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A Few Notes On Quickstep

by Sandi & Dan Finch

Quickstep is spectacular to watch and thrilling to dance because of its bubbly, energetic music and dynamic movement. Moving briskly across the floor, you should get a feeling of wind whistling through your hair.

Most quickstep figures are taken from waltz or foxtrot -- that’s the good news. But learning to dance it requires some new thoughts about timing and movement.

Quickstep is the fastest smooth rhythm we dance. It is characterized by steps made up of locks and chasses done on the forward part of the ball of the foot (usually referred to as the toes). To make it do-able, you need to master two techniques:

♪ Dancing with one side or the other leading through the chasses and locks.

♪ Keeping your knees and ankles flexible, to be light on your feet but well grounded.

For starters, remember that quicks are usually closing or locking steps. Slows going forward to start a figure are done with heel leads, but the slow after a combination of quicks will be taken on the toe, lowering to a flat foot, because the next figure will likely start with a slow and a heel lead.

History:

In the 1920s, with ragtime music the rage, new dances such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Black Bottom were in full swing. Foxtrot was new too, having come onto the dance floor out of Harry Fox’s vaudeville routine. Most dancers found the fast foxtrot too fast for a night of dancing, so instructors began slowing it down. In England, the faster version was modified as the “Quickstep” and in America, it became the “Peabody,” named for a New York police lieutenant popular in dancing circles.

The new quickstep moved a little like waltz, added some flourishes of Charleston, and kept the runs, chasses, skips, and hops of Harry Fox’s “trot.”

Discussion:

Three questions come up when quickstep becomes the topic of discussion: Is the basic timing SQQ or QQS or SSS? What figures should be taught first? And what is the deal with “running finish” being only three steps, not four, and thus not “running” at all as we know it in other rhythms and figures?

Tempo & Timing:

Quickstep is danced to music in 4/4 time, meaning there are four beats of music in each measure. You will find figures with timing combinations of SSS, SQQS, QQQQ, QQS, and even QQSSQQ. Roundalab has standardized the basic timing as SQQ, meaning the “slow” will use two of the four beats of music and each “quick” will use one beat of music.

When the timing switches to SSS or SQQS or some variation, you will be dancing through split measures. Many waltz figures used in quickstep—such as the impetus turn and spin turn—will be danced as slow, slow, slow. This means the figures require more than one measure to complete. For example, the spin turn done as SSS will be danced over a full measure (four beats) and a half (two more beats). If you are only used to starting a figure on the strong downbeat that signifies the start of a measure, you will feel a bit uncomfortable with split measures.

You also have to learn new vocabulary for some strictly quickstep figures, such as V6, woodpecker, running forward (or back) locks, and tipsy.

Dance Position:

Quickstep is identified as one of the International standard rhythms, meaning it is danced in closed (or semi-closed) position. Dance holds are the same as waltz and foxtrot but your poise should be more forward over the foot, still keeping the spine straight. Being forward allows gravity to work with you to generate movement. Visualize your “center” of gravity and connection with partner as being higher than in the other dances. This mental picture of elevating your center will lighten the lower part of your body so your feet can move more freely through the speed of quickstep. Quickstep music is played between 45 and 52 measures of music per minute, compared to the modern foxtrot at 28 to 30 measures a minute.

“Side leading,” instead of having the bodies square to each other, will make it possible to move more freely and make turning figures easier. When moving line of dance, partners will be in Banjo and their shoulders will have a diagonal alignment.

Movement:

Don’t dance flat-footed. Use your knees and ankles like shock absorbers. Feel like a tennis player on the court, switching from foot to foot, ready to receive a serve to his backhand or forehand. Steps are slightly shorter than in foxtrot because of the faster music.

In lower levels of dancing, you focus primarily on moving your feet from place to place and the body just happens to get there. But at advanced levels, especially in quickstep, you need to think about moving the body and let the feet move as a natural reaction. When you move the body forward, your partner can feel that and react to it. If you just move a foot, the partner can only guess where you are going and your bodies will be out of sync, an especially uncomfortable feeling in the middle of a chasse.

Rise & Fall:

Quickstep figures have less rise (and therefore less fall) than their waltz counterparts because the speed of the music and your body flight requires that you keep some flex in the knees and ankles at all times to stay grounded. For most figures, maximum rise occurs on step one and stays at that level until weight is fully transferred on the last step of the figure, then lowers. In chasse figures, the rise occurs gradually from the end of step one through the last step, then lowers.

Basic Steps:

The Roundalab Manual of Standards starts its basic figures for quickstep in phase III. You could also go to I Wanta Quickstep, the classic (phase III+1) Hall of Fame Dance by the Palmquists. Figures in the earliest versions of its cue sheet were step-cued, not identified by the international terms we use today, but there they are just the same – quarter turn progressive chasse, forward forward lock forward, and fishtail. Those same figures are in the pre-bronze (newcomer) level of the English (ISTD) manual and are the first listed in the (American) DVIDA bronze (beginner) syllabus.

The late Alex Moore, MBE, author of Ballroom Dancing, first published in 1936 and considered the dancer’s bible, said the walk and chasse are the basic figures of quickstep and should be taught first, then quarter turns left and right, then the progressive chasse. The quickstep was first performed in 1927 at a championship competition won by a 20th century ballroom pioneer, Frank Ford (history courtesy of the Ballroom Dancing Times). His routine was much like a foxtrot but consisted of quarter turns, cross chasses, zig-zags, cortes, open reverse turns, heel pivots, and the Charleston step, and that remained the basic routine until the end of World War II. By the 1960s, competition quickstep became faster, full of scatter chasses, hops, and skips. Still, ballroom masters say that to do quickstep, you must first be able to dance a good foxtrot.

The Mystery Figure:

That Running Finish is perhaps the most debated figure in dancing. “Running” generally indicates four steps in most figures. But, the standardized running finish is three steps, turning the partnership from banjo with Man generally facing RLOD to banjo with him facing LOD. It is the ending of an old figure called “running zig zag,” according to Sir Alex Moore. Taken apart, the finish of the running zig zag consisted of four steps (SQQS) which made it a typical running figure and it went into the English manuals as running finish with that timing. But, Sir Alex admitted the last step is really the first step of the next figure. RAL and American ballroom manuals show the running finish as SQQ (like a turning feather finish) and leave the fourth step to be part of whatever follows. Thus round dancing has the anomaly of a “running” figure that really only has three steps.

Classic Quicksteps:

Let’s Dance (Stone, 1964, phase IV+2) URDC Hall of Fame 1979
I Wanta QS (Palmquist, 1967, phase III+1) URDC Hall of Fame 2002
Fortuosity (Rother, 1980, phase V+1) URDC Hall of Fame 1993
St. Michel’s QS (Casey, 1984, phase V+2) URDC Hall of Fame 1996


Dan and Sandi host two weekly Carousel Clubs and teach a weekly figure clinic on advanced basics in Southern California. These notes were originally used in their classes, © 2012. Dan and Sandi have additional dance essays and helps on their site. This article was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2012. 



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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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