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Teaching (and Learning) Waltz Magic -- Rise & Fall

by Dick & Karen Fisher

Introduction

Rise and fall is the magic that makes waltzing feel like waltzing. Rise and fall is essential to pleasurable waltzing, and it is easy to achieve rise and fall in the waltz. Roundalab currently introduces the concept of rise and fall at Phase III, but we feel that it should be introduced at the very beginning. Rise and fall is now commonly called rising and lowering to emphasize that neither action is abrupt but smooth. Leg, body, and foot action are used to generate the movement. All of these actions take place in a properly done left turning box, which we teach very early in Phase II. Once rise and fall in the left turning box has been accomplished, rise and fall can be added to the waltz away and together, progressive box, forward waltz, twinkle, etc.

The Knack and How to Get It

Rise is so fundamental to waltz that we begin teaching it in the first lesson. For many years, we have taught waltz before any other rhythm. The waltz rhythm seems to come naturally to most people and they feel comfortable with it quickly. There are also fewer figures in waltz, and students can dance a “real dance” much sooner than with two-step.

After clapping the rhythm and walking to the rhythm both forward and backward, we teach the box. We emphasize that in waltz we have a Strong Step, a Long Step, and a Tall Step.

Strong Step: We have the dancers count the rhythm & 1, 2, 3. We then have each person with their left foot free (remember both genders do the same thing in the box when they have the left foot free) lower into the supporting leg on the “&” count and then step forward a strong step with a heel lead and a rise to the ball of the foot on count 1.

Long Step: Then on count 2 we have the dancers propel themselves to the side and step onto the ball of the right foot. This side step will, in the left turning box, become even longer as the dancers use the swing of the body to propel themselves into the step.

Tall Step: Then on count 3 we have the dancers draw the left foot to the right and take weight on the ball of the foot (tall step). Finally, we have them soften or lower into the supporting leg. We emphasize that full weight is not transferred to heel at the end of step 3. The heel may “kiss” the floor, but most of the weight must remain on the ball of the foot in order to initiate the next step, even if we are stepping backward as in the waltz box.

Once this is mastered, we have each person with a right foot free lower into the supporting leg on the & count and reach back from the hip with the right foot allowing their weight shift to place them onto the ball of the right foot on count 1 (strong step). Then on count 2 we have the dancers propel themselves to the side and step onto the ball of the left foot (long step). Then on count 3 we have them draw the right foot to the left and take weight on the ball of the foot (tall step). Finally, we have them soften or lower into the supporting leg. Synchrony is essential to having rise and fall. This is where we first emphasize that the partnership must have a good solid frame so that the person stepping backward receives as much information as possible about the movement of the couple. We also emphasize that person stepping backward must step late. They must allow the momentum provided by the person stepping forward to place them onto their foot. This is of course “lead and follow”, but it provides the essential synchrony necessary for smooth rise and lowering.

Now we get the partners together and have them do a waltz box. We again emphasize the initial lowering on the “&” count and that the man takes a strong forward step on count 1 with a heel lead as the woman swings her leg back from the hip and waits for the man’s forward momentum to place her onto the ball of her foot. We emphasize that the side step (2) is a long step onto the ball of the foot and that the tall step (3) is accomplished by allowing the free leg to swing beneath the body and close on the ball of the foot.

Of course, we emphasize that on the second half of the box the roles are reversed. After the initial lowering on the “&” count the woman takes a strong forward step on count 1 with a heel lead as the man swings his leg back from the hip and waits for the woman’s forward momentum to place him on the ball of his foot. We emphasize that the side step (2) is a long step onto the ball of the foot and that the tall step (3) is accomplished by allowing the free leg to swing beneath the body and close on the ball of the foot.

After considerable practice on the box, we move next to the left turning box. We believe that the turn on the ball of the foot at the end of step 1 is caused by the turn of the hips and the swing of the free side that this generates. Good waltz technique requires that you make your body swing from peak to peak as a pendulum swings. This swing also lengthens the size of step 2. We encourage the dancers to ‘stretch’ the figure into four large sweeping turns. This helps a great deal later when they encounter two left or two right turns. Later we add the stretch of the leading side in the turn to make the left turning box a truly exhilarating figure. If we add the technique that I have described for the left turning box to the forward box it quickly becomes a forward waltz or closed change, and the waltz away and together becomes a more enjoyable figure. There are some waltz figures that have no rise and fall e.g. rolls, vines and twirl vines and the hideous lace up, which is almost always done as a two step in three even beats.

The hover and whisk have a slightly different type of rise and fall. The rise is a bit more abrupt, but lowering should not be. The most common error among dancers is not to lower but to dive or clunk out of these figures. In the hover we step forward on the first step heel to ball commencing to rise. We continue forward and slightly side on step 2 onto the ball of the foot completing our rise. We must accomplish this without straitening the legs completely. If we have straight legs at the end of step 2, we can only go down on step 3 creating the “dive” or “clunk”. We must take step 3 onto the ball of the foot marinating our rise, and to do this we must have slightly flexed knees. At the end of step 3 we lower and take a heel lead into the first step of the next figure. Many Phase II dancers have learned the hover as forward, side, recover with on rise and fall. We have found that it is a major task to correct as dancers move into Phase III and IV; therefore, we insist on the correct execution of the hover even in Phase II.

In the whisk, we commence to rise on step one and complete our rise on step 2. We then maintain that rise on step 3. As with the hover, many Phase II dancers have learned the whisk as forward, side, and hook behind coming to a very open semi-closed position with no rise and fall. We have found this even more difficult to correct at phase III. We teach the whisk, from the very beginning, as forward, forward turning slightly right face to cause the lady to cross behind on step 3 and allowing the man to move the right foot forward into a hooked position on step 3.

The through step that follows a hover or a whisk is also a major problem that is corrected by good rise and fall technique. We must lower at the end of step 3 in these figures just as we would in two left turns, forward waltz, etc. By lowering, the man can step through without excessive leftward hip rotation, there should be no ‘opening up’ on any through step. Keeping the free hip, man’s left & ladies right, toward the partner makes what ever figure follows the hover or whisk easier to execute.


From clinic notes prepared for the RAL annual convention, 2009; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, April 2011.



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