By Peter Waterson
Dual Fellow I.S.T.D.
Why do so many medalists and lower echelon competitive dancers have difficulty with the timing in Slow Foxtrot? In basic Waltz or Quickstep, we generally have a closing of the feet every three or four steps, which can act as a recovery break should the timing start to falter. In Foxtrot the feet are continuously passing, which has a lot to do with the problem. Take, for example, the simple Feather Step. The student is taught to swing, or thrust, on the slow count, which causes him to speed up the following two quicks, invariably short stepping the second quick and, with no recovery foot closing factor, voilà! he is out of control and out of time.
How do we fix this? Instead of counting slow, quick, quick, I have my students count “swing and” on step one, and “long, long” on steps two and three. I don’t want them to think “quick.” Adding the word “and” to the swing count on step one, suggests a delay in placing the second step into position. I elongate the sound lo——ong, on step three, to ensure an adequate length of step. Then I have them dance continuous Feather and Three Steps around the room, counting “swing and, long, lo—–ong.” On a six quick rhythm figure, such as the Weave, I have the student count the 6th quick as a slow, to negate the speed built up on the preceding five quicks. Have them use the alternative footwork of T.H. on step 3 (Basic Weave), or step 4 (Natural Weave or Weave from Promenade). This will help to control the speed, and will result in a more flowing figure.
All World Class ballroom champions use a form of advanced timing, varying with the individual couple, sometimes called “Rubato Timing”; “a fluctuation of the dancer’s speed within a musical phrase, against a rhythmically steady accompaniment,” (from the Italian, literally meaning, “robbed.”) The finest interpretation of this timing ever seen by this writer, was the late Jack McGregor, dancing with his wife, Bemil, a retired ISTD and USISTD examiner.
Of course there are many more complex issues relating to Foxtrot timing than those which I have dealt with here, but if I have passed on just one idea to help you and your students, then I am happy.