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Ballroom Dance

J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157



We use the word, step, in many different ways when talking about dance, and the misunderstanding regarding the intended meaning can lead to miscommunication. The following is an attempt to elucidate the several uses for the term with the hope of improving communication among dancers.

Step, as in walking. The shifting of weight from the stationary foot to the moving/non-weight-bearing foot.

Step, as in cadence. A repeated pattern of steps, as in walking, in relation to a music tempo. (e.g. one-step, two-step, SQQ, QQS, SSQQ, etc.)

Step, as in dance style. A cadence associated with a particular dance and often referred to as a basic step for that dance style. (e.g. waltz step. foxtrot step, rumba step, etc.)

Step, as in variation. A series of directional movements, in cadence, associated with a deviation from the basic step for a particular dance style. (e.g. twinkle, weave, break )

Reflecting on two areas of miscommunication related to step might provide insight into the importance of insuring that the term is understood as intended. Many beginners miss the importance of the word when used in reference to walking. They might then move a foot into position, but not change weight. Thus they either ignore the instruction to step, or they give a new meaning to the word, step, as used in reference to the act of walking. (This leads to their being admonished for missing a step, or, worse, accused of stepping on the same foot twice, an impossibility for any reasonable meaning of the verb, step.)

Another common miscommunication is failure to clarify whether one is referring to cadence, style, or variation when asking about a particular step. ( e.g. "What was that step?") If the listener does not ascertain the intended context, they might create even more confusion by answering a different question.

The most problematic area in the use of step in dance seems to be a strange anomaly that leads the aspiring dancer to modify their normal gait when presuming to dance, or, in the case of some, not modifying their gait. One of the facets of partner dance that makes it functional is the general agreement to align the torsos so that the feet have distinct, adjacent, parallel tracks, and, by stepping either forward or backward while staying in proper orientation, there is never any danger of stepping on the other's toes. Even so, many dancers tend to step abnormally when on the dance floor, perhaps intending to reduce the tendency for feet to collide while in effect increasing the probability that they will.

The most unrecognized aspect of step in dance seems to be the most obvious; there are exactly six ways to take an initial step in dance, and, after taking a step, there are only three ways to take the next step. Such an awareness can lead to greater understanding and simplification. Rather than spending time trying to learn a complex series of steps, as in variation, one might concentrate on the more understandable direction, juxtaposition, and distance of travel for their role in the partnership and adjust their steps, as in walking and cadence, to accommodate their intent.

There is sometimes more, and sometimes less, to the term, step, than we realize. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.