That Alexei Sayle Ballroom Dancing Thing or Everybody Give Three Cheers, Except the BBC

Image by Graham Stratton
Alexei Sayle’s Marxist principles mean he doesn’t like Strictly Come Dancing, and by extension, all ballroom dancing.

Sayle doesn’t like SCD because it’s a dumbed-down popularity contest. This might be fair: the judges do have dancing knowledge, but the public get a say via a phone vote, and on the programme itself there’s lots of other bollocks which has little to do with art or skill, which is why I got bored with SCD.

Alas, Sayle seems to have falsely conflated the whole of ballroom dancing with SCD. tangokitty’s excellent comment at the Guardian points out that this neglects the large number of social dancers. One unfortunate effect of SCD is that it leaves people (including prospective and newbie ballroom dancers) with the impression that true ballroom dancing will culminate in fake tan and sequins.

Sayle likes the freedom of Northern Soul, which isn’t a partner dance, so is an odd choice for comparison with ballroom. There’s a limit to how much you can go crazy on the floor and also keep dancing with another person. (Neither was Nothern Soul “unselfconscious”, according to the Guardian’s expert commenters). Silly Sayle: improvisation and freedom is why lindyhop is better than ballroom, not why Northern Soul is. Naturally, you should also feel free to make up your own reason why ballroom is better than lindy.

Sayle goes on to say that ballroom tango is “robotic”. I say staccato, you say potato: Sayle’s free to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry, but it’s not clear what that has to do with our moral obligation to assist in Marxist class war. He adds that the music is terrible, but in fact, SCD’s music for tango (and paso doble) is often the wrong music for the dance, leading to horrors like this. Ballroom can in fact be sexy (previously), although Sayle’s assertion that a partner dance involving a man and a woman is always about sex is problematic and I’m tempted to set the Tumblr SJWs on him til he’s sorry.

tl;dr: Sayle’s at his best when talking about how crappy popular TV is, but knows bugger all about dance and/or is just trolling to drum up publicity for his new show.

Edit: Metafilter has some interesting discussion on the article.

Music and dancing

I muck around with music a bit (I tend to sing for better keyboard players, although I did bash out tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber for Dummies at the last singing party we had), and I also dance. I thought it’d be fun to try to get these two things together in my head, by working out how the music for ballroom dancing works. After a bit of Googling for pages written by people who know more than I do, here it is. Seeing as there are better musicians and better dancers than me reading this, they can correct me if I get it wrong.

Foxtrot

Foxtrot is in 4/4 time, between 112 and 120 beats per minute (according to these people). It’s typically danced to Big Band music. The music emphasises beats 1 and 3. I think I can see that in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, where the accompaniment either hits more notes on the treble clef, or uses the bass line to keep that emphasis. In Bobby Darin’s version, the brass is hitting those beats in the intro.

The steps are typically 1 beat or 2 beats long, and we call them “quick” and “slow”, respectively (if I’m writing it down, I’ll abbreviate to Q and S). The basic rhythm of the dance is slow-quick-quick, which means the first two steps hit the emphasised beats. Some figures in the dance vary the rhythm, but the “slow” step, if there is one, starts either on beat 1 or beat 3. Here are the Hiltons giving us something to aspire to, with music and the slows and quicks, starting about 1:25.

<lj-cut text=”Waltz, Quickstep, Tango, over”> Waltz

Waltz is in 3/4 time, as any fule kno . The tempo for slow waltz is about 84 to 90 beats per minute. The music strongly emphasises beat 1.

The steps are typically one step per beat, one-two-three, leading off strongly on beat 1. Sometimes, to get more steps into a bar, one of the beats is split into two half beats, with the second half of the split beat being counted “and”. For example, in the whisk/chassé combination we count the chassé “one, two and three”. Once again, the Hiltons show us how it’s done, starting about 1:20.

The Viennese Waltz is a lot faster, about 180 beats per minute. It’s typically done to classical stuff from Johann Strauss, although other possibilities exist, and of course, a fast waltz gives you the opportunity to dance to silly songs. It’s danced at 1 step per beat, and the steps are mostly turns in each direction as you progress around the floor, and the fleckrl, where the couple rotate about each other rapidly in the centre of the room to show off. There are no split beats in it, it’s fast enough already. Here are some good people doing it.

