Introduction with beginning footwork & handwork

Private publication '96 by House of Wear, Inc.; prepared
for WWW November 2004 by Ken Wear, its successor.
Protected by prevailing copyright laws.1 To view, click here
DANCERS: Spread the joy of dancing. The flyer (a self test) (click here) (BACK button will return you here) may interest them; this page can get them started.
For disclaimer
, click here.

Quite apart from the health benefits of Ballroom Dancing (which are considerable) and the social opportunities it affords, you will likely find the movement to a rhythm is emotionally soothing, affords the pleasant physical sensations of athleticism, and confers a sense of accomplishment.

My interest is in helping you learn to dance. Hopefully, you have already acquired an interest, or at least a curiosity, about what delights await you. Of course your initial effort may have been less than perfection, but you probably have warm recollection of watching stars (or ordinary people) happily moving across the floor, inspired by a band or an inner tempo. Most people can learn to dance, whether for pleasure, for companionship, or for health; a combination of instruction, study and practice offers your best hope for dancing confidently and gracefully in a short time. This web page, which leads you through actual footwork and handwork (including tips on leading and following) for four dances, is for the study portion; it will get you started. Although instruction will get you going quicker, practice (which may be with or without a partner) is absolutely essential.

OVERVIEW: Dancing is bodily movement synchronized to a rhythm, with or without a partner. In ballroom dancing the lead is traditionally provided by the man because somebody must decide. Confidence and trust in your partner (as well as yourself) are important -- the man in providing signals without words and the lady in recognizing those signals and responding to them -- although these are learned skills and will become automatic. Confidence and trust build through exercising your skill.

Should you have an urgent need to learn something quickly, go directly to Stance (since you need to know how to connect physically) by clicking here and then to One Step by clicking here. Hopefully, when you are less pressured, you will return and pursue the entire course.

Recognizing and responding to rhythms can be learned as easily as the cadence in marching. For help, click here.

I have organized this presentation is four sessions to give you a reasonable break in your efforts. Continue ahead for Session One. Then for
Session Two click here
Session Three click here
Session Four click here

So much for the very fundamentals. Enjoy! And, after you have mastered this much, if you have an opportunity, take additional instruction or continue with Book 2. Aside from its therapeutic or health benefits, ballroom dancing is the height of social activity. Everyone, from mid-teens and beyond, should have at least a modest repertoire.


Ballroom dancing is an art form. It is bodily movement synchronized with a rhythm provided by some form of musical instrument(s). While the music is itself an art form, in dancing we take advantage of the rhythm. Through tradition we have adopted certain rhythms that we synchronize with selected patterns of body and foot movement. And we give these patterns of movement names, such as Fox Trot or Waltz or Rumba or Polka. So we have for each pattern of movement (or dance) rhythms that most comfortably encourage that particular pattern.

As in any art form some pursue their art to heights that bring them acclaim or wealth, or the envy of their peers. But for each such devotee there are many who simply wish to enjoy the pleasures of casual pursuit. Perhaps the simplest rudiments of synchronized movement. Perhaps preparing to rise to any social situation suggesting dancing, or perhaps even challenging themselves to learn a great variety of patterns so that repetitions may be minimized. Whatever level of skill you aspire to, there can be great pleasure (and health benefit) in exercising your skill.

In starting your Basics, of course there are details to be mastered. Many of them you are, knowingly or unknowingly, already familiar with. Reviews are presented under the topics Fundamentals, Rhythm, Stance and Lead, which you encounter as needed during this course.

The balance of the Introduction appears at the end; to read it now, click the underscored word.


For his own convenience the author refers to a ‘dance’ as a collection of figures that are consistent with a particular rhythm and/or tempo. Such as Fox Trot, Waltz, . . . He refers to a ‘figure’ as a combination of footfalls that lead the couple through some sort of geometrical figure or pattern such as Arch Turn, Twinkle, . . . (You will encounter these terms later.) He refers to a ‘step’ as an individual footfall as the foot makes contact with the floor. (Some refer to a 'figure' as a 'step,' which confuses a footfall with a figure.)

