36. Dance Steps

Dance steps, for solo, pairs, fours, and larger groups consti­tute one of skating's never ending fascinations. New steps, new rhythms for old steps—no one skater will ever exhaust all the possibilities. It has been proved that audiences enjoy dance steps set to music as much as the skaters themselves; soloists and pairs who specialize only in well-timed steps with unex­pected twists and turns and rhythm emphasis have won as much applause as the more spectacular performers. It is mani­festly impossible for any book not entirely devoted to the subject to teach you many series of steps already woven into whole dances; but it is possible to give you a few of the indi­vidual moves and to suggest others. Besides, it's really much more fun for you to discover combinations for yourself, and —who knows?—perhaps you will run into one that no one has ever thought of before.

The waltz eight, the man's ten-step, the rolls, and the changes of edge, plus the threes you already know, form a broad foundation for building a repertoire of dance moves. As you become an advanced skater, you will insert the more difficult turns, brackets, counters, and rockers, and even loops, in bewildering array, but these combinations can hardly be called "primer" studies. For now you must confine yourself to the edges and turns you are studying—though "confine" is hardly the correct word, for you will be amazed to see how much you can do with them.

The Chasse and the Progressive

First, some very simple ways of stepping, each variation re­ceiving its name from the placement of the feet during the steps—namely, the "chasse," the "progressive," the "cross roll." These are in addition to the cross behind and the crossover you already know. In the chasse, which like all the others may be done either backward or forward, the free foot takes the ice directly beside the skating foot, which then without any push rises from the ice a few inches either directly beside the new skating foot or slightly in front of it, before it in turn retakes the ice from a regulation push.

A progressive is so called because the free foot takes the ice beside the skating foot but during the actual stroke progresses beyond it, leaving the new free foot in a trailing position. The difference between this and a regular stroke is not only that the new foot advances but there is very little, if any, push involved. It is essentially a gliding move and should be done with a well-bent skating knee and a carefully extended free leg. This is a stroke that, forward or backward, looks easy but is deceptively difficult to perfect. (I've found a good rule of thumb is to slide the free heel down beside the skating toe on a forward progressive, and the free toe beside the skating heel on a backward one.) Be careful not to catch the picks of your skate as it comes off the ice behind a forward pro­gressive.

Cross Rolls

Cross rolls are easier to do backward; they may be done forward, of course, but somehow don't seem as useful for solo work as for pairs. From a regular OB stroke, swing your free leg wide from front to back and cross it well over behind your skating foot onto another OB edge; repeat the free leg swing and the cross to OB several more times; add a quick push-away from a bent knee and ankle each time, plus a strong matching swing-back of the free arm and shoulder. Let your body sway with the curve from side to side, and there you have the famous "Dutch roll"—a skating figure hundreds of years old, originated, so they say, on the Zuider Zee and perpetuated in every country that skates.

Simple "shuffle" steps are good only when used in syncopated rhythm with the music. They are done like a repeated chasse, with the weight shifting from one short stroke to another, while the foot that is leaving the ice slips way forward, no matter in which direction you are skating. If the steps are done with flexible knees and swinging arms, you can get a quick jazz rhythm with them that is interesting if not over­done. In the same quick-rhythm style, you can gain speed and a good effect backward by a continuous repetition of 6, 7, 8, 9, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc., of the man's ten-step. Or you can change the timing of the steps to suit the tempo of the music, by holding certain steps and doubling up on others.

"Continuous change of edge" is just what its name implies, a series of one-foot changes of edge—inner to outer, outer to inner, etc.—skated right down the ice, or diagonally. It is noth­ing more nor less than a wiggly line made by quick knee action combined with body lean and free leg pull from side to side; but if you time it to the music, it is an amusing way to work into a pivot, a spin, or some other finishing figure. If you go backward, keep your free foot in back all the time as you change; if you go forward, keep your free foot in front. Either way point it out and down and "work" it in synchronization with your lean and your skating knee.

More Mohawks and Choctaws

There is another Mohawk, from OF to OB, and there are two different types of "Choctaws," which should be learned starting both right and left with varying positions of the free leg during and after the turns. (A Choctaw is a method of turning around from one edge forward to the opposite edge backward, thus causing you to change circles, instead of turning around the same center as in the Mohawks.)

The outside Mohawk is admittedly difficult to do well; the outside Choctaw is easy and has a fun swing to it. Let's tackle the Mohawk first. Skate a LOF edge in regular first position, bend both knees, and bring the heel of the free skate to the inside of the heel and almost to the instep of the skating foot; just before changing feet and bringing the weight onto the ROB edge, reverse the shoulders even more strongly than for the inside mohawk; slide the left foot off the ice and press it hard back as the transition is made. To hold this ROB with any degree of ease, you must concentrate on a real lean to the right in the split second you turn, with your skating hip hard in, your back muscles taut, your skating knee flexible, and your weight on the skating shoulder and the ball of the foot. Contrary to school figure technique I even press my left hip back to match the pressure of the left shoulder; as long as I keep my hips tight, I find this parallel position easier to control here. Practice the OF mohawk starting right, even though it may be a form of self-punishment at first. Facility with it in both directions can lend variety to dance invention later on.