Quickstep

Quickstep and foxtrot have common roots. Musically, quickstep is in 4/4 again with the emphasis on beats 1 and 3, but faster, at around 200 beats per minute. Again, it’s typically danced to fast Big Band or jazz music, usually about a drum kit that’s getting lonely waiting for its owner to come back from World War II, or some such.

The steps are timed as 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks like in foxtrot, and the rhythm is typically slow-quick-quick. But the figures we dance in quickstep have more in common with waltz than foxtrot. It’s also more common for figures to roll over the end of the bar, so that you lead off on beat 3 sometimes (the chassé and quarter turn that everyone learns as a beginner does this: it’s phrased as SQQS SQQS). Despite it being fast, we still get split beats in quickstep, too, usually called “quick-a-quick” (there’s obviously not enough time to even say the word “and”).

Tango

La Cumparsita is the quintessential tango. We’re still in 4/4, at about 130 beats per minute. The music is staccato (although I’m not sure how well the dots over the notes have come out in the image on the right). There’s a sudden “ba-dump” into beat 1: the piano has a half beat on the bass line of the previous bar in the example on the right, which came from 8notes.com. We usually feel like there’s an 8 beat phrase over the 4 beat bars.

Ballroom tango comes from Argentina via a bit of cleaning up in Paris. Again, there are 2 beat slows and 1 beat quicks, and the odd split beat too. Typically figures are danced quick-quick-slow. It looks nothing like foxtrot or quickstep, though: the style of it matches the staccato style of the music. The dancers stalk around on the slow steps and hit the quicks as quick as they can, and then stop as still as they can, so that the quicks end up being shortened. Here are Marco Cavallaro and Joanne Clifton having some fun with it. I saw them at a ball some years ago: they were great.

Next time, I’ll try and work out what the Latin dances are about.

Dancing: Paul pp Clive: Cha-cha, Tango

<lj-cut text=”Contains explicit steps”>
Ballroom and Latin B (t’other PaulW pp Clive)

Cha:
Natural top
Rotate body to R (&), step forward L, replace, cha-cha-cha to L (2 3 4 & 1). Lead lady to spiral on &, ending in cuddle hold side by side, both man and lady with weight on L. Let go hold.
Close RF to LF, transfer weight to LF, step to side RF (2&3)
Close RF to LF, transfer weight to RF, step to side LF (4&1) – the overall effect is hip rotations: the hips start facing the training leg, close up for figure of 8 and you push off the standing foot rotate to face the other trailing leg. Or so it seemed to me.
Back RF, replace, forward locks (2 3 4&1)
Spot turn to L, forward locks (2 3 4&1)
2 more forward locks (2&3 4&1)
Spot turn, (2 3), 3 more forward locks (4&1 2&3 4&1), the last lock the woman turns and steps back instead.
Forward basic,
Back basic leading alamana,
New Yorker to R,
New Yorker to L,
Fast New Yorkers, R then L
New Yorker to R,
Spot turn to L,
Natural top if you want to repeat it.

Top tips: either turn or step, not both at same time. Isolation of upper body from hips is important for those hip wiggles.

Tango:

First half of long side:

Start near corner, facing diag wall.
5 step: forward, side, behind, side, rotate body to PP (feet stationary) QQQQS
Diagonally forward L, through R, flick L, bring LF behind RF and ball change (ball of LF, flat of RF) SQQ&S
Ronde LF round to put you back in the usual PP (S)
Flick head and hips to R then L (feet stationary) (S)
Diagonally forward L, R (after step, rotate body to L after step to lead lady to close), forward L, lock RF behind L (SQQ&)
Usual tango turn (KEEEERwick quick slow, KEEERwick quick slow) ending on RF, OP on her RHS. On the final step, keep hips rotated to her but rotate upper body to left to lead her to raise her leg (she’s standing on one with the other crossed in front just above the knee, I think).
Rotate upper body R (no step), recover weight to LF, return weight to RF, turn sharply to R and tap LF beside R (lady swivels and then taps), to end in closed position facing wall. (QQQQ)

Ballroom and Latin C

The tango above continues:
Step through L, side R, behind L, rotate upper body to R (no step, she swivels), forward R, side L, close R (QQQQ QQS) to end facing wall again.
Forward L, forward R, (SS)
Link (QQS)
Chase: through R, side L, forward R (OP, curving to R), back L (back along LoD, continuing to turn to R) (QQQQ), chasse to R along LoD (Q&Q), link to turn a corner (QQS),

Short side:
Forward R, forward L, lock R behind L (QQS) – stay in PP for the lock otherwise she can’t tell what’s going on, rotate to closed after final step.
Forward L, side R, behind L to end facing diag centre (diag wall of new wall) with her outside on your RHS (QQS)
Rock forward onto RF, back onto LF, step side R (QQS)
Start with the 5 step again. Phew.

