Dance Notation

This is my way of describing dance steps not a standard one. All the serious dance notations are far too complicated for beginners.

Foot Steps

Step descriptions begin with which foot is moving: L = left or R = right. This is followed by at least one of the following basic directions: F = forwards, B = backwards, S = sideways and C = closing. These may be combined with each other or with: D = diagonally, X = crossing or K = locking. In addition, the step may be taken without weight: t = tap, br = brush, pt = point or fl = flick. This means the same foot will be used again next step (whereas normally the feet are used alternately just like walking!). Examples of combinations are:

When turning, the apparent leg position will change. The amount of turn is given in eighths. So 2 is a quarter turn and 4 is a half turn. A positive value means a right / natural / clockwise turn. A negative value means a left / reverse / anticlockwise turn. This results in combinations such as RXFS -4 then LSFX -4 for a swivel turn to the left.

Hand Holds

The basic hold is CH = Close Hold, but this is closer for ballroom than for latin dances. The man holds the lady's right hand in his left, out to the side a little and approximately level with his ear. There should be space between their elbows. He places his right hand on her back about halfway between waist and shoulder. The lady places her left hand on the man's right arm or shoulder (or even behind it). The actual position depends on distance apart and relative heights. The lady must not lean on the man, it is not his job to hold her upright. The hold should be neither too floppy nor too stiff. Maintaining this position seems to be very difficult for beginners.

NH = No Hold (eg when the couple release hold in order to perform solo turns). DH = Double hand Hold (man holds lady's right hand in his left and her left hand in his right). HH = High Hold, which is a variation on the double where the hands are high and to the side (see Cha-Cha). SH = double over the Shoulder Hold in shadow position. This is where the hands are linked left to left and right to right. It is used in the Gay Gordons - starting with the lady on the man's right but turning together so that she is then on his left. WH = Waist Hold, another left-to-left and right-to-right option from behind.

For other holds: L = left and R = right. The man's hand is specified before the lady's hand. LRH is the most common Latin hold (man's left holding lady's right) when facing, in fan position or for underarm turns. When turning it is vital not to hold partner's hand too tightly. Let the grip slip round as necessary. LRH and RLH are used when side by side (for Hand-to-Hand and New York figures or in Old-Time sequences). The couple may use RRH or LLH for some turns in latin dances. In shadow position, the man may use RRH or LLH and also place his other hand on the lady's back/waist. Old-Time sequences frequently use the left to left handhold this way.

Rock 'n' Roll or Jive may use a crossed double handhold before one or other of the couple turns under the linked arms. This is specified as XRH (man's right on top) or XLH (man's left on top). Half way through such a turn the hold becomes BH for double handhold behind the back. There are also occasions (eg in Salsa) where the hands are doubly crossed on turning from a plain double hold. Both lady and man have the same arm on top of their own cross (XRRH or XLLH) to form a diamond between their collected hands.

Body Positions

FP Ballroom: Most of the time in Ballroom dances the man and lady stand quite close to each other and facing. When their feet are together they do not quite line up but are offset so that each looks over the other's right shoulder. The offset is particularly obvious in Tango. Despite this, the next step should be inline with partner. FP = Facing Position and is nearly always combined with closed hold (CH).

FP Latin: When facing in Latin dances, the man and lady stand a little further apart. This allows room for twisting steps. The feet line up so that the couple look directly at each other. Maintaining eye contact is important in dances such as the rumba. FP is less likely to be combined with CH. Instead a more open position is common, using DH or LRH.

BP: Occasionally, in sequences or routines the couple may dance back to back. BP = Back-to-back Position and would usually be combined with a single handhold (LRH or RLH).

Promenade: In PP = Promenade Position the hold is still close but both face the same way. If this is along the line of dance, then the man's feet point diag to wall and the lady's point diag to centre. The lady's left hip should be touching just behind the man's right hip. PP may be the result of a whisk or a partially completed turn (usually by the lady) but in Tango the man may simply twist the lady to PP between figures. In normal promenade the couple both walk forwards. In fallaway promenade they both walk backwards.

Counter-Promenade: There is also CP = Counter-promenade Position where the couple face the other way. This is more awkward and occurs less often with the close hold of Ballroom dances. However, Samba has whisks to both sides and uses a more open hold.

Outside Right: Quite often in Ballroom, Latin and sequence dances, the couple have turned and one of them will have to step outside partner. This is usually the man, but it may also be the lady (described as partner outside in the conventional male dominated view!). Another turn will be necessary to restore the normal facing position. ORP = Outside Position on the Right is by far the most common option in Ballroom dances (eg Quickstep and Foxtrot). The right sides of the couple are adjacent regardless of which is stepping outside.

Outside Left: OLP = Outside Position on the Left. It occurs in some Latin figures and sequence dances. One of the couple, usually the man, will step outside partner and their left sides are adjacent.

Shadow Front: In Shadow Position the lady stands in front of or behind the man and possibly just to one side. SFP = Shadow Position with the lady in Front of the man. This position is used sometimes in Latin dances and frequently in sequence dances such as Saunters. The commonest handholds are SH (over the shoulders of the lady) and LLH.

Shadow Behind: SBP = Shadow Position with the lady Behind the man. This might occur in Cha-Cha or Samba. The commonest handholds are SH (over the shoulders of the man) and RRH.

Side Right: SRP = Shadow or Side-by-side Position with the lady on the Right of the man. Many sequence dances start with the couple side by side facing along the line of dance. Normally the lady is on the outside of the circle (nearest the wall) and the man is on the inside of the circle (nearest the centre). The man's right hand holds the lady's left. It is also used in the Hand-to-Hand and New York figures of Latin dances.

Side Left: SLP = Shadow or Side-by-side Position with the lady on the Left of the man. The man's left hand holds the lady's right. It is used in latin or sequence dances when the partners turn individually to face against the line of dance.

© Susan Foord ( 2010-07-22
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