Dance is the Poetry of the Foot - John Dryden
The above statement/headline was written by English poet John Dryden who lived from 1631-1700, and is as true today as it was centuries ago in Restoration England. Unfortunately many dancers today don't seem to have received the memo!
As I go about my work of coaching and judging I am continually amazed at how little attention is paid to what is, without doubt, one of the fundamental building blocks for any dancer - the feet. They are, after all, the part of the anatomy that is in contact with terra firma, and as such should surely be the first line of attack. Yes, I know that there are those in the dance world who descry the need for good technique, or even technique at all; how often have we heard "Don't worry about the small stuff, just do it, just go!"? Would any of us, living in a building, say to the bricklayer "Don't worry about the foundation, just make the walls look pretty."? Despite the fact that we know little or nothing about bricklaying, we are all too practical to believe that the pretty wall will remain standing when subjected to even the slightest stress.
The most fundamental element in the construction of any dance is the use of the feet and legs, the footwork. Clearly, in order for a dancer to progress from journeyman to artist, it must be correct, so why do so many dancers ignore this most basic and important element? Fundamental footwork is the easiest element to correct, the information is readily available in any one of several books and all the dancer needs to do is look it up! Although the information found in technique books may be overly simple, it is certainly a very good place to start. There are simply no excuses for incorrect footwork
The consequences of poor and incorrect use of the feet can be devastating - loss of rhythm at best, off time at worst. Lack of speed, a breakdown in the partnership – the inability to stay together or connected, the loss of the topline/style in standard dancers and smooth dances, the loss of rhythm, leg and hip action in the ‘rhythmical’ style dances, all of these are common faults. The prescription that will help cure all of these symptoms is good use of feet and legs, why then are there so many dancers who are willing to believe the Philistines? Is it the promise of a quick fix? Are we so conditioned by our 'instant' society to expect instant success? Success never comes by accident; it is the product of intelligent thought and planning, lots of hard work and a generous pinch of luck.
When we look intelligently at what the feet and legs are used for, what they create and what they affect, it becomes astounding even to the neophyte that this facet of the dance, our very wheels, can be so flagrantly ignored. Consider the action of movement as it relates to DanceSport. We move in eight fundamental directions, and must be ready to go in any one of them in a split second. Add to this the production of speed, rotation, and swing not to mention sway and shape, all qualities required for dancers to produce a three dimensional picture while moving across the floor.
Imagine zipping down the Interstate when suddenly, without warning one of your wheels became square. I feel sure you will agree that, despite the fact that your three remaining wheels were in good shape, the fourth 'square' wheel would dramatically impede your progress and would make for a very bumpy ride. The driver would be forced to slow down and would suffer a severe loss of maneuverability.
If your footwork is incorrect you are in the same situation, and as a competitor, are giving the judge a clear and dramatic reason NOT to mark you. Everything the dancer does, choreography, position, action, rise and fall, swing, sway, speed and slowness, all are attributed in some way to the use of the foot, not just the toes and heels, but to the use of specific parts. Like the skater's blade, the foot must be employed with knowledge and finesse, for it is only by using the feet specifically, inside edges, outside edges and 'corners', as well as ankles and knees, that the dancer can truly produce a bravura performance. Champions are not 'born', they are 'made', by application, perseverance, desire and vision, and a lot of luck. Change your luck today, make it your New Year’s resolution to work to eliminate foot faults and footwork errors, you'll be surprised at how easy it is when you do it right and at the great results you will achieve!
'Dance is the Poetry of the Foot' was written by Judi Hatton. Judi is an Honors Fellow of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and a former North American Professional Champion. She is currently the First Vice President of the National Dance Council of America, a former President of the United States Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing and former professional Standard and Latin champion.