Musicality, Timing, Artistry and Phrasing in Foxtrot

Discussion in 'Ballroom Dance' started by DanceMentor, Nov 12, 2008.

  1. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    Here follows a response by Judi Hatton to this thread, but also brings about some background and further exploration of timing, phrasing, artistry of patterns, and musicality that I thought would be best to start a new thread. This was a great read for me, and I hope you will enjoy reading it too:

    First of all when this stuff was written the dancers didn't give a darn about the "phrasing" of "routines" - they didn't dance routines, so were clever enough to dance to the music that was being played at the time. I can recall, as a baby dancer of about 13 or 14, seeing Peter Eggleton & Brenda Winslade dancing against Bill & Bobbie Irvine in final round of the International Champs in London, and when the music did something clever so did Peter! It was amazing and part of the reason he is such a legend today. Unfortunately, that type of artistry has gone the way of the vinyl record.

    When I learned to dance in London, this 8 count issue was never discussed, neither did dancers do "routines", and, with the exception of show work, competitively in all my Standard partnerships, I/we did not dance a routine, since such a thing was frowned upon. Of course we had choreography that we used and rehearsed, but any part was performed at any appropriate moment, and much of the competition work was just dancing. This produced couples with great floor craft, another thing that seems to have gone with the vinyl.

    I'm told that the issue of "phrasing" was introduced by dancers who were seeking to adopt the 8 beat count used by stage choreographers.

    The argument against that is that stage dancers know what music they are choreographing to, ballroom dancers do not know the music that they will get, and also there is no one else on the stage that is trying to do a different routine at the same time. Further, just as there is no credit for degree of difficulty, with the exception of VW, judges do not take into account where you are in the phrasing of the music, since, most likely they would realize that you did not know what music you would get and therefore cannot be expected to be on any particular phrase. They do care if you are on time! Additionally, there is no guarantee that you will be able to perform your 'routine' without interruption, thereby guaranteeing a problem. Hence my somewhat ambivalent attitude to the whole question.

    Back to your specific?

    The Feather Step stars on the RF - SQQS, 6 beats
    The Rev Turn starts on the LF SQQSQQS 10 beats
    The Three Step starts on the RF QQS 4 beats
    The Nat Turn starts on the RF SQQSSS 10 beats
    Many have 'overlapping' steps, not one has 8 beats!

    Therefore one might correctly assume that the fundamental elements of this dance were formulated to produce a seamless action not an 8 count routine!

    Whether using the basic figures or advanced choreography, it is far more important to produce the character and action of the dance and the excellent use of the music, than to be overly concerned in regard to a "phrased" (as in counts to 8) routine.
  2. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Some interesting comments, but I think it might be useful to look at improvisation in non-ballroom dances and in music itself to see the full picture.

    I don't think that improvised choreography and matching the phrasing of (even unknown) music are necessarily exclusive, but it may be a subject that doesn't get a lot of attention in the ballroom world. I get the sense that if we asked parts of the swing community about it, they'd consider working the phrasing of unknown music to be a key skill in the character of their dances.

    Music has fairly predictable structure and is usually pretty clear about where it is leading to. If you have an 8-bar phrase, there pattern of chord progressions used tends to be one that creates, suspends, and resolve tension in a way that develops through those eight measures, such that it should be possible to always know where you are without counting (but "should be" does not mean that me always have the skill to manage it). A soloist improvising in the band sure isn't counting measures, he or she simply feels where they are in the phrase. And if the phrase is going to be some other length, the pattern of chord changes should be stringing you along and only start heading towards resolution at the end of whatever length it is going to be.

    For dancing, the other half of the puzzle would be a practical knowledge of "fractions" of dancing would implicitly include some sense of how long it takes before they reach a "resolution" - in other words, ideally you should be able to hear the music and know immediately what dancing under the present floor circumstances would fit to finish the phrase. Ideally...