Dancing may be broken into forward, backward and side steps. If you can execute a forward step of from 6 to 15 inches, or a backward step of 3 to 12 inches, or a step (either to the right or to the left) of 3 to 9 inches, this in keeping with a fixed tempo, you can successfully do Ballroom Dancing. Yes, advanced figures will require more intricate foot work and perhaps variations in timing, but these should be deferred until you have acquired a ‘feel’ for dancing. For now, it is good practice to put music on and practice stepping in synchronization (time) with the beat of the music.

(We will also use diagonal steps, which are a combination of side steps with forward or backward steps. That is, as you step forward (or backward) you also increase the sidewise separation of your feet.)


Have you noticed that motion that is rhythmic requires less energy, is less tiring? So it is with dancing: The same energy required by a fast swing, if spent in some non-rhythmic activity, would be much more tiring. By the same token, dancing against the rhythm of the music is tiring.

Whatever the music, dancing successfully requires synchronizing your body movements with the rhythm. Like a march, the idea is for your foot to make contact with the floor just as the beat of the music is struck. As in walking, if weight is to be shifted from one foot to the other, the shift is commenced upon foot-floor contact even though completion of the shift may require a fraction of a beat. Motion of the foot that is travelling should commence early enough in the interval between beats that the foot arrives at its next position in time to make contact with the floor as the beat is struck.

The first need in learning to dance is to successfully move your hands and feet -- especially the feet -- in keeping with the rhythm. (If you can readily recognize rhythms, skip the next two paragraphs.)

(Some people have difficulty recognizing rhythm; it is an ability that can be much improved with practice. Listen to music to sense the accented beats or rhythm. Take music without a vocalist, just the instruments, and listen for the regularity in time between striking the notes. (If a keyboard is available, play one of the sample numbers that is a Waltz, first with full accompaniment and then switch out the melody to hear rhythm only; switch back and forth until you are comfortable picking the rhythm from the whole.) Even if you are 'tone deaf' you should be able to discern the continuity in sound and a regularity in loudness that coincides with the tempo. Your ability can be greatly improved with practice.)

(I don't have the opportunity to monitor what you are hearing, so note this: Initially, to gain a sense of the speed of the music, start counting "one-two-three . . ." at about two counts per second; do this before you turn on the music and then alter your speed of counting -- slightly -- to coincide with the beat of the music. If this exercise requires you to change in your speed of counting, say doubling or halving, you are hearing the wrong rhythm; try again. We walk at some 1/2 to 1 second per step, one second being leisurely or just ambling along; slower makes demands on the sense of balance; faster than some 3 steps per second can be tiring. Not surprisingly, dancing seems centered around two steps in one second to three steps in two seconds -- actually, a comfortable but somewhat brisk walking pace.)


(If you have prior experience, skip to NOTE (below).) To prepare for the figures to come, you should get some practice in moving with the tempo of dance music. If you have it available, play some Fox Trot (4-4) music; if not, then count 1-2-3-4 ... during this exercise.

Note that you always wish to have your foot contact the floor as the beat is struck; shifting your weight to that foot will follow immediately without attention on your part.

Walk forward, one 12- to 15-inch step for each beat of music, or each count; time your movement so your foot makes contact with the floor as the beat is struck. Walk backward, again one 9- to 12-inch step for each beat of music or count. Move left by advancing your left foot 6- to 9-inches, bringing your right foot alongside, advancing your left again ... Then move right by advancing your right ... Do it! Walk forward. Walk backward. Move several steps to the right. Move several steps to the left.
All to the beat of the music.

Good. But don't be impatient; remember we start at different levels of experience and my task is to bring all of us together. We will presently commence the first steps of actual dancing. (If you have a partner, good; but without a partner you can practice).

If you are in a group or with a partner, face the same direction and practice foot movements in silence. Move forward with each footfall. Move backward with each footfall. Move to the right (first moving your right foot and then bringing your left alongside). Move to the left (first moving your left foot and then bringing your right alongside. Repeat. Repeat again and until you feel comfortable moving in all four directions.

