They Get THAT Name?
& Dan Finch
The names of most of the
figures we dance have some
relationship to their performance. Foxtrot three step, for example, or
open hip twist. But whisk? Wing?
The standardizing—and naming—of
our modern figures began in
the 1920s (Latins much later), long enough ago that the hows and whys
figures came from and how they were named are part of a generation now
Were it not for the diaries of Josephine Bradley (see photo), we might
a great deal of our dancing history. Bradley, a British ballroom
was one of five people asked in 1924 to form the ballroom branch of the
Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD). That group developed
manual for waltz, foxtrot, tango, and quickstep. Her diaries were
passed to her
students and friends Bill & Bobbie Irvine, MBE, 13 times world
champions winning in Latin as well as standard, both of whom are now
Fortunately for the dance world, the diaries went to Oliver
German amateur world champion trained by the Irvines, who has written a
picking up many of the entries from the diaries.
The waltz, having evolved over
centuries, first appeared as
a ballroom dance in 1917, nicknamed “the lame duck,” he said in the
Irvine Legacy. It was also called the“round waltz” because it
only one direction. A competitor named Maxwell Stewart decided to jazz
routine in 1924 and added the “double reverse spin,” so named because
always danced twice in a row, according to the book. [Weren’t you
puzzled where the double spin was in that figure?]
In the next two years, Ms.
Bradley decided the round waltz
was too boring and trained students to turn right as well as left. That
danced on diagonals and required one partner to alternately pass the
allow the other to pass. This set up lateral swing with soft rise, and
waltz was revolutionized. A London newspaper organized a competition
see which waltz form was most popular, and the ISTD declared that the
form of the couple winning that class would be the version to be
adopted as the
official technique. Bradley’s students won with the diagonal waltz, and
round waltz was never seen again.
Naming of new figures as they
developed was generally left
to the dancers or their coaches. The Big Top was originally called the
rumba cross because it was first danced as the reverse of the rumba
wing? It was so named because it resembles a bird stretching out its
Bill & Bobbie Irvine
are credited with giving us the
stalking walks in tango in 1962, the developé, which they culled from
1961, and the throwaway oversway in 1960. They had competed for South
their early years but moved back to England in 1960, and the throwaway
appeared at that point when they found that competitors were dancing a
called the hinge, developed from the left whisk. In it, the lady is up
toes while the man was on flat feet before they both lower. According
book, Bill Irvine found it “unbearable to appear smaller than his
was about the same size as he. So, he told her to stay down, not rise
cross her left foot behind before lowering. Instead she was to move her
foot back in a line. Ms. Bradley provided the name for the birth of the
figure—so called because it appeared that Lady’s left leg was “thrown
while her partner danced an oversway.
The original foxtrot feather
was a lock step, according to
the book. It evolved from an accident, a man’s patent leather shoes
stuck together going into the lock. This caused him to take an outside
Open turns were added to foxtrot in 1919 but only to the right. Ms.
the first professional championship in foxtrot in 1924, with her
partner, the year the official technique was published. A turn to the
been added with a heel pull ending for Man, as the equivalent of the
natural to the right. Ms. Bradley’s second partner, Frank Ford, is
with the accidental creation of the feather finish, when his patent
shoes stuck on a left turn in 1927 and he had to step out.
Our standards today continue to
evolve as technique improves.
Bill Irvine is quoted as referring to the ISTD manual often but adding
my bible of dance but it is not WHAT is written here that is important.
have to know WHY it is written that way.” Understanding the concepts
move is half the battle of learning how to do it (my quote, not his).
newsletters prepared by Dan
and Sandi Finch , October 2014, and
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, May 2016.