By Barry Gasson
In today’s modern world of technology, there is a bewildering amount of information available to the dance aficionado.
I can sit at my computer and have available to me countless hours of lectures and workshops from the best exponents of today, and the greatest from past years, or at least the greatest from past years that were able to be recorded and preserved.
The first video camera I saw was in 1974 and was transported in a huge aluminium suitcase.
There are few, if any, recordings of lectures from before that time whether on film or aural recording, and the teachings of the experts of those early days are mostly lost to us, except in the memories of older fellas like me.
In the years before and after World War 2, Ballroom Dancing enjoyed enormous popularity. There was no television and people went dancing……together.
With such a large number of the populace being able to dance, it follows that the standard of performance in the higher levels was extremely high. Great Britain led the world and was the Mecca for dance training.
There were many wonderful teachers and coaches at that time, most of whom have passed on, and we are in danger of losing their knowledge forever.
Although trends may come and (often swiftly) go, the human body does not alter, the manner of movement remains the same,
It would appear that in today’s world, there are many experts clamouring for their particular pet theory to be aired, and it appears that many scientific equations and principles are being explored and applied to the human body in an attempt to improve on nature.
Simplicity is being lost, except in the very highest levels of competition.
There is really nothing new. It has been done before, and it was those earlier teachers and coaches who set the standards as to what is desirable and tasteful.
I was lucky enough to be trained by one who was thought by many knowledgeable people to be the best of the best, the incomparable Len Scrivener.
He wrote many brilliant articles, and critiques of the British and International Championships, all published in the Ballroom Dancing Times, He and his partner, Nellie Duggan, were the first to visit Japan, to demonstrate and teach.
I do not know of any filmed recordings of his many excellent lectures, the only aural recordings of which I am aware are the tape recordings I made of each of my lessons with him. I still have, and play those recordings from forty-four years ago.
Many of his articles were published in 1983 in a book called “Just One Idea” by Bryan Allen, along with many unfinished lecture notes. The book is currently being translated into the Czech language and, I believe, there will soon be a new English edition.
I adjudicate many Championship events and watch a great deal of dancing on DVD, and even in the very highest level there is a lack of understanding of a fundamental action in a movement that is without doubt the most performed figure in dancing.
I will describe in detail the man’s head action in a Waltz Half Natural Turn, as described to me, over and over again, by Len Scrivener.
Most male dancers use sufficient propulsive thrust from the supporting left leg to move the body from the right foot heel lead on beat one to the foot closure on beat three in the mistaken belief that this is their target and seldom end the bar of music, poised and balanced, with a precise foot closure.
The Waltz swing, the shape of which resembles a dish aerial, an inverted parabolic arc, tilted so that the peak of the arc is higher than the base), actually ends when the second step, with the left foot, lands.
At this point the weight is divided between two feet, and a different series of forces need to be brought into play.
The foot closure is created by a muscular right side stretch with a sensation of pulling the closing foot towards the shoulder of the standing leg.
BUT, the action of closing should be started by the man’s head turning to the right to focus against the line of dance.
A great many male dancers allow the head to turn with the body, but the head turn must be separate and must precede the body turn. It requires precise co-ordination to perform at the right moment, but the result is worth it, not only in terms of balance control, but also for the benefit of lady partner.
This turn of the head to the right will virtually guarantee a beautifully balanced, precise foot closure.
“This position”, said Len Scrivener, “Is the most powerful line in dancing!”
He explained to me that as most competitors commence their Waltz with a Half Natural Turn, one can observe two, three or four couples at once and the man who uses this technique will stand out from the others. The men who do not turn their heads are demonstrating their lack of understanding as to what happens on the outside of a turn. There must be sway to the right, that is to the inside of the turn, and the head must turn to the right. I see heads remaining to the left, heads tilting like a deaf parrot, I even observe some male heads that appear to have a hinge on the back of the neck.
Remember, the head must turn to the right, separately from the body, not with the body.
There are many other words of wisdom, relating to “How to” that are still available from those “Old Masters” that are in danger of being lost forever.