Sharing The Joy Of Dancing
IT'S ALL IN THE ANKLES
In Ballroom Dancing there is a lot of discussion about footwork ("rise & fall", toe, heel, ball, flat, inside edge, outside edge, etc.) but there is little if any discussion about the use of the "ankles". The use of the ankles is a very important element in the movement of the dancer's body and determining the unique character of each dance.
There is more than one way to use the ankles. (A) The dancer can lift through the ankles which results in the movement of the body vertically or horizontally. (B) The dancer can bend his/her knees that results in the ankles bending slightly to place the body on the balls of the feet. (C) The dancer can point the feet with the ankles before the body moves resulting in one leg being longer than the other. The following paragraphs will discuss where these types of ankle actions are used.
- (A) The character of Slow Waltz is the movement of the whole body up and down. The "Rise" is accomplished by the actions of the ankles, knees and bodies all lifting up at the same time. The "Fall" is achieved by lowering only through the ankles. The subsequent lowering through the knees initiates horizontal movement. The closing of the legs in the "Chasse'" and the locking action of the legs in the "Lock Step" are executed on rise. This is achieved by lifting up through the ankles to the balls of the feet on the prior step and staying on the balls of the feet during the execution of the leg actions. The ankles lower on the following step. The character of Slow Foxtrot is a very even, smooth, level, horizontal movement. There is rise and fall but the ankle rise is absorbed in the legs to prevent the body from moving up and down. This action determines the character of the dance. In American Style "Latin/Cuban Motion", the body is moved from foot to foot; forward, backward and side to side (not up and down). The action of the ankles is used to move the body in the horizontal plain. As seem from above, this action of the ankle can be used to move the body vertically and horizontally.
- (B) The ankle can also be used as a secondary action. If a dancer simply bends their knees, he/she will feel the heels of the feet leave the floor. The ankles automatically flex when the knees are bent. This places the weight of the body on the balls of the feet. This is where the dancer wants their weight when they are executing Latin/Rhythm (Rumba, Cha Cha, Swing, etc.) turns. The rotation of the turn happens on the ball of the foot. Beginning dancers have a tendency to try to lift the ankle to turn on the ball of the foot. Turning on the ball of the foot by bending the knee gives the dancer much more control of the turn. This same action is used for many other rotating actions (pivots, swivels, etc.).
- (C) The ankle is also used to make one leg longer than the other. If I point my toe using my ankle and maintain that ankle position, that leg will be longer than the other. The character of Viennese Waltz is "sway". Sway is achieved by having the 2nd step (beat) of each element (measure) a "ball" only step. The step stays on the "ball" and doesn't go "flat". This action makes that leg longer. Viennese Waltz does not have up and down "rise and fall", it has horizontal sway. A characteristic of Ballroom Two step is a "lilt" (slight lifting action) on the second step. The longer leg on the second step creates a slight "pole vaulting" action of the body that creates the "lilt". Samba has a long leg on the second step as well. The second step (the "ah" beat) is a very fast step. It is achieved by the long leg keeping the dancer's body weight from transferring to that leg. There are many uses of the long leg in various other dances.
In example "A", the strength of the ankle was used to move the body. In example "B", the knees create the ankle action. In example "C", the ankle was used to make a leg longer. Footwork is not typically taught in group classes because it requires too much detail. Private lessons are where the dancer learns footwork.
Footwork is a very important element in Ballroom Dancing. It contributes to almost every aspect of dancing (lead/follow, character of the dance, balance, control, power, etc.). It seems like all the good stuff (feelings) happens while on ankle rise. Do yourself (and your partner) a favor and really understand and learn what the ankles are all about.