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Round Dance Choreography

by Roy & Phyllis Stier
August, 1987

One of the big questions today is what will become of round dance choreography? It is not easy to project from the past because of the dynamics of personal choice, which is, in the final analysis, the determining factor. Let's look at a few things that have happened which might give us some insights.


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As the early dances were written, we saw a kind of outgrowth from folk dancing that was rather traditional, and the routines were hardly complicated. Cue sheets were very brief, and sequences repeated much more often than now. In the sixties, a few choreographers started to introduce more figures from ballroom, and they adapted to the round dance lexicon with "banjo pivot" (impetus turn), "man across, turn" (telemark), etc. It took quite a few years before it became respectable for choreographers and cuers to use the figures borrowed from ballroom. The battle was joined between the ballroom buffs and the traditionalists to determine what was best for round dancing. It certainly is not settled yet; however, it does appear that the ballroom folks have persisted long enough to make permanent inroads.

The change in dance ratings has been very apparent through the years. There used to be no advanced level; in fact, the term "intermediate" took a while to catch on. At any rate, what used to be advanced has moved on down from high intermediate to standard intermediate. We note that some combinations that used to be quite difficult are now hash cued, due to the use of International figures by so many folks. Maria Elena was written using the ballroom 3-step (quick, quick, slow) and we had to adapt cueing it as a "3-step and a slow." Several choreographers have tried to use pure ballroom and had to give up because of the steps leading to the next figure, or a too-inclusive sequence was part of it (Reverse Wave = 9 steps or Natural Weave = 8 steps).

When the Cubans popularized their rumba, the lead step was on the 2nd beat of music, and this was picked up by the International ballroom people in their version. Round dancers have been troubled with this interpretation because much of the music used was in bolero rhythm, which accents the 1st beat. Perhaps we could fare better with the cha cha, which is a little easier to start on count 2; however, it still feels a little strange to most people and will not be a likely change very soon.

The Europeans have been using a type of choreography, which they call "sequence dancing." It is similar to round dancing, except that any piece of music that is strict tempo and phrases out can be used. Their cue sheets are somewhat difficult to interpret because they take so much for granted. In England, their old time dancing is still quite popular. It is very much like our Boston Two Step and Varsouvienne, which crept into our earlier choreography. The Australians have updated this sort of thing with their Old Time, New Vogue, again, very much like our round dancing. There is a good chance that the world of dancing can become the melting pot where something will come of all this that can be universal.

There is so much to consider and we have only scratched the surface — oh well.


This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at cutecuer@cox.net.



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