What’s in a feather step? By Keith Morris

Feather Your Nest

An easy question to answer one would think. The technique books tell us

  • 1. right foot forward in CBM
  • 2. left foot forward left shoulder leading preparing to step outside partner
  • 3. right foot forward in CBMP OP
  • Pretty straight forward really, until you start to analyse the mechanics of each individual step and what a forward step means.

    When does a forward step become a diagonal step?

    When is a forward step not a forward step and becomes a diagonal step? And what is the result of a shoulder lead?
    First we must understand that a feather step originally curved gently to the right, forming the shape of a feather, hence its name. This was clearly explained in these pages recently. These days we start and finish diagonal to the centre and we have done for many years now.

    Most advanced practitioners will start with a walk on the left foot in CBM, before taking the first step proper. Why? To enable an easier lowering action, swing and rotation of the upper body on the first step proper. Thus, also making the CBM action on the first two beat beats of the bar easier to produce. I have stressed the first two beats because how often these days do we see quick quick slow danced in place of slow quick quick? A point which has been bemoaned frequently on these pages and other notable publications.

    You can’t do that!!!

    The action of pushing from our left foot in CBM onto the right foot enables us to then “flight” our body through by releasing the heel as the feet are parallel (end beat two) before taking the left foot diagonally forward. Already I can the screams “you can’t do that.”

    Let me explain. As step two has a strong shoulder lead, by the rotation of the upper body and hip the moving of the left foot in a straight line from the starting position to the finishing position, this gives the feeling of the left leg / foot moving in a diagonal line from it’s starting position to its finishing position. This should eradicate the need to step sideways on the second step and stop the man’s left hip kicking out which is an evident fault in many grades both medallist and competitor!

    Sway on the second and third step

    Is there sway on the second and third step? Yes of course there is. How is this created? How often do we see the man’s right and ladies left side collapse in an attempt to create a shape? Over the years I have come to believe that it is the stretching of the opposite side of the body and the swing from the compressing of the right leg to the straightening of the left leg that helps create the rise and sway. To do this the dancer must use the standing foot to its full effect.


    We know the foot work is heel toe, when is the heel released? As the feet are level, this should be the end of the second beat thus rolling through the right foot from heel to toe. At the same time the man’s left and ladies right side starts to move from CBM to a shoulder lead. It is at this point the lady turns the right toe and thigh out extending backwards from the hip. Again taking a straight line from the starting position to the finishing position, giving the feeling of having stepped diagonally. This turning out of the toe and hip opens the “door” for the man to step outside the lady in CBMP.

    When in this CBMP position the illusion of the man’s head following the line of the lady is often observed. From the starting position the man’s head shouldn’t move, rather the body rotates under the man’s head. To enable him to do this he should pick a spot on the opposite side of the room and not take his eyes of it. This gives the impression of a stronger head line and a “thinner” line across the man’s back as the dancer is now moving from shoulder to shoulder and not square to the direction of movement. This head action also applies to the lady. This technique is also helpful in open turns which will be the subject of my next article.

    At what point do we lower?

    The answer is at the end of the fourth beat, at which point the feet should be parallel. The heel however only touches the floor and the standing leg is bent at the knee and the ankle is flexed. This gives the power to drive off the last quick into the slow and to start the process of CBM on the next step. And then the swing into the next group continues.

    Brigitt Mayer-Karakis is the author of the award winning book "Ballroom Icons", and chief archivist for the WDC Dance History project.
    1 comment on this postSubmit yours
    1. Very good observations, very good descriptions and conclusions. And this at an age of barely twenty …

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