24. The continuous ladder of progression

One of my most strongly held beliefs, formed by my long experience as an adjudicator, a teacher, a coach, an examiner and a past competitor, is that there should be a continuous ladder of progression to the technical side of the teaching of dance. I mean, of course, continuity right from the Bronze Medallist to the World Champion.

When a couple take up the hobby of competition dancing and their teacher decides that they need extra polish and competition know-how, which, it is felt, can only be provided by a specialist coach, they should, quite reasonably, expect that the authentic fundamentals of the Technique, which they have acquired through, perhaps, years of dedication to practice, will not be changed without very careful thought …or, better still, discussion with their teacher.

The creative coach and high- grade competitor couple will always be searching for methods of expressing themselves with greater impact and dramatic effect; giving the dances more highly charged emotive content. This is natural and highly commendable. It is to be encouraged. But what they must not do is throw overboard the established technique upon which the great majority of the world’s qualified dance teachers base their training of pupils and students.

Or to put this another way, competitors ignore the mandates of the Revised Technique at their peril! The competitor who would- be-a-champion must accept that the Technique is a statement of the fundamental principles on which good dancing is built. The Technique is the basis of the examination for professional quali¬fication for teachers and coaches. This technical qualification is also the sole essential requirement for an Adjudicator’s Licence. The logical conclusion is that the adjudicator’s primary responsibility is to ensure that competitiors are not allowed to downgrade the importance of Technique!

Let me give one of the many examples which I have in mind. The heart of the Double Reverse Spin for the lady should be an immaculate pivot on the right heel – feet blocked together, toes skimming the floor (not cocked up in the air, pointing diagonal to ceiling) – followed by an equally polished right foot toe spin – feet blocked together – for the man. To repeat, the essence of the Double Reverse Turn is a heel turn (pivot) for the lady between steps 1 and 2, and a Toe spin for the man between steps 2 and 3. Danced by an expert, the Double Reverse Spin is a thing of great beauty.

To make the lady’s heel turn possible, CBM (Contra Body Movement) must be used from the start of the first step. This initiates the body turn which enables the lady to make accurate foot placements. The man’s second step must be taken diagonally across the line of progression of his first step; i.e. Man, left foot forward, say, facing Line of Dance, then right foot, brushing past left foot, ends to side, diagonally across the line of Dance, having made up to 3/8ths of a turn to left.

Only with such a body turn (CBM) lead from the man will the lady be enabled to produce the technically accurate and artistically effective heel turn which is one of the fundamental benchmarks of the female dancer’s performance skills. Continuing the movement, the man’s sense of balance and control are now being tested by his being required to retain weight on his right foot, while softly closing left foot to right foot (without weight), pivoting on the toes of the right foot for up to 5/8ths of a turn to left. Feet should be blocked together, insides of the feet parallel and touching during the toe pivot.

If, for instance, the Double Reverse Spin is being danced in Waltz, the bodies of the partnership will have been in smooth fluid rotation from the start of the 1 st beat of a bar of music to the end of the 3rd beat. This is what should happen.
But does it happen? Have you – or your teacher – checked your execution of the Double Reverse Spin recently? Some male competitors are being trained to dance the first and second steps straight down the Line of Dance with, unbelievably, no body turn on these two steps, therefore having to make the whole turn on the last step. This might work very well if the man was dancing, as a solo performer, a pirouette-type spin as in classical ballet. But this late-tum method is a total disaster for a partnership. Clearly, no thought has been given to problems of the lady, who has to try to perform an accurate heel turn with artistry under these impossible conditions.

My guess, ladies, is that only a man who did not understand the mechanics of the technical requirements of the lady’s steps could have thought up this ludicrous idea.

I am sometimes accused of giving good Technque too high a profile. Not true! I am merely trying to restore it to its rightful place in the scheme of championship dancing. Technique was not uppermost in our minds when Doreen and I were performing as cabaret artistes on stage and at hotel dinner dances. (This was our main income for several years.) In these cases we were engaged as a visual entertainment act by organisations and for audiences who were not aware of the finer points of championship dancing. Therefore, our priority on these engagements was to present dancing as a visual appeal to the emotions of the audience.

In the Waltz, for instance, in order to set the mood, we would instruct the lighting technician to focus on us a blue spotlight, have house lights dimmed right down almost to a blackout, have chosen a ‘romantic’ tune, want the orchestra to play the Waltz very, very quietly, no strong beat to be made on the drums, only the lightest of rhythmic stroking with the brushes. If we knew the pianist to be really good, we would sometimes give the other members of the band a rest during the Waltz Dancing just to quiet piano music accompanied by the ‘brushes’ of the drummer.

The whole effect – lighting, hauntingly quiet music, no-foot- noise dancing – was aimed at achieving a ‘mood’ which would demand total silence from the audience. Having given cue sheets to the lighting technician and the orchestra leader as to the ‘stage setting’ and how we wanted the music played, we would, in our presentation, focus entirely on emotionally involving the audience in each of our show dances. Technique would have no overt part to play.
But we would never deliberately abandon the art of technical excellence. It was just that it was put on the back burner, left on automatic pilot.

But with a championship in the offing, we would scrupulously re¬examine every aspect of our dances for technical accuracy. Also, whenever we demonstrated for a dance school, a dance organisation or for a dance- orientated audience, we would always give a high priority to performing the fundamental elements in accordance with the universally accepted principles governing the teaching of the ballroom dances.

Our view was that the over-riding priority of a demonstration – as opposed to a stage or cabaret dance act – should be to show the dance school audience how figures, which they might have learnt, could be danced artistically, while conscientiously observing the principles of the teachers’ bible, the Revised Technique of Ballroom Dancing’. This was – and still is – my concept of the definition of a dance demonstration.

The demonstrator’s art should give support to the credibility of the dance school teacher as well as giving value for money as an entertainment.
It may well be that, in some instances, there are logical reasons for making improvements in the established technique. It could also be argued that the top professional competitors are in the vanguard of dance style; the trend setters. As such, I agree that they should have a say in the future development of the Technique of Dancesport.

But any proposed changes should involve the whole of the teaching profession, through the accredited organizations, in agreeing an update of the Technique of Ballroom (Dancesport) Dancing.

At the moment we have some competitors and their coaches who are trying out new ideas. Fine! It is good that there should be adventurous spirits who are willing to explore possibilities of extending the frontiers of dance. However, it is equally important that they should not be allowed to throw overboard an established technique which has survived intact, except for some well-argued and mutually agreed improvements, for over 70 years.

Contrary Body Movement (CBM) – one of the constituents of the vital Four Rows of Movement – is one of the fundamentals of technique which has withstood the test of time. This NIL-CBM idea, which has a crippling effect on every turning figure (e.g. as per my example of the Double Reverse Spin) is definitely a non-starter in the artistic sense.

The thousands of excellent teachers who teach ’by the book’ should have confidence in the fact that the legislators of the competition world are seen to support the concept of a continuous ladder of progression in the training of dancers!