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Quickstep - the king of rhythm

In 1924, Foxtrot was divided into two styles called “Slow Foxtrot” and “Quickstep”. Quick time Foxtrot in combination with inspiration from Charleston gave birth to Quickstep. The same year the "Ballroom Branch" of the Imperial Society was formed in England, and began forming a proper ballroom dance technique.

In 1926, the Charleston craze reached London with nearly ten thousand dancers attending the "Charleston Ball" at Royal Albert Hall, therefore at first, Quickstep was strongly influenced by Charleston.

Quickstep is without doubt the most joyful ballroom dance, its bright syncopated rhythms stimulate a care-free interpretation and allow for a great variety of movements. However a sound knowledge of technique is required to perform this dance with swing-type figures that are explained in technique books. Its character cannot be obtained just with happy hopping around the floor, jumping high and trying to be fast.

Len Scrivener used to say: "The dance which lacks the style specific actions is like the phrase without the theme."

Technique and choreography

By mastering the appropriate technique you start understanding the ease and efficiency of each movement, therefore the technique should be understood as a foundation from which you will develop further. It is a way, not the final point, so take it like a journey of discovery. Without doubt Quickstep is like champagne, bubbly, light and fresh in its character. Feet and ankles of the dancer could be compared to skillful fingers of a piano ragtime player, reactive and fast.

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A good Quickstep starts with understanding chasses. Running steps offer more progression due to the passing of the feet, but can not compensate for the beautiful lightness of Quickstep basic Chasse with its gradual rise through each step. The reach of the peak gives you a point of balance from which the swing is possible into the next movement. It is the swing action in this dance that propels you over the floor.

There is a choice of different chasses, from Quarter Turn, Progressive Chasse, Chasse Reverse Turn, Progressive Chasse to the Right, Cross Chasse, Tipple Chasse to more syncopated Tipsy. Mind that closing of the feet in chasses should happen rather fast in order to allow the body weight to create a light flow.

Can you be competitive by using basic figures? For sure, if the quality of your movements is superb. However, you'll achieve the desirable impact by mixing basic figures and their variations with movement ideas that were part of other popular dances in the 1920s like Charleston, Peabody, Black Bottom, Shag and Tap dancing, which can enhance your choreography when added smartly.

A good choreography would blend together original “swing and sway” quickstep with bounced actions which use toes and ankles to produce light jumps and also some trick steps, which require very loose, kind of “rag” legs.

In bounced actions the energy should be stored in the lower part of the legs in order to perform Scatter Chasses from Polka or a Step Hop which is a kind of pivot in the air. Pepper Pot for example is a Scatter Chasse with a Lock ending, a beautiful movement to fade out the speed and continue with a swing movement.

Trick steps were inspired by Charleston and Tap dancing (Woodpecker for example) and were the reason that Quickstep was in the past mischievously called Trickstep. Any step in which the feet are simultaneously inter-placed were called Scissors Step or Cracker Jack. Foot flickers from Charleston are used still today for additional effects, often called pendulum steps.

Phrasing and accents

Dance music is written in a strict tempo and phrased in a way that you can easily feel the length of the musical message, its dynamics and indications where to pick up or spend your energy. Musical phrasing offers you orientation, safety and a unique dynamic experience. Listen to the music attentively, take time to become aware of its tempo, different rhythms, accents, melody and overall atmosphere. There are many nuances there, waiting for you to recognise them. They will facilitate your decisions when harmonising and organising your movements into meaningful units.

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With conscious movement phrasing you can create efficiency and harmony. Not only by counting the beats and bars, but especially by singing, humming or voicing the movement you will master your brain to experience both the musical and movement structure. You will gradually become aware of nuances and details like two and four bar patterns and the beautiful development of musical message which normally occupies eight bars, called a phrase.

Accents in music, the pitch of the sound, crescendos and diminuendos will help you train your ear so that you won't feel lost. When you embody the musical feel and merge it with the embodied movement feel, when both live inside you, then you become a musical dancer. Your task is to put an extra layer on top of the music. It is you who makes music visible with your movement.


Give to the dance your signature

Have you ever been thinking about what kind of experience your Quickstep brings to you or to the audience and adjudicators? About how you feel and how they feel watching you?

Being engaged yourself, you engage the audience in the creation of meaning. If you don’t express your deliberate choices visibly enough, if you dance on “automatic pilot” and you are not truly present, the audience will be viewing you passively. You need to be there, present and real in order to re-engage the audience.

Many great dancers of the past and present understood that dance performance requires a build up, surprises, your signature, be it through unique choreography, musicality and atmosphere that you create.

Source of inspiration

Len Scrivener, edited by Bryan Allen - "Just one idea"

Alex Moore - "Ballroom dancing"

Philip J.S. Richardson - “A history of English Ballroom Dancing”