Picture Figures, Fact and Fantasy
by Roy & Sally
Webster defines Picture as "a
transitory (of brief duration) visible image," and Figure as "a
bodily shape or form -- appearance made or impression produced --
movement in dance." For Round Dancing purposes, we can then say
that a picture figure is "a transitory visible image of a bodily
shape producing an impression by movement in dance." Simple.
Right? Well, maybe not simple, but with a little understanding and
practice, a whole lot easier.
Most of the picture figures occur in
the modern rhythms, particularly in the waltz and foxtrot. For the
most part, wherever these figures are encountered, they will be the
same; only the rhythm and timing will change.
For the uninitiated, the mere thought
of a picture figure can evoke thoughts from the dark side -- scary
and downright frightening. But they don't have to be. A picture
figure is nothing more than striking a line. That line is like
throwing a ball into the air where at some point in time it is in a
state of suspension. The picture figure causes a suspension of
movement in the dance. Everyone can strike a line. The real question
is understanding how to get there.
Be aware of your partner for any
figure, but especially for picture figures. Each partner's part must
fit together to produce a complete picture. Each partner must strive
not to make their move alone and leave their partner stranded. Shape
is used in all picture figures. Shape is a turning of the body line
to accommodate your partner. This shape will give you the balance you
need in figure execution. Contra body movement (CBM) independent of
the feet is a mystery to a lot of us and we tend to either ignore it
completely or give it little attention. It takes practice to maintain
a parallel shoulder line, but it must be done to execute and properly
balance picture figures.
You must be aware of your total body
and your partner's body at all times. The shoulders do not turn
farther than the hips. Actually, the line is made by the hips and
thighs, and the body contact is from the waist to just below the
lady's bust line. At all times, the head weight must be danced with
the spine. Ladies use their heads more than men, so they must be
careful not to overemphasize head movement. Ladies NEVER try to
initiate movement with the head -- the head should only be an
extension of the body. All 4 joints of the leg -- 8 in all -- must be
used to effect body action into smooth body movement. With knees
flexed, you first use the hip muscle, then the knee, followed by the
ankle, and finally the toe. If you have a flexed knee, then the hip
is flexed also.
As a general rule of thumb, the lady
takes all picture lines to the right, and the man takes all picture
lines to the left. Centralize the weight over the foot, parallel
shoulders, counter balance each other's line -- do not cross over
into your partner's space with your body, stay on your side of the
"fence." Do not lean over the top of your partner. Take a
deep breath to straighten the spine and pull the stomach in,
developing body tone.
Following are a few pointers aimed at
the most common trouble spots in picture figures. Watch out for these
spots, and after just a little bit of practice you will be dancing
your own picture figures with more ease and grace. Good Luck and
Contra Check: The problem here
is a misunderstanding of what you are asking your body to do -- the
result a lot of times is a grotesque look. The middle of the body
starts the action, but that doesn't mean to throw the head and
shoulders back creating an awkward line. It really is a forward poise
with a softening of the right knee that lets the lady know the action
is about to start, followed by a slight turn to the left, with the
upper body moving forward as a unit (CBMP). The lady really controls
the movement with her right foot -- she feels like she is going over
backward and downward and her right foot controls this -- but she
must be sure she doesn't allow her body weight to fall back on her
heel. Most ladies are reluctant to bring their left shoulder back far
enough and their heads far enough to the left and away from the man.
The man's best head position is right, looking just past the lady's
Hinge: The basic problem with
this figure is a general lack of upswing and a turning to the left
too soon. This figure requires considerable movement, and we don't
seem willing to give it the movement necessary for a good execution.
The man's step with his left foot should be SIDEWAYS with a definite
flexing of his left knee. This will give the lady a chance to develop
an extended whisk action and only then should the man turn strongly
to the left. His turn should be with a shaping upward with a rotary
action of the upper body.
Oversway: There is some
confusion about what is meant by the term oversway. Oversway is
derived from a motion created by the man leading a slight
left-face body turn as he extends his right foot going into a strong
right sway. The lady extends her left foot and keeps her head and
shoulders well back to her left. Be sure to centralize the body
weight over the man's left and the lady's right feet. Keep the
shoulders parallel to the floor and to your partner. The lady's head
is closed and the man's head is looking right.