Then practice with audible counting (in a cadence, moving your feet rhythmically) 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, . . ., Don't be bashful about repeating several times.

You should also practice moving diagonally. Step forward on your left foot and place your weight on it, and then advance your right foot forward and to the right so that, as your foot moves forward, the sidewise separation of your feet increases. 12 inches forward and 9 inches to the side -- no need to measure, just guess -- is a reasonable diagonal step. Shift weight to your right foot and then bring your left foot alongside and shift your weight to your left foot. Or step backward on your right, then move your left foot diagonally backward and to the left, and then bring your right foot alongside

You can combine these movements while moving to the count (1 - 2 - 3 - 4): (No music)
For each Step#, move your foot as indicated, shifting weight to the active foot with each step.
1. Left foot forward about 12 inches and take weight on it
2. Right foot diagonally (forward & to the right) so it is level with the Left but 6 to 9 inches away; take weight on the R foot
3. Left foot alongside, taking weight on the L foot
4. Right foot forward about 12 inches and take weight on R
5. Left foot diagonally (forward & to the left), level w/R but 6-9" away; take weight on L
6. Right foot alongside, taking weight on R
Your Left foot is now free to repeat the figure. Repeat it several times.

This may be done seated.
Now count aloud, at a steady, uniform pace, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 ... Repeat, still voicing aloud so your ear can feel the regularity, but, instead of 1 - 2 use "Slow" instead of 3 use "Quick"; for 4, "Quick"; for 5 - 6, "Slow"; for 7, "Quick"; for 8, "Quick". So, instead of 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 ... you have said Slow-Quick-Quick-Slow- Quick-Quick ... When you listen to music, Slow is equivalent to two beats of music and Quick is equivalent to one beat.

This must be done on your feet.
You can combine the walking movements differently, still moving to the count (or to 4-4 music). With a slight variation we want to repeat the earlier walking exercise, but this time using a combination of Slow and Quick steps and voicing aloud 'Slow' or 'Quick' with each footfall.
Count Voice asFoot movement
1 - 2SlowLeft foot forward and take weight on it
3QuickRight foot diagonally (forward & to right) so it is level with Left but 6 to 9 inches away; take weight on the R foot
4QuickLeft foot alongside, taking weight on L foot
5-6SlowRight foot forward and take weight on R
7QuickLeft foot diagonally (forward & left), level w/R but 6-9" away; take weight on L
8QuickRight foot alongside, taking weight on R
The Left foot is now free to repeat the figure. Repeat it several times.

In dancing we must move both forward and backward. Continue the above with this slight variation:
Count Voice asFoot movement
1 - 2SlowLeft foot forward and take weight on it
3QuickRight foot forward and diagonally to the right so it is level with Left but 6 to 9 inches away; take weight on the R foot
4QuickLeft foot alongside, taking weight on the L foot
5 - 6SlowRight foot backward and take weight on R
7QuickLeft foot backward and diagonally to the left, level w/R but 6-9" away; take weight on L
8QuickRight foot alongside, taking weight on R
The Left foot is now free to repeat the figure. Repeat it several times.

Note that, with each step, you shifted your weight, i.e., when you stepped forward with your left foot, you shifted your body weight (just as in walking) so your weight was supported by the left foot.

In dancing the Waltz, each step takes the same time interval as every other step; in dancing the Fox Trot (or Rumba), sidewards (or diagonal) movement is generally accomplished with both steps in the same time interval of one step forward or backward, that is, with Slow and Quick steps. So you have now done half the basic movements of the Waltz and all for the Rumba (and Rhythm Fox Trot, with a minor variation).

I assume both ladies and men have done these exercises together, everyone facing the same direction. What you have done is the steps necessary to the "Basic Box," That is, if you assumed dance positions with the lady facing the man, she will back while he goes forward, and vice versa. We are now ready to assume dance positions, We need to know what that position is, but, first, we need to make a couple points.

