To spin or not to spin

By Keith Morris.

I have found over the years one of the most difficult steps to dance and teach is the humble spin turn. Or to be more accurate a pivot turn or pivoting action. For ease of musicality I have chosen the 3/4 timing of the English Waltz to help describe my observations of this step.

The fourth step of this commonly used figure is for me, greatly misunderstood. Every dancer from bronze medallist to seasoned competitor performs this figure to a greater or lesser degree of competence.

We have a number of actions to consider when performing this popular step. Body flight, weight distribution, foot work, rotation and direction.

First of all we have to decide how we start to move. Is there any such thing as a backwards step? I firmly believe that in Standard dancing there is never a backwards step! I realise this may raise an eyebrow or two, so let’s look at the mechanics and consequences of (stepping backwards) that have brought me to this momentous decision.

If we get into the mindset of stepping backwards whatever the step or dance then the body, or shoulder weight takes over and  the movement becomes uncontrollable resulting in the heel lowering to the floor too early, and we end up unable to rotate efficiently. Therefore I only ever consider placing my foot behind me by extending the left leg backwards from the hip, leg and foot, at the same time bending the supporting (right) knee. This leaves the weight in a forwards position as described in most technique books.

As we place the foot behind us the toe is turned in slightly. At the same time the right shoulder is rotated slightly towards the left foot (CBMP). Now in this position we can quite happily change the direction of our movement. It’s the action of CBMP which starts the transition from backing line of dance to facing line of dance. A change of alignment or directional movement.

You will no doubt notice at no point have I referred to turn. This because I prefer to think of changing the direction in which we move rather than turning, the reason being I feel that when we try to turn we usually twist the body off centre. This will inevitably result in loss of contact with our partner and broken body lines.

It’s the placing of the moving leg / foot behind and joined with the action of the opposite shoulder / side of body moving in the same direction that starts the rotation of the upper body to enable us to change the direction of movement.

In essence by placing the foot behind us and not stepping back we should retain the weight in a forward position.

Most authors of the written word of dance agree that the foot work of the left foot is :-toe, heel, toe on this the fourth beat. The first three beats being 1–3 of a natural turn.

Now the question needs to be asked at what point is the heel lowered and subsequently released ?

If the weight is dropped back the heel lowers at the start of the 4th beat of music. The consequence of this is that the foot is flat on the floor thus affecting balance and movement. Also it will reduce any efficient rotation on the standing foot.

If the weight is maintained in a forwards position then the heel will only touch the floor at the end of the 4th beat of music as the dancer is moving off thus acting as a spring board to help the forward progression of the body.

On the 5th step we have a strong forward action on the heel continuing through to the toe creating a soft but strong rising action through the foot and leg.  The more advanced exponents will, at this point have a slight right shoulder lead created by the transition from CBMP. This will result in a hovering action allowing his partner to extend upwards and outwards (not backwards) but that’s another story. The “extra” time being taken from the 6th step, is merely a collection of the weight onto the left foot / leg being placed behind and slightly to the side, then a softening through the knee and ankle occurs to produce a controlled lowering.

From the beginning of the 4th step to the start of the 6th the distance between the feet is set like a compass or calliper and should not change throughout the execution of all three steps.

Keith Morris, October 15 2011

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