Understanding Heel Turns

By Barry Gasson

 At all levels of Ballroom Dancing I am constantly dismayed by the standard of Heel Turns that I see.  I do appreciate that the man must know how to lead a Heel Turn and understand the mechanics of how to close the lady’s feet, but it does appear that most Heel Turns that I observe are the result of the Lady knowing it is going to happen as part of her routine, rather than understanding the special techniques required to enable the Heel Turn to be performed correctly, particularly when dancing Freestyle.

Ladies, there are about ten things you have to know to be able to competently dance a Heel Turn.

Let us firstly take a reverse Heel Turn, starting right foot back.

  1. As the lady compresses her supporting left knee, her right leg will extend back, from the hip area, with ankle stretch, so that the right toe is lightly touching the floor and the whole of the sole of her right foot is visible from behind.
  2. Her direction of travel will not be backwards, it will be more diagonally backwards. If she travels backwards the man will knock her over. She, as the person going backwards, will deviate direction, according to the lead transmitted from her Partner.
  3. The lady must not turn to the left, or she will block the man with her right side. I always teach a Lady to think of taking her right side back as she progresses backwards. There are two logical reasons for this:
  • She does not know how much turn to make, if any,
  • The man will transmit the exact amount of energy required to close her feet and turn her to his required direction.
  1. The lady must not close her feet!  She must only half close her feet.  That is why Ladies are always complaining that the man pushes her off her Heel Turn. For the lady to step back and close her feet requires a measurable amount of energy, likewise for the man: to dance a Lady’s foot closure requires energy. His energy plus hers is too much and he pushes her closed feet apart!  The answer to this one is quite simple: Ladies! Don’t turn!  Half close your feet, and enjoy – let him complete the movement!
  2. Although the turn is commenced on the ball of the right foot, the major part of the turn is performed on the heel of the right foot.
  3. The turn must be completed before the feet close. This requires the Lady to control the speed of her closing leg. This is accomplished by using a pulling action, a feeling of pulling the left foot from the left shoulder, not an independent leg action. Think of using your shoulders to pull your feet together – or half together, remembering that the Man will finish the movement.
  4. It is only after the feet have closed, that the weight is transferred to the left foot.
  5. In a Foxtrot Reverse Turn, the weight transference occurs (sorry, should occur) on the 2nd half of the third beat, that is the 2nd half of the first quick. Most ladies change feet much, much earlier than this.
  6. The lady must move through the left knee to move hips and body forward before moving the right foot forward. Most ladies push upwards here instead of moving forward.

10. Yes, the Technique Book does say “Up on 3”.   The word “Üp” actually means along, it is not a verb, the Lady has already risen, at this point I need her to go along.

11. The footwork is   1. Toe-heel. 2. Heel-toe.  3. Toe-heel

12. I always teach a Lady to try to take the 3rd step of the Heel Turn down the Line Of Dance. If the following movement has a different alignment, I tell her that it is not of her concern (or, none of her intereference), I will determine where we are going!

 So, I have very little patience with the Ladies who say to me “Oh, but I just follow, I don’t have to know all that!” – yeah right!

The Technical requirements of the Man’s part of the Open Turn.

All of the above are absolutely important for the Lady to know, understand and practice by herself. But none of it will work unless the man understands and performs the technical requirements of the Open Turn where a Lady dances a Heel Turn. So, how does the Man lead a Heel Turn?  It sometimes appears to me that some men use ventriloquism! Without moving their lips, they say “HEEL TURN!” But having given the order, the man’s action does not match his instruction.

When the Man dances his left foot heel lead, the common fault is that he then moves through a compressing left knee, in order to move his body weight forward.  Perfect for a Waltz or Quickstep, because that knee compression is designed to open her feet and legs and move progressively. But we want her to close her feet, not open them!  The rise in Foxtrot is understood to be an early rise so that the Dancer can move forward with the desire to eventually pass his feet, and not close them, as in a waltz. Therefore there must not be a continuation of rise.  However, when leading a Lady to dance a Heel Turn, he must exert a physical change of direction, upwards, in order to close her feet. This abruptness of rise influence is non-progressive, because a foot closure (Heel Turn) is non-progressive.  When the man lands on his left foot heel lead, his left knee must straighten, and he must rise quite abruptly, and lever upwards through that knee, ankle and foot.  This will guarantee the lady’s foot closure. While this is happening the man’s right foot is held in control. It will enter the swing action only because of the action of the body pulling the right leg and foot through. The right leg must perform a pendulum type swing which must not be allowed to “reach”.  The major part of the turn will happen with a foot swivel on the mans right foot, which should land on the second half of the 3rd beat of music, that is the second half of the first quick beat.

When entering a movement involving a lady’s Heel Turn, the natural inclination is to enter the turn early especially if a Double Reverse Spin is to be danced.  But the Heel Turn technique is the same, irrespective how much turn is to be made, so the man must firstly communicate the correct lead for the Heel Turn, and then worry about the amount of rotation required for the latter part of the movement. The lady must still take the 3rd step forwards. If I wish her to dance a Double Reverse Spin I will make the rotation happen to make her turn and cross her feet. The crossing action is when the most turn is made, not on the Heel Turn.

A further thought for the man:  If the first step forward involves a turn to the left then he cannot go left for step two. The unwritten rule is “If you turn left on one, you must go right on two.” Otherwise you, the man will knock her over!  The man must also control the speed of his closing left leg so that he does not involve a change of weight, his weight must remain on his right foot until the movement is completed. Then he will compress his right knee to energise the next movement, which will be a heel lead into the next step, unless he uses a rise on the right foot to enter an Overspin.

Barry Gasson

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