High Line: This is really a
variation of the basic oversway. It is entirely a lateral movement
with body rise up on the toes and an open head for the lady. Often
this is followed by a change of sway to an oversway position.
Challenge Line: This is a
variation of the high line. It is taken flat-footed with strong body
rise, where the man places himself slightly ahead of the lady.
Throwaway Oversway: This figure
is an extension of the oversway. The turn into the "throwaway"
is a continuous motion with the feeling that the man is putting the
lady out on a slight diagonal. This one takes some work on body
positioning at the point of throwaway to avoid any unsightly body
twist or couple unbalance. The man steps side on his left foot and
pivots left-face with an upward shape, flexes the left knee and
centralizes the weight over the left foot, while leaving the right
extended straight back. The lady steps on her right toe, then lowers
to the heel before bringing her left foot to her right and extending
it back while turning her head and shoulders strongly left. The
throwaway motion created by the man rotating his upper body to the
left makes the lady extend her left foot back.
Same Foot Lunge: This figure
starts in a modified closed position, man facing generally either
center of hall or wall and the lady at a slight diagonal to his body.
The lowering on the man's left and subsequent left sway are keys to a
successful same foot lunge. In the lunge position, the man must keep
his right shoulder and hip over his right foot. Be careful not to
drop the right elbow or push the lady into position with the left
hand. The pelvic area is carried into the lunge and provides a
supportive area for the lady. Be careful that the bodies do not pull
apart on count 3 and that the man does not change his relative body
position. The lady, even though on a flexed right knee, should be
light and buoyant to avoid dropping heavily onto her right foot. As
the man reaches side and the lady reaches back with their right feet,
be sure you are properly balanced or the rest of the figure won't
happen properly. Never overdo the lunge action and DO NOT LEAN ON
Opposition Points: The lady will
follow the man's sway. If a strong right side stretch is used by the
man, the lady will have an open head to the right and will follow the
man's line. The amount you lower is purely by preference. Be sure
that the lady's right knee is on the inside of the man's right knee
and both the left feet are extended sideward. Open the top line with
a little distance between chest and heads.
X-Line: This one is really a
pose occurring on a single step. The name comes from the
configuration of the partners' bodies where the "X" crosses
at the hip level. To have a really good X-Line, it should be
proceeded by something in closed or semi-closed position. the man
will flex his right knee with a right-face swiveling action on the
ball of the foot while shaping to the left. The left leg is extended
sideward as far as is comfortable. This action forces the lady to
open to the right and into a right sway. The lady's right leg is
extended to match the man's. The supportive knees are flexed and the
bodies open up to nearly a 180-degree line from the hips. Both look
Chair: This figure is used in
nearly all rhythms and from almost any facing position. There are
several ways of dancing a chair. A "forward poise" or a
"backward poise" can be used, or a combination of the two.
Each couple will have to do a little experimentation to find which is
right for them. The most common mistake in any chair action is in the
dancer NOT putting all the body weight forward onto the lunge step,
leaving the heel up off the floor and creating a weak and timid
chair. If a forward poise is used, the heads will remain straight
forward, and on the backward poise the head and shoulder line will
turn in toward your partner. Also on the backward poise the lunge
foot will be turned in slightly. Be sure to remain snug and not open
up too much into a flat semi-closed position.
We hope this will help you have a
better understanding of Picture Figures and an easier time executing
them. Some of the figures above are not true picture figures, but
most do have that moment in time when movement is suspended for a
fraction of a second and most have some kind of line or pose for an
instant. Remember, these are our thoughts and you or someone else
might have a different thought about certain figures. Try all the
different ways available to you and make your own decisions as to how
you will execute a line or what feels comfortable to you. This is
merely some views and pointers to help you get started or perhaps
improve your figures. Again, Good Luck and Happy Dancing. Stand Tall,
Smile and have Fun.
clinic notes for a ROUNDALAB Teacher's Seminar and published in the
ROUNDALAB Journal, Fall 1990. Published in the Dixie Round
Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2012.