Some Basics About Picture Figures
by Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid
What do we think of when we say the
word picture? It is a flash, a moment taken with a camera. It freezes
the action. But a picture can also be a flowing, moving picture, like
a "motion picture" or movie. We would like to combine these
two ideas when talking about picture figures in Round Dancing. We
will not be discussing here all the movements getting into or out of
a figure, nor the actual actions or execution of these figures.
ROUNDALAB's definition of a picture
figure is, " An action or movement where the majority of the
activity centers around the frame of the couple's dance position."
NOTE: We will usually give the RAL
definition in italics at the beginning of each figure.
There are a few rules, or things we
need to think about, when executing a picture figure.
- You should always both be in
balance yourselves, and you should be in balance as a couple.
- You should always have your weight
on one foot and be "over" that weighted foot.
- You never extend, or lower,
further than you could get up by yourself.
- You should never look down, or
- You should never try to out-do
your partner; the emphasis is on the couple.
Often when we think of picture figures
we think right away of the more advanced figures. But remember, an
action extended and momentarily stopped is a picture figure, and we
have those in the beginning of our dancing. We will start with a very
basic figure and continue up through some phase IV figures. Take a
look at each one and go point by point through the 5 basic rules we
have presented above, and see if you have a problem there.
Apart, point - unphased
This is usually the first picture
figure that we will come across. It is not done in a closed hold, and
that makes it fairly simple to execute; let's look at the rules.
Rules 1 and 3 here are usually no problem, but we often see dancers
looking down or away (rule 4), and sometimes, often maybe trying to
be "funny" one partner does something strange (rule 5).
Sometimes beginning dancers put weight on their pointing foot (breaks
rule 2). Then they don't know which foot is free.
Dip (back) – phase II
MAN OR WOMAN: Step in direction
indicated and take full weight with the knee relaxed or slightly
bent. The other leg remains extended with the knee and ankle forming
a straight line from the hip and the toe remaining on the floor.
Some problems that we have seen
with this figure is that dancers do not first of all step back; they
often step side and back and twist their bodies. Right away, this
makes a problem with rule 1 and 2. Often the lady will look down
(rule 4), and sometimes the man, probably trying to show off his
strength, will pull his partner off of balance (rule 1 and 5 and for
the lady rule 2).
Dip (back) & twist –
This has the same beginning action
as the dip (back), but adds a twist at the end. RAL's definition of a
twist is, "The turning of the upper body to change facing
direction without changing weight." What we often see
happening is that the couple will dance these 2 actions as 1 action.
You have then lost the "flash," that final moment when the
picture is taken. Also, a number of dancers will break rule 4 or 5,
if the man pulls the lady into a twist, pulling her off balance.
Corte – phase III
MAN: Usually in closed position
step back and side left using lowering action with supporting leg
WOMAN: Usually in closed position step forward and side
right using lowering action with supporting leg relaxed.
This figure is listed only in rumba
and tango, but we see it used also in other rhythms.
The important thing here is that
you step side and back (or forward if you are the lady). Again, you
need to be sure that you both have your balance before the man leads
into the figure, and that the man does not pull the lady off balance.
Side corte – phase III
MAN: Step side left flexing
supporting knee and turning to reverse semi-closed position leaving
right leg extended with toe pointing to floor.
WOMAN: Step side
right flexing supporting knee and turning to reverse
position leaving left leg extended with toe pointing
This figure is only listed in the
RAL definitions under tango, but again, we often see it in other
rhythms as well.
While you do step and turn to RSCP,
you need to be sure not to look down (rule 4) as that will break your
Chair – phase III
MAN: Forward right lunge
WOMAN: Forward left lunge step.
This is a one-step figure, but in
most cases will use a full measure of music. (We are discussing the
figure "chair" here, not a "chair, recover, slip."
In using a full measure, this is the first figure we come to that
goes through the "motion picture" stage to get to the
"flash photo" stage. In this figure we really need to be
sure that we stay up and do not "collapse" – no broken
chairs here, please. In using all the music, you can settle into the
chair, then minutely raise & re-settle. This gives a nice "photo
Right lunge – phase IV
MAN: Flex left knee move side
and slightly forward onto right keeping left side in toward partner
and as weight is taken on right flex right knee and make slight left
face body turn and look at partner.
WOMAN: Flex right knee move
side and slightly back on to left keeping right side in toward
partner and as weight is taken on left flex left knee and make slight
left face body turn.
We will discuss the right lunge
here as a full measure of waltz timing. This figure also goes into
through the "motion picture" to get to the "flash
photo" stage. The flash photo comes at the very end, just before
you are ready to start into the next figure. Before that, you should
use all the time to gradually get to that point. That is the motion
Let's be sure that we go through
all 5 points. 1) The man should not start his side step into the
right lunge until both partners have their full balance. He needs to
feel that he is not pulling his partner right, but leading her to the
right. 2) As the man places his right foot he will flex his right
knee and bring his weight onto that foot. The flexed knee will help
with balance. 3) Of course, the man will not over-extend his lunge,
nor extend it past the comfortable lunge position of his partner
(rule 5). Remember to keep your head up; the man will be looking over
the lady’s left shoulder (rule 4).
Promenade sway – phase IV
MAN: Side and forward left
turning to Semi-Closed Position and stretching body upward to look
over joined lead hands, relax left knee,
WOMAN: Side and forward
right turning to Semi-Closed Position and stretching body upward to
look over joined lead hands, relax right knee,
We will again use the waltz rhythm
here, and while the RAL definition only shows two beats being used,
the figure usually uses the full 3 beats of a waltz measure, the
first beat being a preparatory step either back or thru. This is also
a picture figure that goes through the motion picture to the flash
picture stage. You need to check yourself with all 5 rules.
Especially rule 4: don't look down or collapse. In the promenade sway
you need to stretch up, and you will both be looking over the outside
of your own lead hands; the outside of your own wrist. The man will
have his right side stretched, the lady her left side stretched.
Oversway – phase IV
MAN: Side left relaxing left
knee leaving right leg extended and stretching left side of body and
looking in designated direction.
WOMAN: Side right relaxing right
knee leaving left leg extended and stretching right side looking well
to the left.
While they say in RAL that the man
looks in the "designated direction," more often than not he
will be looking towards the right. This is a one-step figure, so in
this case it is a "flash picture," but often you will have
a full measure to do the figure. Then of course you want to make your
movement a moving picture, with the flash picture at the end.
Especially if you go directly into the figure, there will also often
be a preparatory step, either thru or back, to the oversway.
Change of sway – phase V
From any sway position without
weight change, change stretch of body and head position to opposite
direction [there may be body rotation]. Timing will vary.
This is not considered a figure in
RAL, but an action. An action is a motion without a weight change.
This is the difference between an "oversway" and a "change
of sway." After a promenade sway, we often hear the cue, "change
to an oversway." What is really meant here is just "change
This figure can be used after any sway
figure, but let's look at how it would be after a promenade sway. You
are standing in your promenade sway position. You are standing
completely on one foot (your lead foot), that leg is slightly bent
and your trail leg is straight. You have your sway towards your lead
side, so facing the wall, the man's sway is towards LOD. To change
our sway, we do not want to drop our shoulders or hips. The man needs
to raise his right hip into and towards the lady as he stretches his
left side and with a slight left rotation changes his sway towards
his right side. It is very important here not to break your sway. You
do the action with your body, not with your shoulders. Be sure that
you do not change weight. You should still be able to lift your free
2007 & reprinted in
the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2012. For
a round world, Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid.
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