A Step

Don Herbison-Evans ,   donherbisonevans@yahoo.com
Byrnes Dance Image

(updated 26 September 2013)

Alex Moore's definition of the end of a step is when the whole footwork (eg heel, flat of foot) has been completed (Moore, 1963, 23). This implies that the end (and start of the next) step is when the moving foot passes the standing foot, when the feet are, for an instant, together even though one is moving. So Alex defines a step to be from when the feet are together to when they are together again. Perhaps this is a reasonable definition for a soldier used to marching, starting and stopping with the feet together. But it is hardly useful for a dancer.

Dancers during a dance seldom stand on both feet. Their steps normally go from standing on one foot to standing on the other foot. All the descriptions of the steps in the various figures in say the ISTD 'The Ballroom Technique' textbook give directions, feet positions, alignments and amounts of turn between two sequential positions when the feet for a moment are stationary, when the weight changes from one foot to the other, not to moments of time when one foot is moving to another moment when the other foot is moving. Thus it is far more useful for a dancer to define the start of a step to be when a foot starts moving, and the end of that step to be when it stops moving.

A dancer has many different sorts of steps, some when the feet do not pass each other, such as side steps, lock steps, check steps. It seems very artificial to define say a side step in chasse as starting when the stepping foot is halfway moving away from the standing foot, and ending halfway through the other foot closing, just because soldiers normally only march forwards, with the feet passing each other.

Such anomalous and artificial special cases evaporate if one defines a step to be from when a foot starts moving to when it stops moving. And the result seems more consistent with the descriptions of the steps composing figures given in technique books.

Maybe dancing has changed, and become more mature and established in society since Alex Moore's time. Dancers no longer need accommodate the needs of marching soldiers in their conceptual study of their own discipline. They are free to define and use concepts which simplify their descriptions and understanding of what they do, not complicate them.

This notion of a step implies that the body weight and the moving foot move together. This at first sight may seem to be a physical impossibility as the body will then be off-balance for the whole period of the step, and might be expected to fall under the influence of gravity onto the moving foot precipitately. Luckily the muscles in the ankle, knee and hip of the standing leg can be coordinated to counteract this falling during the period of the step, so giving a pleasant smooth movement of the body through a series of such steps.

This notion of a step also implies that when stepping forward the foot is never ahead of the body. This is a great result for Standard ballroom dancers, as it ensures that one never can step on one's partner's feet.

Moore, Alex (1963) Ballroom Dancing, Pitman, Bath.

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