Dereck Brown’s video pack of three cassettes of the 1997 World Ballroom Dancing Congress at Blackpool contains a valuable and instructive lecture by Anthony Hurley on Waltz fundamentals with which I can wholeheartedly empathise. If you did not see this at Blackpool you should buy the video. (See advertisement in “Sales”). You should anyway, as an aid to memory! The human mind can only take in so much information in one day.
Although the basis of my current series of articles, The Making Of A Champion’, is largely auto¬biographical, I have no hesitation in presenting the essence of the Hurley lecture in this instalment. Anthony had the assistance of the slim, elegant, graceful, talented Anne Lewis to partner him in showing these fundamentals of Waltz. As a visual image of what a lady dancer should ideally present, a superb choice!
Anthony talks about and illustrates correct posture. I can find nothing with which I disagree. Stance, Hold, Poise, Setup with partner. He lays emphasis on the word “natural” as applied to dance body styling. He means not pulling your body and limbs into some contrived ‘artificial’ posture. He -leans the man embracing the lady with the Hold instead of sticking the palm of his right hand into her armpit and holding her away from contact with his body, (Apart from what has been said about the ideal posture by dance excerts. I believe that all dancers should enhance their knowledge on this subject by studying the Aexander Technique; a thesis on orrect body posture. Usually to be found in all libraries.)
Nor do Anthony Hurley’s Simons on swing and sway, rotary energy and rise & fall seem at variance with mine. Indeed they trade with my exposition on this composite subject, which ran for five weeks in Dance News under the heading of ‘The Four Flows’, issues 1507/8/9/10/11). He talks and illustrates ‘walking with partner’. I have heard the use of the Walk for teaching advanced dancers dismissed as too simple; as having no practical purpose, “everybody can walk”. But can they walk with style? Think of all the fine detail of body and leg co¬ordination, leg swing from the hip, ankle and foot control – those things which I call the infrastructure of dance – which should start to be disciplined before the dancer is allowed to acquire a load of fancy variations and which should continue to be polished daily even when at an advanced stage.
A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled ‘You Never Need To Stop Practising’, which appeared in the annual EADA journal (the Standard Dances were my subject), in which I advised all dancers to use their everyday walking to polish up their leg action; something I used to do every day during my formative years in Blackpool. Of course, nobody walks backwards in a street. But while the individual is walking normally, which you do every day, you are able to check and correct the alignment, movement and placement of the feet; the swing of your legs from the hips, making sure that they ’brush’ in passing; also the co¬ordination of the carriage of the body to synchronise with leg movement. A smart, natural Walk is an essential to a dancer. And this method of checking the fine detail is a most valuable aid to the speed of your progress.
Anthony talks about the pendulum swing action, which is the basis – or should be – of the Waltz. In my mind’s eye, as I listen to him discussing the true Waltz action, I can still see the beautiful swings of movement and the equally beautiful drifting closes of the feet being produced by John Wells (brother of Elsa Wells, presenter of the International Championships) and his partner, Renee Sissons as I first saw them in the Empress Ballroom, on the 5th time of their winning the British Open Amateur Championship. They were the outstanding amateur dancers of the decade.
Things have changed! Now, in 1997, the closing of the feet on the third beat of a bar of Waltz seems almost to have been abandoned by competitors, thereby completely changing its character. A Foxtrot danced to Waltz music is what it now looks like and this was also an analogy made by Anthony. This mongrelisation is not only due to the type of choreography being used but also to the introduction of the ‘foreign’ Foxtrot-type Rise & Fall.
The Waltz is, historically, a dance based on pendulum arc swings combined with travelling and on-the-spot spins. Anthony’s presentation was slanted to press this message firmly home to his World Congress audience of professionals and amateurs.
I liked the gimmick of a car hubcap – allegedly off Robin Short’s Rolls Royce – being used to illustrate the rotary body action which is initiated by Contrary Body Movement. I hope the hundreds of competitors – particularly the foreign couples – crowding the Empress Ballroom, took notice, and embedded in their minds, that Anthony & Anne were swinging their bodies and legs laterally on the 2nd beat of the bar when dancing Natural and Reverse Turns. That is, dancing the second step as a side step, as it should be danced, not this unnatural idea of the first two steps of a turn (for man) being “forward, forward”.
I also hope the audience took particular attention of the fact that not even the tiniest sliver of light could be seen for even a fraction of a second between their joined bodies when they were demonstrating various points of Anthony’s lecture theme on ‘fundamental principles’. Again, this is how good dancing really should be.
Gapping is a clear indicator of a careless mind, of a lack of partnership control, or of the teacher paying insufficient attention to one of the most fundamental of fundamentals. To put it anyother way, if in spite of what a competition couple have been told by the teacher, they are still gapping, it is a sure sign of mediocrity, that they are not championship material.
Did this multi-national audience, largely composed of competitors, disagree with these ‘pearls of whisdom’ which Anthony Hurley was dispensing? Or with what Anthony and Anne were showing them by example? The answer is that Anthony and Anne were given a very well deserved, rousing standing ovation at the conclusion of the lecture; an undeniable mark of appreciation for this authoritative presentation of essential principles in Waltz which definitely fits into the pattern of development necessary for ‘The Making Of A Champion’.
source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1516
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series