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What's Line Dancing? (Essay)

Linedancing in Western Sydney

A Beginner's Guide to Line Dancing

Your First Steps Printer friendly version

Linedancing is a choreographed style of dancing. That means, variations and mistakes aside, when you step out a linedance, you are following a sequence of steps that have been conceived by the choreographer or choreographers. Rather than write out a dance sheet or learn a dance step by step, choreographers and linedancers have come up with names for short sequences of steps - thus instead of saying "step to the side, cross behind, step to the side, step together", one merely says "vine". While this does make things a *lot* easier, quicker and simplier for instructors, choreographers and dancers alike, it does have the unfortunate result that linedancing is full of jargon. And like any activity that is full of jargon, unless you know the jargon, ie: the names for at least the basic step sequences, you will, without doubt, be totally clueless when you first try to learn a dance.

When you start off at a beginner class it is the task of the instructor not only to teach you dances and to boost your confidence, but just as importantly, to also teach you at least the basic step sequences. Of course teaching these step sequences is usually done as part of teaching a dance - the instructor will teach a series of steps and then inform the class the name for that sequence. As the class improves, the teacher will increasingly just use the step description. Very rarely an instructor will teach a particular step sequence by itself - back when I first started I remember my then instructor getting the whole class in a circle and then practicing shuffles, around and around and around, until we'd gotten it right. Remembering the named step sequences is actually more important than trying to learn a particular dance - while dances come into popularity and then vanish into oblivion, the step sequences are eternal - at least as eternal as linedancing, long may that be! Progressing from novice to beginner to intermediate and finally to advanced is really a matter of learning more and increasingly complex step sequences and putting them together.

What follows is a short list of basic step sequence terms, along with a step-by-step description of the sequence. I am only including beginner level steps here - refer to Terms & Definitions for the more complex step sequences.

Some step sequences are syncopated, others are not. A non-syncopated step sequence is one where each step in the sequence is done on successive beats of the music. Syncopation is where you do two steps in the one beat. Syncopation is usually not part of beginner level dancing, however there are a few syncopated step sequences which can be found in beginner level dances. In the table below I have used the symbol "&" to denote a syncopated step. The simplist of the syncopated step sequences is the shuffle which is three steps in two beats.

In the following "nominated" foot is whichever foot the step sequence starts with - thus the nominated foot with a "right coaster step" is the right foot.

Step Sequence Beats Description
Ball Change &1 Step onto the ball of one foot (on & count), step and/or change weight onto the other foot. [Often accompanied by a previous step, eg: kick-ball-change]
Bump 1 Bump hips to the side. [Bumps (or hip bumps) may be done to the beat or they may be syncopated]
Cha-cha 1&2 Three steps in place, done to two beats of the music. [similiar to a shuffle, however it is done on the spot]
Charleston 4 Step forward, kick the other foot forward, step back (with the foot you kicked), touch the original foot back. [Also known as a Montana Kick]
Close 1 Step together (ie: "Close right" means step right foot beside the left)
Coaster-step 1&2 Step the designated foot back, step the other foot beside the first (on &), step the designated foot forward. [A coaster may be done forward, in which case it is called a "forward coaster". Unless specified, a coaster is always "back"]
Diagonal - 45 degrees out from the centre of the Line of Dance (direction).
Fan 2 Toe-fan: with feet together, turn toes of nominated foot out 90 degrees (pivoting on the heel) & return.
Heel-fan: same thing but the heel swings out, pivoting on the ball of the foot.
Heel Splits 2 With weight on both toes & feet together, turn both heels out to opposite sides, then back again. [Also known as a Buttermilk]
Heel Strut 2 Step heel of foot forward, drop toes to the floor. [Also known as a strut or a heel-toe strut]
Hitch 1 Hitch the knee up with weight on opposite foot.
Hold 1 Hold your position for the specified counts of music before taking another step. [This is actually one of the hardest "steps" since you have to remember to do nothing!]
Kick-ball-change 1&2 Kick lead foot forward, step ball of lead foot back to place, step other foot in place. [Notorious for confusing beginners]
L45 & R45 2 Tap the heel of the designated foot out at a 45 degree angle, then step beside other foot. [R45 & L45 are also used to describe movement in a diagonal direction, so be carefulo of the context]
Lock-step 1 The designated foot crossed closely in front or behind the other foot. [Often done as part of a step sequence, eg: a lock-shuffle, a lock-vine or a "step, lock"]
Monterey Turn 4 Unless specified a Monterey turn is always a 1/2 turn. It may be 1/4, 3/4 or full. The following is for a right-Monterey turn - reverse directions for a left. Touch toes of right foot to the right side, keeping weight on the left foot (count 1). Turn 1/2 turn right and step right foot next to left taking the weight onto right foot (count 2). Touch left toes to left side (count 3). Step left foot beside right with weight on the left foot (count 4). [This is not really a beginner step, however quite a few "beginner" dances have Monterey Turns]
Over - Crossing one foot over the other
Pivot turn 2 Unless specified a pivot turn is always a 1/2 turn. Step the nominated foot forward foot then turn 180 in the opposite direction of the forward foot and return weight to original foot. [There are many exceptions to this definition, however you *wont* encounter them in a beginners dance]
Rock 1 Change weight from one foot to the other without changing position. This is done with the knees slightly bent.
Rock Step/
Rock Replace
2 This is one of the most mis-used steps in the linedance lexicography. Technically, you rock onto the designated foot (either forward, backwards, to the side or crossing) and then step onto the other foot, transferring weight. Your position changes only on the "step" part. In practice, most choreographers, instructors and dancers actually do a "step/rock, rock" - stepping forward, back etc with the designated foot using a rocking-like motion and then rocking back onto the other foot (this foot doesn't move). Because of this confusion, the most correct description of what's actually done would be "Rock/step, replace", however it's usually (and incorrectly) known as a "rock step". [Also known as "Rock Recover"]
Scoot 1 Slide/hop the weighted foot forward, backward or sideways whilst the other foot is hitched.
Scuff 1 Move the specified foot by gently sliding the ball of the foot across the floor.
Shuffle 1&2 Three steps in any direction done to two beats of the music. Step the designated foot in the designated direction, step the other foot beside the first (on the & count) and then step the first foot in the same direction again. Eg: a "shuffle forward" would be - step one foot forward, step the other foot beside the first, step the first foot forward again. [Also known as a Chasse when done to the side]
Slide 1 or 2 With the weight on one foot, drag or slide the other foot up to the weighted foot. Usually done to either 1 or 2 beats.
Toe Strut 2 Step toe forward, drop heel to the floor. [Also known as a strut or a toe-heel strut]
Vine 4 Four steps done in any one direction. Eg: step nominated foot to the side, cross the other foot behind, step nominated foot to the side, step other foot together. Note that this is the basic vine - in many cases (at any level) a vine may have the 4th step replaced with a touch, scuff or hitch. Vines also often incorporate full or partial turns. [Also known as a "frieze"]
Waltz 3 Step the nominated foot forward or back, step the other foot together, step the nominated foot in place.

