Let's begin with Alex Moore, the father of Ballroom dancing technique. His first technique book was published in 1936, and in its eighth edition from 1974 it is written: "The Slow Foxtrot is characterised by long, gliding and perfectly smooth steps, demanding ease of movement and control in order to give the dance a lazy and unhurried appearance."
And here the first question arises: "Why do so many dancers today rush?". To prevent the rush, you need to understand how you perceive time, external and internal. Perception of time is closely related to your understanding of Swing music and unique bio-mechanical features of this dance.
Perception of time
Time deals with "when" something happens (now, earlier, later), but also with "how long does it take" (duration of the movement) and "how fast" (speed of the movement).
Clock time and music time are from the outside, but in the movement the feeling of time comes from your inside. Perception of time can be very tricky as "time flies" when we feel good, involved with something interesting that captures us entirely. Conversely, when we stand in a long queue, time feels longer and the waiting makes us feel restless. Therefore, we speak about the illusion of time.
As a dancer you perceive time through changes of the speed of your movement – slow to fast, fast to slow, acceleration, deceleration ... Your commitment and attitude to time can be towards the urgency of an action. You can make your actions happen in no time, momentarily, they can be speeded up and felt as sudden, urgent – with that attitude you will be shortening the time. Or you can do the opposite, you can prolong, delay and stretch time, indulge in being in an unending stream of time, creating the illusion of an endless motion. This second one fits the Slow Foxtrot perfectly. Music helps you as well, as it has the power to take you to the groovy or dreamy mood.
Have you ever thought about how you perceive Swing music, how does it make you feel? It is quite different from most European music. The dynamic accents are on the second and the fourth beats of the bar whereas in Western music, they are normally found on the first and the third beats of the bar with 4/4 time signature. The displacement of the accents and syncopation in Swing music create a very unique mood, kind of lazy, loose and laid back.
Swing music developed in America in the Jazz era, between the 1920s and 1940s. The term “swing” comes from the way jazz music was played, it is a distinguished way of performing. A “swung” beat plays with the length of the space between beats. The swing wave, which always comes to a slightly different position, creates excitement, brings life and impacts your emotions.
If you want to catch that feeling in your movement, you need to dance in the beat (and not only on the beat), feeling and exploring the time between the beats. That way you will prevent the rush and learn how to hold the time back.
Movement – light and shade meet in twilight
Swing music offers a unique atmosphere, built on contrast. On the one hand you perceive legato (smooth, connected), tenuto (pressed, lengthened), rubato (stolen time) articulation, and on the other there is a lively syncopated pulse.
Like music, the movement manner also deals with light and shade – floating, gliding weight transfers in a kind of dreamy state, with a sense of body weight and flow of the motion in opposition to 'trotting' steps danced on single beats of the bar in a playful manner.
Slow Foxtrot is based on rhythmical walking, with original rhythm "slow-quick-quick". "Slow" occupies two beats in the bar and "quick" one beat. There are two principle actions – thrust/driving force on "slow" and swing on "quick". However, the thrust effort/driving action shouldn't be distinct from the ease of the swing – both actions are subtle, earthy yet light, provocative yet smooth. Could it be like twilight? Mastering the flow of energy requires a similar patience as trying to pull a thread through a tiny needle hole.
Shape-wise you can see the Slow Foxtrot as a diagonal dance, with beautiful CBM (contra body movement) and sways which control swinging actions and body speed and make dancing much more colourful, graceful and musical.
Today many dancers give priority to big shapes and pictures rather than a subtle movement flow. Over-swaying, especially head, shoulders and elbows has very little to do with understanding the sway as an essential action in ballroom dancing.
The question here is what is sway and where does it come from. Sway is the movement that inclines the body from the vertical poise, producing a curve of the body in a sideways manner. Sway is created from the hip down, when one hip is closer to the floor you have a sway. Supporting actors in creating the sway are legs, knees, ankles and feet, reflecting through the pelvis to the upper body by feeling of body stretch, never by contracting one side.
Normal sway happens towards the inside of the turn. Additionally, you might also use the broken sway (not broken rib) which is added on the top part of the body and released in a normal sway. There is also the sway to the moving direction used in Hover Feather for example. In Slow Foxtrot the sway would start while you are rising in order to control your balance and timing. Sway is also a necessary ingredient in "line" figures as shape in lines is a combination of rotation and sway.
Past values and future challenges
T. S. Eliot wrote: "The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past." What is the message of this quote for you? That you might use previous dancers’ and experts’ work as a tool for asserting your own modernity and originality. It's not about imitation, but understanding the principle ideas and developing them in your way.
With every progress forward the meaning, not facts of the past, changes. What changed? The perception of time and energy in the first place. Today we are hyper-active and it seems that we cannot take a step back to reflect and make changes where necessary.
It seems that nowadays dancing streams forward in time which is in conflict with music that has a lead back atmosphere. The control of energy flow requires an alert yet quiet inner world to prevent the rush and attack. You are on the journey where you need to be in the flow, in the throw and be present and aware of the past, present and future. It is important that the time doesn't stress you and that you master patiently the flow of time in your dancing, being at ease with it.
We cannot change the past in order that it would fit the present. But we could change the present so that it would acknowledge the past values and shape a future evolution based on a sound understanding of fundamental principles and most of all a healthy way of posturing and moving.
Over-arching of the spine creates the exaggerated peripheral interpretation. It looks like dancing happens "out there" and never returns home, to the beauty of human uprightness, acknowledged in dancing as the central gravity line. Maintaining the over-arched posture throughout the dance can without doubt damage the spine and other joints. I believe that serious reflection and research upon this topic is required in order to prevent a future catastrophe.
For history lovers
Foxtrot made its first appearance in the States during the summer of 1914 as a direct offspring of the One Step and the Rag. Many sources credit Afro-American dancers and musicians from New York as inventors of Foxtrot. The dance attracted the famous couple, Vernon and Irene Castle, who lent the Foxtrot its signature grace and style.
The first definition of the dance was very simple: "There are but two things to remember; first a slow walk, two counts to a step, second a trot or run, one count to each step." The original speed was 32 to 34 bars per minute.
Towards the end of 1917, Jazz music and Foxtrot hit England. African-American bands, as Mrs. Vernon Castle explained in London in 1918, jazz a tune, meaning they slur the notes and syncopate and combine that with long-wavering notes. The so-called Jazz Roll at the time was undoubtedly the forerunner of what we today know as Three Step, a series of three smooth steps occupying four beats of the music with the timing "slow-quick-quick".
"English Style" was shaped by great dancers of that era – Victor Silvester, Josephine Bradley, Wellesley Smith, Alex Moore, who were fashioning the raw material from America in their own way.
At a large 3rd "Informal Conference" for English dance teachers, which took place on 8 May 1921 and boasted three hundred attendees, the basic technique was developed. Miss Bradley introduced the term CBM (contrary body movement) the same year.
In 1922, in the Queen’s Hall in London, Foxtrot was danced in the World Championship that was organised for the first time in England. Two years later, in 1924, the dance was divided into two styles called "Slow Foxtrot" and "Quickstep".
Sourse 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”