This outside mohawk may also be done with the free leg forward after the turn, as may the inside mohawk and both choctaws (in which case they are called "closed" turns). In­stead of placing the free heel at the instep of the skate, you must now cut the turned-out right foot down close behind the heel of your left skate, so that as you shift weight, you may press the left leg instantly forward. Bend your knee well and feel as if you were about to turn a ROB three. (If you keep your hips square, you won't turn unless you want to!) All other directions for this mohawk are the same as for the preceding "open" outside mohawk where the free leg was held backward in the finishing position. It is thus entirely the free leg that differentiates between "open" and "closed" turns, i.e., finishing backward equals "open," forward equals "closed."

For a left outside Choctaw skate a few strokes and then the 1, 2, 3 of the man's ten-step; hold 3 on a strong LOF, with your free arm leading and shoulders square; swing your right leg forward, at the same time letting your skating knee rise and your skating shoulder move forward; as the free leg reaches the apex of the swing, quickly reverse your shoulders and slide your turned-out free foot down close behind your left heel onto a strong inside backward edge; bend your right knee and ride away on the new circle with your left leg stretched in front, and your head looking back over your left shoulder. All the arm and shoulder movements for these Mohawks and Choctaws must be very decisive. For instance, here the right arm moves from a stretched backward position before the turn to a curved position across the front of the body after the turn; the left arm, of course, does the same in reverse order. Not only is this turn fun for the skater; it has a definite audience appeal if done with wide sweeping edges, a free use of the free leg combined with a lilt of the skating knee, and a definite body sway from one steady edge to the other.

Practice this Choctaw now in both open and closed positions, with a swing of the free leg and without a swing of the free leg. The other—and more difficult—set of the Choctaws involves turning from IF to OB edges, open and closed, with a swing and without a swing. On this turn, the shoulder reversal beforehand is so important in effecting the change of lean that if you forget to time it correctly, control of the edge afterward becomes almost impossible. On all Choctaws there is a deep bend to start, a smoothly rising knee to the turn, and a deep bend away from it. Always practice all turns on both feet.

With these turns added to our dance equipment, we can go ahead now and work out sequences ad infinitum. I shall suggest a few; the rest is up to you, your observant eye when watching others skate, and your native ingenuity.

Sal chow March

There is a nice little combination called the Sal chow March (named for the first champion of the world in the modern style of skating). Step LFO, cross RIF in behind, then turn your left foot as for a Mohawk and give a little hop onto LIB, step RBO, cross a short LOB behind, and then cross RIB over in front. Turn LOF, and repeat the whole sequence. A simple mazurka jump may be inserted after the fourth step, landing LOF and going into a repetition from there; or an even sim­pler IB toe jump, landing LOF, may be added after the com­plete series of steps before the repetition.

Long Dance

A sequence that I almost always teach beginning free skaters at the second test level is the "long dance," so called because, properly done, it covers the entire length and width of an ordinary rink. Start with the usual 1, 2, 3 of the man's ten-step on deep edges; on 3 sway your body with a change of edge to LIF, leaving your free leg in front during the change. (Hence­forth I shall call this little change the "sway"—I like to use it frequently for rhythm and a slight pattern variation before Mohawks, etc.) Now do RIF Mohawk to LIB, and ROB (4, 5, 6), letting yourself rotate to the outside of the curve and your free leg go back on 6; step LIF, Mohawk to RIB, and stroke LOB (4, 5, 6 in reverse), repeating the outward rotation on 6; make a short RIF, and then on a large arc do a LIF three fol­lowed at once by a ROF three; step wide (this is the first wide step I've taught you, except for a cross-over) to LIB and hold your free leg in front for two to three beats, and then finish off with 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 of the man's ten-step, swinging the leg for­ward with a nice knee rise on 10. From here you can ad-lib a finish, perhaps a big LOF swing Choctaw, ending with a spiral or a jump.

As this dance has a Mohawk sequence both ways, necessitat­ing real edge lean and shoulder control, plus threes in con­trolled rotation, it is excellent training. It is also excellent fun, as the rhythm may be varied in any way that suits your fancy. It is equally adaptable to waltz, march, or fox trot time. It is good for pairs, fours, or larger groups for shadow skating down the side and across the ends of a rink; in fact, it was invented in Canada and taught to me by my husband, Guy Owen, as part of the famous Minto Four repertoire.