NOTE: In commencing dance practice, at the first session or two (or three or more), it should be remembered that either or both may be self-conscious and painfully aware of lack of experience, which may cause tenseness (or even stiffness). This will be overcome as confidence builds; it is normal; there is nothing unusual about it. She is not sure she can follow and is not even sure he can lead; and he is undertaking something that presents several simultaneous requirements that must all be learned and then put together. In fact, it may be better to be initially somewhat tense than to be devil-may-care and flit about with abandon; at least the tenseness is consistent with desire to do well. But please be assured that confidence builds and, with confidence, tension lessens.

And, please, please, please: We all share the need for positive experiences. Mistakes there will be, some oft repeated. Dancing should be pleasurable. Skill will come with practice. Be resolute to overcome your own shortcomings but light hearted when viewing your own or your partner’s miscues. And take note of your own as well as your partner’s improvements.

Learning requires repetition, and learning to dance is no exception.

It should not be necessary to address decorum on the public dance floor. It is an intrusion on the art of Ballroom Dancing to use it for petting, for displays of affection or intimacy, or for sexual arousal. No one decries the value or appeal of these, but the public dance floor is, after all, public; behavior that should be private does not belong there.

Having got that out of the way, let us describe how man and woman hang onto each other, or STANCE:


In general, stand erect, chest and shoulders up with full lungs, head held with pride (though not haughty).

Most dancing is done in the CLOSED position.

CLOSED Position: (Best hand height, arm angle, space between torsos, varies somewhat from dance to dance and is influenced by styling.) But, in general,
Stand facing each other (amount of space between depends on dance -- almost grazing to a small air gap is fine for the Fox Trot and Waltz), body shifted slightly left so his right foot points between her feet. (In higher levels of dance that shift may be more pronounced so his right foot is outside her left foot. For now his right foot should point between her feet.)
Feet close together but spaced comfortably apart (enough to allow his right foot to move between her feet). Knees very bent slightly (not stiffly straight and certainly not locked)
His arms form a frame around his lady to support and assist her as well as to convey his lead
Gaze of each over the partner’s right shoulder.
Read the note below in green.
Hand and arm positions are described later under "Continuation of Stance"; to go there
click here.

NOTE: In an ideal dance world, all men would be of similar height and all women of similar height, some 1”-3” (with heels) shorter than men; both would be moderately slender, well- muscled, with supple muscles and joints and free of bodily limitations. However, real bodies come in a variety of heights and weights and with physical peculiarities that may require adaptation on the part of the dancers. And some dancers have preferences that should be honored.


Not enough is commonly said about the techniques by which a man conveys his lead to his partner. It must vary somewhat from fox trot or waltz to tango to swing because of the variations in contact between the partners.

The lead always falls to the man (unless there are physical limitations that make it difficult); his partner should NEVER anticipate a lead and commence to move into a figure until her partner gives a cue of some kind. Verbal lead should not be necessary, but, of course, in early instruction and practice sessions discussions between partners may prove necessary or even wise. But, when dancing spills over onto the dance floor in a social setting, it is expected that he will communicate the lead through his torso, hands and arms, and not his mouth (excepting personal limitations that make his lead unreasonably difficult, where personal ingenuity must prevail).

It is not necessary to lead with the body although, when the torsos are in contact, the body lead is dominant. Even so, the lead as provided by hands and arms should be consistent with a lead given without body contact.

The lady should remember that you can't push a limp string. If she does not offer a slight resistance to keep their torsos apart, the only choice left to him is to lead with body contact. If she maintains a slight pressure to push him away and he restrains her, then she will feel his lead in her arms and torso-to-torso contact will not be necessary (however desirable or undesirable it may be for other purposes).

More information on lead is described under "Continuation of Lead"; to go there click here.

As a carry-over from round dancing, I may occasionally refer to
Lead foot: always his left, her right foot
Odd foot: always his right, her left foot
Sometimes reference may be to lead foot, arm or shoulder, or to odd hand, arm or shoulder. Lead is always his left and her right; odd is always his right and her left.