    But there are also shorter units that may be even easier to hear - often a two measure grouping for example, and for most purposes it may be enough to be aligned with those, and to seek to re-align at that level when it becomes necessary to invent a spur-of-the-moment variation.

    I think Tango could be a good example for working on a lot of this, in part because the music is very clear, and in part because the lack of a swing cycle and vertical dimension seems to leave more emphasis for the time dimension.
  3. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    On the competition floor, when it comes to being judged, I think it is highly unlikely that you would need to be phrased. What is more likely is that your appearance to be "musical" is evident, especially at higher levels. Generally, higher level dancers can dance the same pattern with multiple interpretations based on the music, whether that means:
    1. Changing the timing
    2. Changing the shape
    3. Adding Stacato or Legato to the action

    These types of actions would be more based on feel for the music, which may or may not have a relationship to a specific plan to phrase the next 8 beats. This is much more related to how a musician would improvise, and some of the most exciting dancing we see is the result of what a dancer does in response to other dancers, and of course the music, not because they phrased everything perfectly.

    Personally, I find that I have a relatively predictable "routine" that I dance, and that many songs have similarities in which there are distinct "breaks" in the music that happen at a similar time, but not all songs are the same, and some can be quite different than others in phrasing. Also, if I end up having to change timing as a result of something happening on the floor, it is relatively easy to make adjustments at other places. This is more a feeling, and less of a plan, and I think that is part of the excitement of ballroom dancing that we should not lose.
  4. waltzguy

    waltzguy Active Member

    I thought it is as follows:

    Feather Step ............... SQQ ........... 4
    Reverse Turn w. FF ...... SQQ SQQ .... 8
    Three Step ................. SQQ ........... 4
    Natural Turn ............... SQQ SSS .....10

    It appears that your version has a few extra "slows". But you're the DanceMentor. Please enlighten me.
  5. ChenLing

    ChenLing Member

    He's going by what's in the syllabus book (The Ballroom Technique). You are going by how it's generally taught now. There are reasons why it's written down the way it is, and why we teach it now.

    From a phrasing standpoint, most high-level pros (this is from what I gather, real life may differ) have amalgamations of 4-8 bars that they stitch together during each dance. They also extend parts of those amalgamations as necessary (usually to match a 2 bar boundary). This way they get the flexibility to match the music and still have some choreographed pieces that can be more complex than what can be lead to maximum effect.
  6. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    I Really Like This Thread

    I had to smile as I read Judi's post by DM. Judi and I have, over the years rarely agreed on anything, and here I was saying, "Yes. Yes." Then, ....... [​IMG] . I ended agreeing w/ her except for the same points made by CS. http://www.dance-forums.com/showpost.php?p=628423&postcount=2

    Now, I must also, say that, though I agree w/ you, CS, this is not quite right.....
    Why? You answered it, yourself, actually.....
    I have known many jazz musicians who explained their improv to me exactly as what you have written. All music is written in 8s (beats to bars, bars to measures, measures to phrases...except for waltz, which, although is written in 3s, is still phrased in 8s.).
  7. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Actually, I believe DM was printing a post by Judi Hatton. In either case, as she wrote, and I pointed out in the orig thread, we must take into consideration that in int'l, almost all of the figures overlap...the last step of the current figure "is" the first step of the succeeding one (for ex. a feather has 4 steps - you list 3; the reverse turn has 7 steps; in your listing, there are only 6).
  8. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member


    And THAT is exactly how we were taught to dance, way back when , the " chain link " theory .

    Its also noteworthy, that much of this " cookie cutter " type dancing now being seen , is somewhat tied into the Amer. system where all the schools "packaged " their syllabi in neat parcels of 10.

    So much is debated about " musicality " .

