Foot swivels are used to rotate a Ballroom partnership or the body of an individual dancer. Most turns in "Latin" and "Rhythm" dancing are executed through foot swivels. Most turns in "Standard" and "Smooth" dancing are executed through the rotation of the muscles from the bottom of the foot to the top of the hip. There is no intended foot swivel action. The problem is determining the proper turning technique for a specific turn. As always, there are exceptions.
The focus of this article is "Latin" and "Rhythm" turns but because many dancers erroneously use a combination of the two techniques at the same time, the "Standard" and "Smooth" turns need to be discussed as well. Fundamentally, the technique used is determined by the amount of rotation required by the turn.
What does the "rotation through the muscles" technique mean? Stand up and hold your arms straight out in front of you with the palms up. Now simply turn both palms down. Your hands rotated about 180 degrees. The rotation is accomplished through all of your muscles from your shoulder clear down to your hands. The same is true for your feet except there is not as much rotation. Stand with your weight on your left foot and hold your right foot forward away from your body. Rotate your right foot as far as you can clock wise. Now rotate your right foot as far as you can counter clock wise. It will rotate about 90 degrees. The foot rotation is accomplished by the muscles from your hip clear down to your foot.
Let's talk about the "Standard and Smooth" "Open Left Turn" in Waltz. The turn starts facing diagonal center and ends backing line of dance (from the leader's point of view). The turn rotates 120 degrees but over three steps. This accommodates rotating through the muscles. This technique produces a smooth constant turning action. There is no foot swivel on any of the three steps. Most turns in Waltz are of this type. An exception would be a "Syncopated Underarm Turn". This turn rotates about 360 degrees over just two steps. This is too much rotation to be accomplished through the muscles. In this case, each turning step utilizes about 180 degrees of foot swivel.>/P>
What are "Latin and Rhythm" swivel turns? A swivel turn is executed by rotating on the ball of the foot. Try this: Stand with your weight on your left foot, knee slightly bent (this takes the weight off the left heel) pointing your right leg to the side away from your body. Make a dance frame and be toned all the way down to the floor. Have another person engage your frame and start walking around you. This should cause your left foot to swivel on the floor. Your whole body should be turning on top of the left ball of your foot. The trick is to have your body toned enough to create the foot swivel and not have any rotation in your muscles. If you were wearing pants or slacks, the pant leg crease should stay straight and in-line with the toe of the left foot. If the crease gets crooked, that means there was rotation in the muscles of the left leg. The goal is to rotate through the swivel on the ball of your shoe not through the leg muscles. Trying to turn by using muscles and swiveling at the same time is like trying to rotate Jell-O. It is almost impossible to control and balance this type of turn.
Now let's talk about two of the "Latin and Rhythm" turns, the Rumba "Underarm Turn" and the Rumba "Chaine Turn" (also known as an "Inside Turn"). The "Underarm Turn" is an un-powered swivel turn. It turns about 360 degrees over two steps. The body weight moves to the first moving step and swivels 180 degrees, then returns to the previous in-place foot swiveling 180 degrees. The body travels to the first traveling step, turns, then returns to the previous foot and turns. I call this turn the "To the Rear March Turn". A "Chaine" (pronounced shin-ay) Turn is slightly powered by the leader and is executed on the balls of alternating feet. It creates a complete rotation of the body for every two steps taken. Chaine means "chain" in French. Two 180 degree swivel turns are chained together. The dancer's body will travel about the width of the dancer's hips.
The challenge is being able to maintain the muscle tone required to cause the swivel to be executed on the ball of the foot and at the same time not allow any rotation through the muscles of the leg. There may be other considerations as well. If the floor is slippery or sticky, smooth or rough, the types of shoes being worn etc. etc. The swivel turn has a slightly different feeling when it is un-powered verses being powered by the leader. The purer the swivel (no muscle rotation) the more speed and control you will have of the turn.