We don't wish to exclude from ballroom dancing men who cannot, for whatever reason, discern the tempo or otherwise cannot provide the lead. I know couples where the woman consistently provides the lead. But both we and they must recognize there will be some awkwardness in dancing with others. In the social setting it is preferable to adapt as best we can; habits can be powerful and it may be uncomfortable for her to try to follow her partner's lead; conversely, he will still be handicapped in providing a lead. I won't offer comment on the social nicety of conveying the suggestion that she should undertake to lead or for this reason refusing an invitation to dance; it happens; if you want to dance you'll find a way.

I know I risk losing my audience, but I should point out that the simplest dance of all is the
One Step, where you alternate feet and keep time to the music with your feet, moving forward, backward, in circles or remaining in one spot. I am forever amazed at how much ingenuity men have put into the One Step in preference to accepting the discipline of learning the proper dances. In your early dance career, while you are learning the nuances of various dances, you may find yourself at a public dance and wish to participate; the One Step is wholly acceptable for the beginning novice and many ladies would prefer the One Step to sitting.

Dancing without a partner may seem the ultimate in futility. But, men, you can, all by yourself, pace yourself through the footfalls of a sequence, with or without music, and move your hands to provide the lead to your lady. And, ladies, you can, all by yourself, simulate the lead provided by a partner while you pace yourself through your footfalls. Granted, a partner would provide greater reality, but practice by yourself is far better than no practice at all.

Basic Box (Slow-Quick-Quick or S-Q-Q timing)
Lead: Closed position. Throughout Basic Box the lead is natural pressure (of his left hand on her right hand, his right shoulder on her left hand, and his right hand on her back) as his body moves forward, backward or sideways. He need give no special hand or body movements until he is ready to lead another figure.
Step VoiceHe..She
First Half
1.1-2 SL fwd R back to match
2.3QR fwd & to side level w/L L back & to side level w/R
3.4QL close R close
Second Half
4.5-6SR back L fwd to match
5.7QL back & to side level w/R R fwd & to side level w/L
6.8QR close L close
Repeat if desired; you are now dancing.

This same Basic Box is used, with slight variations, in the Rhythm Fox Trot, in the Waltz, and in the Rumba.

In all dances, the First Half of the Basic Box is often used to commence another figure, and the Second Half may be used to complete a figure.

You may have recognized that it is increasingly awkward to use the two columns, "Count" and "Voice As." They will be combined since, in Fox Trot and Rumba, S takes two counts and Q takes one.

Continuing Rhythm: Obviously, you and your partner must sense the beat of the music so you can discern whatever pattern it follows. With experience you will learn to recognize rhythm patterns and speed that make for relaxed, comfortable, graceful dancing that looks and feels good and satisfies that urge.

A gracious lady, however, will follow whatever lead is presented by her partner and will find it preferable to synchronize her movements with whatever rhythm, either internal or external, he appears to sense. Social requirements and personal motive will dictate her response to a perceived ineptness in his following the rhythm presented by the musicians, and her acceptance or rejection of an invitation to dance may be her best response if she prefers to dance correctly synchronized with the music.

For dancing, the whole content of the music is the rhythm. In music styled for dancing you could strip away the melody and lyrics and dance just as well with the rhythm only. And the rhythm is generally sounded by percussion or base instruments, which the rest of the band as well as the vocalist take as their lead in synchronizing their contribution to the whole. Lyrics are usually written with an accented syllable to coincide with the first note of a measure, so the explosive ingredient in singing coincides with the beat produced by the percussion or base instruments (or piano base). (I must concede that some vocalists stylize their songs by selectively stretching or compressing the tempo, and instrumentalists are trained to accompany the vocalist -- with a resultant variation in tempo throughout the vocalist's performance. And that may make it difficult to follow the tempo with your feet.)

Rhythm. The beat. Rhythm. In starting to learn to dance, practice listening for the beat of the music. If the music is styled for dancing, the beat should be pronounced. And there will be a pattern. Listen to music you know to be a waltz and hear the emphasis on every third beat. Listen to rumba and hear the pair of quick beats following the single slow beat (which takes the same time interval as two quick beats). Listen to fox trot and hear the regular 1 - 2 - 3 - 4. If you don't have music readily available to you, you may wish to attend a dance (possibly a studio party, where they likely will announce the dance that is upcoming) as an observer to listen to their offerings.