    I believe this to be something that one develops with time . All good pros in the comp. scene have a "sense" of how they are going to interpret the music being played ( it doesnt matter a tinkers cuss if not known ) the written format, is by and large, standard . That gives us the opportunity to " play " within those boundaries.
  9. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    I used to play jazz, and just like in dancing, I could "feel" the music, and play based what I expected would be next, because there was a pattern to the accompaniment. I was not counting to 8, though my instinct would usually keep me on target. It is very much the same way I feel when dancing.

    In music we have certain limits of acceptability to what we can play. We have to play on the right key (though there is some play room there), and while we can vary the rhythm, but it must still conform to the timing (though there is "play room" there too). While playing 4/4 time we could do something fancy like triplets, played slowly or quickly, lasting two measures or one. We could play two 6 beat phrases, or three 4 beat phrases, and finish in the same place. If you are playing the guitar, a sax player may jump in with something unexpected.

    If we are truly improvising, and often we must in dancing, even more so than a musician, we are forced to use our own interpretation that is instinctual, and I think it is a difficult proposition to say that instinct is divided into bars. Rather, it is instinct that allows us make it through those bars in a way that often works well, and occasionally does not.
  10. Zhena

    Zhena Well-Known Member

    Hmmm... MOST music IN THE WESTERN EUROPEAN TRADITION is written in 8s ...
  11. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    Most waltz's are in groups of 8 threes, but there are some exceptions. One of my favorites is the Waltz from Pan's Labyrinth.
  12. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    actually, it depends on how you define most and how you define 8's.

    marches are typically written in cut time, essentially a 2/4, but typically phrased in groups of eight in terms of measure.

    in blues, while you typically see 8 & 16 bar phrases, you also see 12 bar phrases, but i grant that blues has african origins.

    and there's plenty music that's written in 6/8 time.

    and being originally from cleveland, i know of plenty of polkas that are written with unusual times signatures such as 33/8, usually sub-divided into groups of 3's & 2's.

    and in studying vintage dance, i've learned steps that were done to music that was similiarly subdivided into groups of 3's & 2's. (3 Q's on the 3's, a S on each "2")

    and i've performed a number of compositions that were written in odd time signatures, typically 7/4 or 5/4, jazz, choral and classical.

    and then you've got hustle dancers...
  13. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Agreed that all of this is true, yet, regardless of how it is subdivided/crossed over, most are notably phrased in 8s.
  14. dancepro

    dancepro New Member


    If you use the ISTD book DM is right, if you use the IDTA book you are right

    Dancepro
  15. dancepro

    dancepro New Member

    Thank you. I totally agree. I had very similar experience. :notworth:

    Dancepro
  16. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    Many would argue that the 12-bar blues (already mentioned here) is more fundamental to jazz than many of the 8-bar forms.

    My point was that the evolution of chord changes makes it pretty clear how long the phrase is going to be. A 12 bar blues evolves in a way that just lets you know it's not going to be over in 8 bars, while an 8 bar pattern is pretty clearly going to run to completion sooner.
  17. Chris Stratton

    Chris Stratton New Member

    With the exception of the natural turn, those extra slows are either displaced from where you want to think of them (f.finish to three step), or the same step being named twice as part of both the old figure and the new figure (feather to reverse).

    But the natural turn does have an "extra" slow that isn't just a re-assignment or a duplication, but actually forces an odd number of half-measures, implying that you are either going from on-measure to mid-measure, or from mid-measure to on-measure. The open natural outside swivel group is another frequent syllabus example of that.
  18. waltzguy

    waltzguy Active Member

    Ah, I see.
  19. Angel HI

    Angel HI Well-Known Member

    Exactly. One sees this also in a simple chasse danced in amer. bronze fox/waltz.
  20. waltzguy

    waltzguy Active Member

    I've been thinking International Standard the whole time while reading/contributing to this thread.

    Come to think of it, in American Smooth, doesn't a basic SSQQ bronze step cause the same issue as the Int'l slow foxtrot natural turn's SSS ? But, it's easier to do two of those foxtrot basics and get back in sync.

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