18. The Lady Dancer – Bobbie Irvine and Friends at the World Congress

Bobbie Irvine has kept a youthful looking body. Slim, tall, elegant of deportment, you would know at a glance that she was either a dancer or a model. Her lecture about the Lady dancer at the 1997 World Dance Congress was illustrated by six prominent female dancers. She was one of them, showing that she can still bear comparison with the lady competitors of today. Karen, Caterina, Adèle, Amanda and Kyoko join her on the floor. (If you buy the video you can have the delight of establishing the identity of these five lovely, nubile young ladies.) All, including Bobbie wearing identical black trousers – presumably so that we can study their posture and leg action the more closely – and white blouses.

Bobbie announces, “We will follow the man at all costs”. An important principle. Then she adds “…like good little girls.” implying, perhaps, a qualifying clause. She asks her team to assume the dance posture that they would choose… “if their partner would let them”. Again a qualifying clause! One began to wonder if she really was a good little girl, always agreeing with Bill’s ideas on dance when they were themselves competing and practising.

At her prompt to take up the Hold, all the girls automatically place their arms where they normally would with their partner. One or two elbows go above shoulder height. This seems abnormally high. I ask Doreen for an opinion. She says she would not wish to have her elbows so high except if she were dancing with a much taller man. (Her idea about arms is that they should imply feminity; that they should not be elevated in a rigid pose but float softly and lightly as a flimsy chiffon drapes. Drape being the operative word for the right arm between hand and elbow.)

The nubile five stand as though in the arms of an invisible partner. In synchronised unison, the girls start by performing a basic Waltz group, the foot closes of all on the 3rd beat of the bar were beyond reproach and the leg and foot actions of these ladies were as near perfection in style, movement, and technique as it is possible to be; moving, undeviatingly, along the narrowest of correctly aligned tracks, brushing past each other beautifully, feet lightly caressing the floor. This display is proof that correct technique is, in itself, an art form. Do their individual partners allow them to place their feet with such fine precision when under the pressures of a championship? This is one of the important responsibilities of ‘leading’. The man must understand the technical essentials of the girl’s footwork in order to enable them to have immaculate footwork. I must watch this with extra care when I next see them competing.

Bobbie states that while it is important for the girl to be able to support her own balance, to be able to dance solo, implying that she must have muscle- memory knowledge of all the nuances of movement – CBM, Sway, Rise & Fall, etcetera – that the man is likely to use, the most important factor of all is that she should have cultivated the art of “following’1 and the necessary control of balance to synchronise perfectly with her partner at all times.

Doreen agrees totally, saying to me “All I thought of was following you exactly; that is, staying lightly in unbroken body contact so that I could pick up your every body signal, your changes and switches of emphasis, direction, speed of action or whatever”.
Bobbie also talks of allowing the man “to swing past her”. While many advanced dancers may understand exactly what is meant by this, such terminology may lead to confusion in an open lecture of this nature where precise definitions of meanings are not possible.
This is not a complex lecture and each routine in the four Ballroom dances is composed of the most elementary of figures. But its value is that it concentrates on a few important fundamentals that have been in danger of dying through neglect.

Bobbie wants the girl’s head to remain centred over the body during the one-piece sways associated with basic steps. (Good point! I have noticed the fault of some couples heads and shoulders breaking inwards – out of line with the lower body and leg line – towards the centre of the turns.)

In Tango, Bobbie makes another important point. While dramatic head movements have their place so does head stillness as a vital contrast to exciting staccato charac¬terisation of Tango. Where and how to use stillness in motion is a study in itself. She gives credit to the Tango ideas of the great Len Scrivener.

It is the Slow Foxtrot which is the pièce de résistance of the mini-demonstrations. Beautiful flowing undulating movement, clearly exhibiting the synchronisation of the Four Flows – locomotion, turn, sway and rise & fall – which were the subjects of my ‘Making Of A Champion’ series in Dance News issues: 1507/8/9/10. The rhythmic advancement of each side of the body in turn – CBM and shoulder lead – is enlarged by the device of the ladies’ extending their arms, which flow gracefully forward and back as each side of the body moves into the lead.

Consider the eminence of these ladies. Now imagine you were booking them to perform these simple but beautiful routines at your next promotion. If you had to ask the price, you couldn’t afford them!