A peculiarity of the Rhythm Fox Trot is that, on S, after putting the active foot down in place, the idle foot is brought alongside the active foot to brush against it but without taking weight; then foot movement on Q is sideways only. This results in a somewhat more graceful motion than the Basic Box described earlier.

Rhythm Fox Trot Basic Box (S-Q-Q, S-Q-Q timing):
Lead: Closed position
Step He..She
#CountFirst Half
1.SL fwd 12-15"; R fwd to brush L R back; L back to brush R
2.QR rt 8-12" L lft
3.QL close R close
Second Half
4.SR back 12-15"; L back to brush R L fwd; R fwd to brush L
5.QL lft to start R rt to start
6.QR close L close

Rumba The hip-swaying motion is characteristic of the Rumba and may be encouraged by any of several artifices; for the moment it is well to concentrate on the Basic Box. As you gain experience you will find a slight difference in timing created by the hip-swaying movement, but that need not concern you now; for now you should concentrate on performing the Rumba Basic Box as described; refinements may be added later. Steps are somewhat shorter than in the Rhythm Fox Trot Basic Box described above.

Rumba Basic Box (S-Q-Q, S-Q-Q timing)
Lead: Closed position
Step He..She
#CountFirst Half
1.SL fwd 8-12" R back
2.QR diagonal level w/L & side 3-8" L diagonal level w/R & side
3.QL close R close
Second Half
4.SR back 8-12" L fwd
5.QL diagonal level w/R & side to start R diagonal level w/L & side
6.QR close L close

In the Waltz, each step requires the same time interval; steps may be barely longer than in the Rhythm Fox Trot Basic Box described earlier.

Waltz Basic Box (All steps same time interval: S)
Lead: Closed position
StepFirst Half
1.L fwd 8-18" R back
2.R diagonal level w/L & side 6-15" L diagonal level w/R & side
3.L close R close
Second Half
4.R back 8-18" L fwd
5.L diagonal level w/R & side to start R fwd diagonal level w/L
6.R close L close

More Fundamentals: In general, a dance is commenced with the Basic Box, and during the dance the dancers automatically revert to the Basic Box. He should assume she will execute the Basic Box unless he gives a positive lead to the contrary, and she should assume his lead is to the Basic Box unless and until she senses a lead to some other figure.

It is sound practice, until you gain considerable experience, to return, after each figure, to the Basic Box to provide a starting point for the ensuing figure.

Simple variations on the Basic Box for both Rhythm Fox Trot and Waltz are the Travelling Basic and the Running Basic. In the

Travelling Basic he goes forward on the first footfall of each half of the Basic Box (Steps 1 and 4); less commonly (because of his visual sweep of the dance hall and nearby dancers) he goes backward. In the

Running Basic he goes forward on each footfall so that all footfalls result in forward progress.

But in both figures, retain the 3 steps per half basic. You should spend a few minutes practicing both Travelling Basic and Running Basic. (Of course, continue to abide by the tempo -- no real running.)

Unless you have been given advance notice of what rhythm is to be played, or you recognize the tune or rhythm, it is probably wise to take a few moments to listen to the music and try to feel the beat, both the kind and the tempo. You may, of course, observe other dancers to see what tempo they are apparently following, but occasionally there will be confusion on the dance floor and different couples may decide to perform other dances. A Waltz is very popular among dancers, but waltzing to 4-4 tempo just doesn't feel right on the dance floor, and a fast pace is better suited to the Viennese Waltz.

CW and CCW Explanatory note:
Many figures involve circular movements. For convenience the author uses the engineering concepts of clockwise (CW) and counter-clockwise (CCW). You are familiar with the hands of a clock moving in a circle on the center pins, turning from 12 (straight up) to the right and down to 3, continuing down and left to 6, continuing left and up to 9 and returning up and right to 12. It is circular movement like the hands of the clock that we call clockwise (CW); movement in the other direction must then be counter-clockwise (CCW). If you stand, using the inner edge of a foot as a pivot, and move your right shoulder forward while moving your left shoulder backward, you are turning CCW.