There are, of course, *many* more terms used in linedancing. The above is meant to be a list of those terms likely to appear in beginner level dances.

Phrasing & Counts

Line dances are usually phrased as either an 8-beat dance or a 6-beat dance, the latter being known as waltzes. You should not confuse a linedance "waltz" with a ballroom waltz - whilst some linedance waltzes are very similiar to ballroom waltzes (especially when done as a partnered dance), other's are anything but. One of the fastest dances I've ever learnt was, amazingly enuf, a waltz - simply because it was a 6-beat dance. Strictly speaking, it is the song that is phrased in either 6 or 8 beat and this phrasing is imposed on the dance, but since this is written for line dancers, not musicians, I'll not worry about the distinction.

Whether a linedance is a 6-beat or an 8-beat phrased dance, it can be broken up into blocks or 6 or 8 counts - something that is immediately obvious when you look at a dance sheet (there are exceptions, but that's the choreographer playing games). A beginner dance is usually 32 counts long (for an 8-beat phrased dance) or 4 lots of 8 counts. Most waltzes are 48 counts, beginner or not.

Starting Tips

If you are a beginner, the following is a list of suggestions that may make learning to linedance easier, less frustrating and more enjoyful. Many of the points I have scoured from various sources, others are the result of my own learning experience.

Be patient! Rome wasn't built in a day - don't expect to be dancing with the best of 'em after just one lesson. For most folks it takes about three weeks before they are confident with their first dance. If it takes longer, don't worry - how quickly it takes you to pick it up initially has little bearing on how good you'll be a year on.
Practice, practice, practice! Practice may not make perfect, but it will increase your confidence and help you learn a dance. Don't just practice the dance in class - run thru' it at home, at work, at school .. anywhere and anytime you have the chance (and the room). Also practice the basic steps .. vines, shuffles etc. Grab a copy of the dance sheet - either off the net or from the instructor to help you practice away from class.
Balance is important. Keep your body straight and your centre of weight over the foot your weight is on.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Remember, YOU are paying the instructor to teach YOU how to linedance. If you are having trouble with a particular step or can't seem to pick up a dance and need more help, ask the instructor. After all, that's what you are paying them for. And don't hope that someone else will ask that "stupid question" you really need answered - if everyone is hoping someone else will yell for help, no one will ask and the instructor will prolly think no one is having trouble.
Don't be discouraged if you seem to be the worst dancer in the class - everyone started off as a novice. Today's two left-foot stumbler may be tomorrow's champion.
No, you don't need a partner.
Proper footwear is very important. No, I don't mean y'all have to all wear cowboy boots, rather you need to wear shoes or boots that are comfortable and provide just the right amount of traction. Leather soled footwear is best, but not compulsory - especially for beginners. For my first year or so I wore a pair of sneakers who'se tread had been worn flat. If there is too much traction (ie: grip), then your ankles will be quite sore afterwards (this is also the case if the floor is in a poor way). If there is not enuf traction, then you'll be slip-sliding all over the floor and, for a beginner, that'll likely mean an occasional fall. If the floor is too slippery for your footwear, there are various types of tape which you can put on the soles - ask around, somone will be able to tell you what's available locally. I use "fabric tape" which I get from the local hardware store. If the floor has too much grip (eg: a poor wax job or lots of spilt drinks), talcum powder works wonders - however be sure it's the floor and not your footwear and be warned that some clubs don't permit this (it's also a no-no at a social). Other than that, common sense should dictate your choice of footwear. Remember, you are dancing on a wooden floor so anything that could damage the floor is a no-no. High heels are also a big no-no - apart from the damage to the floor, they're a killer on your feet while dancing. Oh, and the rest of your outfit is entirely up to you.
When you go to your first class make sure it's a beginner class and introduce yourself to the instrutor beforehand, making a point of telling them you are a novice. When the class starts, the best place is up the front, in the middle. Yes, you can hide up the back, but that makes it harder to see the instructor and more importantly, the instructor's feet.
If you bump into someone, briefly apologise and keep on dancing. Bumps, and worse, are a fact of life on the dance floor. No matter how good you may be, you'll still occasionally bump into people or fall over. I've seen people trip over whilst competing - far more embarrassing than doing the same in class!

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