down heavily onto a heel.
Another horror frequently seen by judges and examiners, is the incorrect use of a heel lead on step six of the spin turn, and step three of the impetus turn by the ladies. It should, of course, be a toe. The reason for this fault is largely a lack of understanding of the strong late rise on the penultimate step of these figures. Whenever we see this foot fault, it is because the lady has risen too soon and produced a “manufactured” brushing action because her coach has told her that she should brush her feet over the last two steps of the turn. If the correct rise is taught and understood , then the brush will occur quite naturally and we will have our correct toe lead on the final step. A beautifully executed natural brushing action versus the manufactured variety is very obvious to any competent adjudicator.
If we look at the two aforementioned faults, then we must conclude that the big bogey is lack of strength in the legs and feet. Leg strength is of paramount importance if one is to be a successful competitor. I am going to pass on to you a tip given to me, long ago, by one of the greatest English coaches of all time, viz. Henry Jacques. “Stand erect with the body muscles braced slightly upward, but not inward. Holding the body correctly, rise on to the toes of both feet. Slowly lower the heels to the floor, but retain the muscular tension that was felt when on the toes. This tension should remain the same in both legs, weight bearing or not and irrespective of whether the knees are straight or bent. This applies in all dances”.
Happy dancing to you all, and may your leg muscles scream in protest.