Tiger Woods, the golfing genius who has just won the USA Masters Tournament, is a man who has followed all the right principles on his pathway to ‘The Making Of A Champion’, co-ordinating: technical ability, power which is awesome but superbly controlled, flawless timing (in delivering the clubhead to the ball), finesse and the gentle touch of a butterfly (on the putting green). In all departments he expects from himself nothing less than perfection.
He has built up a repeating swing which is accurate in its tracking and club head placement to zillionths of a millimetre. In addition, he has the mental steel of which I have spoken more than once in this series. Nothing, mental or physical, has been neglected. Being only human, he will inevitably have days which will not satisfy his own towering standards of excellence. In fact, he will probably be his own most severe critic.
And that is how it should be for those who aspire to be champions in any sport. Never, never being satisfied or complacent. Feeling that one can always do better. Forever striving to exceed every previous performance.
The fact is that most dancers never invest as much thought, dedication, time and energy into becoming champions as did 21 year old Tiger.
Coming back to this week’s theme of Rise & Fall as being one of the ‘Four Flows’ with which a dancer interprets artistry of movement, I wish to use the linking thought that there are a number of patallels between championship golf and championship dancing.
It is on the concept of ‘Swing’, a dynamic common to both sports, that I will focus in this week’s article because Body swing is the motive force – the cause – which creates a natural feeling of ‘rise’ – the effect – when used by a dancer in Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Quickstep.
I say ’when’ because there are many dancers, some of whom have even risen to become national celebrities in their own country, who were only skilful ‘leg-pushers'; their body trailing the legswing not leading it.
Rise & Fall is not simply a matter of using correct heel and toe footwork, though this is vitally important. All technique books also refer to the bracing of the muscles of the legs and knee action as being contributory but, as I have just stated, Body swing, if correctly applied, is the major factor in the initiation of ‘Rise’.
Its obverse, ‘Fall’, is a term which I have always thought inappropriate for conveying the correct meaning In terms of competition or even medallist dancing. Replace the word ‘Fall’ with “to lower gently”. This is a matter of muscular control. The smooth lowering of the supporting heel – as if controlled by hydraulics – should be performed with such sensitivity that the heel touchdown would not crack an eggshell is an ideal to which all serious dancers should aspire. “No foot noise” should be impressed upon the dancer as one of Dancing’s Ten Commandments. If you can hear your heels ‘clonk’ on touchdown then you are still lacking – substandard – in the finer skills of lowering your weight.
In the Standard dances there are two main types of basic Rise & Fall. The pendulum arc type is the basis of Waltz & Viennese Waltz. The sine wave form characterises the type of Rise & Fall of a classic Slow Foxtrot; being a regular pulsing, undulating flow which, in the basics, is with the body elevated for two beats and lowered for two beats.
The Quickstep, based on the Chasse, employs Rises of both main types. There are also secondary types of Rise & Fall in these dances, such as the Delayed Rise of a Corte or an Impetus Turn. There can also be figures which feature Sustained Rise, (multiple Quicks or syncopations) and others with No Rise (Pull Steps, Pivots and Swivels).
However, the key factor in the thrust of this article is the continuity of flow of Rise & Fall. It is this quality of uninterrupted continuity of flow which, combined with the other three seamless flows (one more to come) is one of the hallmarks of the real Champion.
I have heard Rise & Fall laboriously analysed to the nth degree. For instance, the tortured, convoluted ‘explanation’ of the Waltz basic swing (to a bar of music) by dividing it into six theoretical half-beats. Why be so unnecessarily complex? It is far more pictorially instructive and effective to explain the fundamental Rise & Fall in the Waltz by describing it as similar in shape to the arcing curve of a pendulum, a playground swing or a trapeze.
Feel, really feel, in your imagination, your body swinging over the floor as though suspended from the ceiling by a rope attached to the top of your head as you hear the music of your favourite Waltz. Think of one unit of pendulum swing to each bar of music. This single thought expresses the essential features of the perfect crescent arc swing of Waltz Rise & Fall.
The characteristics of the Viennese Waltz Natural and Reverse Turn Rise & Fall is also based on the pendulum action identified above. The most important point to understand is that this is a much shallower pendulum arc. Foot rise is kept to the minimum. Rise & Fall is almost wholly expressed through knee action.
Next, how does one replicate this shape as a dancer? Rise & Fall through the feet and ankles is one tool but this is not the primary action. The main engine of Rise is bodyswing and knee action. To use another descriptive word-picture, the knees should work like hydraulic pistons. Next, how does one deal with leg speed through the three beats of the Waltz swing?
Start by creating a mental picture of the speed characteristics of the swing of a trapeze. Pattern body and leg swing on them. At the top of the swing there is a moment of suspended animation. Then the downward movement starts, slowly at first, gathering speed until bottom dead centre of the swing, when there will be a gradual deceleration of leg speed until the drifting-to-stillness closure of the feet. Once again you, the dancer, should experience that exquisite moment of weightlessness, defying gravity, before the start of the swing of the next bar of music. This is the feeling which generations of dance professionals have called bodyflight and which in all the Standard dances, except Tango, has stemmed from the motivating force of Bodyswing.
But so many dancers are in such a hurry. That fraction of a second of hover at the peak of rise, a delightful feeling which should be an essential part of a perfectly produced Waltz swing, is something that the impatient dancer will never experience, if he/she has been misguided by the false propaganda about having to achieve the maximum possible movement over the floor in the shortest possible time. Speed of acceleration has its place in dance.
The mechanics of producing pendulum swing, the lowering of the body through knee and ankle flexion, the influence of gravity increasing the pace of the downward part of the swing and the gradual losing of impetus on the upward part of the swing are all largely taken care of by having the right mental picture of the end- product. The same principle – having the right mental picture of the type of Rise & Fall involved – is equally true for the other dances and their characteristic figures.
Remember that the principles to be found in this exposition of the ’Four Flows’ do not apply to Tango. Movement in this dance is governed by a different set of principles entirely.
A specific reason that Tango is the odd-man out, is because the weight is NOT moved by Body- Swing; consequently, there is NO Rise & Fall.
The last dynamic of the Four Flows — SWAY — will be in next week’s edition of Dance News.
source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1509
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series