“What is a Slow”

By Keith Morris

Slow quick quick

Much has been said on these pages and others regarding the timing or the lack of it these days, in Slow fox and Quickstep a slow relates to two beats and a quick one beat (4/4).

But what does slow and quick mean in terms of relative time? When we say slow, quick, quick they are but mere words. Tea and milk, fish and chips or ham and eggs would do equally as well, as they are words which mean little as far as timing in dance is concerned.

The Cassell’s English dictionary definition of slow is: “not quick, of a small velocity, moving at a slow speed.”

The definition of quick is equally as ambiguous as far as dance is concerned: “Lively, Alive living, Pregnant with child, when movement is perceptible.” Personally I don’t feel this gives an adequate description of what is required to give each action it’s full value. Particularly the last one in quick!! So how on earth can we relate these words to our chosen sport/art? In my humble opinion we cannot.

Now I realise that we, as coaches and teachers of every level have to use some kind of verbal communication in which to put over to our pupils what is required to dance each dance “in time” with the music so what can we do?

At a high level of coaching/teaching we can count in beats and bars to explain to our students the value and quirks of each and every dance. However if we have pupils other than competitors this can prove a little difficult to say the least!

With this in mind I follow the advice given to me many years ago by my first dance teachers Stan and Irene Peverall. This was to think of a two syllable word which will spread over two beats of music, enabling the dancer to give proper value to each step.

There are many words in all languages which will fit the bill. Personally I use the phrase which I was given by Stan & Irene… easy. When pronounced ee-zee it spreads over the two beats quite ee-zily!! In other languages we have langzaam, lento, lente etc etc. This system works well in Slow Foxtrot and Quick Step, Tango we will discuss at a later date.

I have used this method with great success for many years from social dancers to competitors and it works well in the 4/4 timing of the moving dances. Tango as we are all aware has rules of its own; this is a discussion for another day!

Being aware of the amount of time required to dance the slow, how do we create the movement and swing that is expected in the archetypical Slow Foxtrot?

It’s the pressure of the standing foot into floor that creates the required impetus for movement. However it’s not sufficient to use the foot alone.

Flexing of the ankle and bending of the knee are also required. To quote Major Eric Hancock “Any fool can rise, however it takes a dancer to lower, you can only rise as far as you lower.” The Major instilled this in all of his students. The importance of this lowering to enable the dancer to give the correct value of slow on the first two beats of the bar in Foxtrot and Quick Step cannot be understated.

Any fool can rise, however it takes a dancer to lower, you can only rise as far as you lower.” —Eric Hancox

Many couples start a feather step on the man’s left foot as a preparation step, however they do not understand that this should be danced on the last two beats of the preceding bar of music. Utilising the 3-4 of the previous bar puts the dancer on the correct phrase of music. It is not unusual to see couples dancing in time as much as dancing the correct rhythm but across the music i.e. 3, 4, 1, 2, in place of 1, 2, 3, 4.

As well as this cardinal sin many times we see couples dancing quick, quick, slow in place of slow, quick, quick. This I seem to remember Steve Powell picking up on after the British Championships in May last year on this very site, along with the lack of slows in Quickstep.

This I believe is because couples, for one reason or another are misinterpreting the values given to each part of the bar of music.

If we can try to persuade couples to give a thought to counting eezy, quick, quick or some other similar means of applying this method it may help practitioners of every grade to understand the importance of using the first two beats for a slow instead of rushing through them like an express train.

This is only the tip of the ice berg and I am sure it will raise comments from far and wide and other professionals will have views on this matter.

Keith Morris

1 comment
  1. I am now retired as a dance teacher but remember my training with Major Hancock who taught me to always ask why.

    For example why do you do a heel lead ,why do you flex your knees .

    So whenever he told me to use a certain technique I asked him why and that`s when the magic happened.

    I remember putting a student through a medal exam and the examiner pulled my pupil up for not dragging her heels on toe releases at which point i was shocked as i was taught by the Major to never drag your heels as you will not give your partner a space to move forward into.

    Instead think of a toe releases as a toe flick .As soon as the toes are flicked up extend the leg and foot backwards giving a space for your partner to move freely into.

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