Mohawks in series will make effective continuous turning dance moves. Do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, of the man's ten-step; then turn onto LOF, repeat 4, 5, 6; repeat the LOF and the Mohawk as many times as you want. The pattern will, of course, be circular. To straighten out the turns so that they may be done the length of the ice surface or on the diagonal, turn each time from ROB of the sixth step to a short LIF before repeating the Mohawk. Dance steps like this depend on quick movement and lightness of knee-ankle action for their effect.

Instead of inside Mohawks, you may use outside ones for a similar type of dance. LOF, RIF, LOF, RIF, LOF Mohawk to ROB, cross LIB in front, step RIF, LOF, repeat Mohawk and crossover; then repeat this four-step turning sequence as many times as you wish.

Round Dance

For a good-looking round dance do the first six steps of the man's ten-step (including the sway on 3); then on 6 turn a ROB three to RIF followed by an inside Mohawk to LIB, followed by another push to ROB and a three, followed by another Mohawk from RIF to LIB, etc. Remember to do each move just as you have been taught to do it separately—in other words, rotate and check, rotate and check, leaning always to the center of the circle and using your free leg with great precision. If you com­bine this back three dance with the LOF Mohawk circular dance just described, you can produce steps that turn first to the in­side of the circle and then to the outside. Such variation is desirable, so that an onlooker can't always predict your rotation and hence become bored.

Cut-over threes done on the diagonal are good (of course, they don't have to be done on the diagonal, but you should train yourself to use all possible lines, angles, and curves of the ice surface). To do a cut-over three, turn a regular OF three; then on the IB roll over in a short change edge to OB, at the same time swinging your free leg around from back to front and placing it down on the IB crossed over in front of the skating foot. Press your free shoulder well back. Now turn onto the OF again and repeat. To do this figure on the diag­onal, keep all your curves shallow, so that you can move easily from one edge to the next and still keep the general pattern a straight line. If you "snap" your three turns with a decisive movement of your shoulders and then let your whole body sway on the back edges, you will get rhythm and feeling into a move that might easily become stilted and static.

Chain Threes

Chain threes make another good figure. These, too, can be done either on a curve or a straight line. Turn an OF three, then an IB three, an OF three and an IB, etc. This is a continu­ous series of threes all on one foot, which is very good when well timed to the music. Be sure to swing the free foot vigor­ously and close past each turn to give the dance character. Be equally sure to press your free hip and shoulder hard back after each turn to give you control over it. "Snap" your turns quickly.

Spread eagles woven into plain steps always produce a pleas­ant variation, especially suited to men. Invent your own com­binations, using the inner spread (Illus. 37) as well as the outer. Entry and exit steps may vary greatly, so let your imagination go-One of the chief beauties of ice dancing is neat footwork and precise stepping. Each step should be distinct and articulate with the free foot always well stretched and well pointed. Each time you put your free foot on the ice, put it close to your skat­ing foot ("touching" and "brushing" are safe rules for pushing and passing—remember?), for "straddling" is not only ugly in itself but will, as you must know by now, affect your whole position, ruining a simple dance as well as a complicated one. A skater who dances around on two feet is either a poor skater or a lazy one, and all the effectiveness of the moves is lost in a sloppy shuffle.

When you dance on ice, you must let your arms and hands flow with the movement of your body, observing the rules for curving and straightening that I gave you earlier. Let them be always flexible, and remember that your hands should look like an unobtrusive continuation of your arms. This means that they must not dangle, flop, wave up and down, pull up from the wrist, be stiff, or have any other kind of exaggerated position; it also means that you should hold your arms and hands grace­fully away from your body so that they will constantly change position to fit with your steps and follow out the line of your back and your whole body. The body likewise must lean and flow with the edges. Your head should be as erect as your body, but it should turn naturally as the different directions and edges of the dance demand. There is nothing worse than seeing a skater do accomplished steps with his feet and yet keep his upper body and his arms so rigid that the whole effect is stiff and unpleasant. No matter how much such a skater may stroke on the beat of the music, he could never be said to be truly rhythmic.

A controlled bend, rise, bend of the skating knee and a flex­ible ankle, combined with clean steps and graceful body move­ments, will give your dancing a lilting quality, whether you have music to skate to or not. But if there is music and you don't listen to it and don't step to its rhythm, all will be in vain. A skater who can do all the steps but doesn't keep time is like a pianist who can play all the scales but no melody. Luckily most people can train themselves to keep time, even if they do not have a natural feeling for it; most stepping off beat is due to carelessness, or to such preoccupation with the steps that the skater fails to listen to the music at all! Unless you are one of those lucky naturals who find it impossible to get out of time—and there are not many of them—train yourself to move with the music no matter what you may be doing, plain skating or even school figures, for it will make all the difference not only to your own pleasure but to the pleasure your skating affords others.

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