There was also a samba, but who likes samba?

Danceblog: the return

The dancing lessons have stared again. Hurrah.

<lj-cut text=”Rumba (of which I found a video, yay; sadly I look nothing like the guy in it, boo), tango, waltz, reflections on being Batman”>Ballroom and Latin B (Clive)

Rumba
3 threes: now with video of good people doing it
Forward basic lowering left hand to lead lady to turn to her right at the end of the bar, leaving her with her back to you, place both hands on her shoulders.
Cucharacha to R, leading her to spin to L on the 1 beat and catching her shoulders again immediately (according to Clive it’s a cucharacha, the video has a back basic).
Diagonal step forward L, chucharacha, hinting at her to turn to her R at the end of the bar.
Back basic, end with her in single hand hold.

Thing with no name:
Forward basic ending with LF back.
Pivot half a turn on LF taking RF forward away from her (beat 2), pivot on RF half a turn landing on LF facing her (beat 3), back on RF and settle into hip (beats 4&1), taking handshake hold.
Rock forward onto LF (beat 2), back on to RF leading her across (lead RH down and to right) (beat 3), lunge into left leg pushing RH out to right to make her turn and lunge in opposition to you (her free left leg in front of your free right leg). Stick left arm out diagonally forward. Smile.
Back basic from there, leading her across you with right hand, changing to left hand as she passes, ending in fan position.

Three Alemanas – easy steps for the man, it’s all in the arms, see the video on Youtube.

The rest of the lesson was heels and toes and body rotation in foxtrot (where does one buy the book with this stuff in, anyway?), and the quickstep we did last term.

Ballroom and Latin C (Clive)

Tango

Link (QQ).
Chase: Forward L, through R, side L turning sharply back into close position, forward R outside partner, side L to back LoD, pivot on LF face LoD and small chasse, R, L, R. (S,QQQQ,Q&Q),
Whisk LF behind RF (S)
“GD Is My Bowling AlleyTM“: Forward R, side L turning to back LoD (in closed position), back R turning to diag centre, whisk LF behind RF (promenade position) (QQQQ). Repeat (QQQQ again).
Through RF, close LF to RF (closed position), lower into LF extending RF to side (QQS)
Recover slowly, drawling RF in, straightening left knee a bit (SS)
Close RF to LF and point LF to side (&S): this shouldn’t be a bobbing action, keep it grounded
Whirligig: side and forward L (S), through R turning R (Q), side and back L (Q), back R loosely crossing behind L (Q), twist turn for 3 quicks (QQQ), ending with RF free, RF forward around her to unwind her twist (7th quick), forward L (Q), forward R (Q), tap L (Q).
Closed promenade, SQQS

Must have been something else, too. What have I forgotten?

Dancesport B Modern (Bruce)

Mostly technique. What I remember:

Importance of keeping partner on your RHS in Viennese, stepping around her when going forward and taking small steps to allow her to go around you when going backward.

Lots of hold exercises, including making us put our coats on and position our arms so the fabric is stretched around the back of the coat, without allowing our shoulders to hunch. Importance of remembering you are Batman and your cape encloses the lady (make the hold big). The Five Points of Connection. The Noble Eightfold Path (just kidding).

Waltz stuff. Importance of lowering on the “ee” of three, like wot I don’t do, and also of not moving horizontally while lowering vertically. Importance of gradual rise (halfway up on 2, all the way on 3).

Fallaway and slip pivot: facing diag centre, forward LF, side RF, LF side under body (beats 1&2), rise on “oo” of two, slip RF past LF (now backing LoD) and pivot to L on it (now facing LoD), lowering as you do so (beat 3). Next step must be forward L down LoD (back R for lady), or you’ve not turned enough. The rise here feels to me like I’m pushing off the LF as I’m bringing the RF towards it, no idea whether that’s right but it seemed to be what he was doing. Corrections welcome.