Continuation of Stance
His left arm bent at elbow to form 90-135 degree angle & extended to place his left hand at or about her chin or ear level, palm up and forward, her right arm extended to place her hand in his, palm to palm, his hand tilted slightly for comfort & fingers wrapped lightly around her hand. (Her right hand should be at a height comfortable for her, usually above her elbow, preferably above her shoulder and below her ear, certainly not over her head unless there is appreciable difference in height. Emphasize her comfort.)
Her left hand (placed for her sensitivity to his lead) on the outer edge & forward slope of his shoulder, left arm resting on his right arm. (If he is wearing a jacket or has shoulder pads, it may be wise to move her hand down his arm slightly.)
His right arm forming a straight line when viewed from the side
If you haven't read the green note (below), do so now.
His right hand, slightly cupped, placed as comfortable for both dancers following the comment above about his right arm; if she expresses a preference, it should most assuredly be honored. Yes, there may be a bra strap there and it may initially be obvious to his fingers but, since it has been there most of her life, she is not likely to be aware of it; it will fade into non-recognition by him.
It is difficult to state exactly how his right hand should be placed because of disparities in height and weight between potential partners. But, lacking other guidance, consider this: His hand should be no higher than centered on her shoulder blade nor (unless required otherwise) lower than with little finger at her waist; preferably it will be somewhat above half-way between her belt line and the center line of her breasts.
If she is small enough to recognize the bony ridge of her spine, placement of his finger tips to his right of that ridge can increase her sensitivity to his lead.
(Some ladies will expect the man’s arm to be extended on across her back so his palm rests over her spine or even with his forearm pressed against her side. It is better form -- looks better -- and makes for easier practice sessions to avoid wrapping her so completely.)
Your BACK button will return you to the abbreviated description of Stance.

Continuation of Lead:
His right hand is his primary instrument for leading. In moving her forward there will be pressure from his hand toward him since his body is moving away. In moving to his left there will be pressure of his right hand or wrist in that direction as well as movement of his shoulder. In moving to his right there will be motion of his right hand to his right as his body moves right, as well as movement of his shoulder; if her back is essentially flat under his hand there will nonetheless be relaxation of pressure as he moves to his right; if he can feel the roundness of her back so his fingers are somewhat cupped,then his lead will be felt more prominently. In moving her backward his right hand is of little value unless she is pushing lightly against him with her left so relaxation of pressure by his right allows her to move backward. Rotating his hand slightly at the wrist to apply pressure with the finger tips encourages her to turn CCW; pressure from the heel of the hand encourages her to turn CW. Upward pressure encourages her to rise on her toes and stop her backward movement, and downward pressure encourages her to flex her knees to lower her torso in response.

His right arm may be moved up or down slightly to suggest a forthcoming sideways movement, down to suggest his left and up to suggest his right

Her left hand on his right shoulder allows her to sense movement of his torso. Especially if she is to move backward, she will feel pressure on her left hand.

His left arm is of lesser importance in providing a lead, but it is at the same time crucial for some figures. For instance, slight movement either backward (to him) or down encourages her to turn CCW. And raising his arm is necessary to under arm (arch or CW) turns, while raising and moving it CCW over her head is necessary to a reverse (loop or CCW) turn.

The feet cannot be used to give a lead since it is considered bad form to look at the feet and even worse to kick or step on the other. Moving the feet is, of course, crucial since it is the essence of dancing; but looking at them is to be avoided.

Length of step is not crucial in the social dance setting (although it is crucial in competition dancing), though it varies from dance to dance. It should be comforable and, if the dance floor is crowded, consistent with available floor space.
Your BACK button will return you to the abbreviated description of Lead.


Left Turning Box (for Rhythm Fox Trot)
Lead: Shoulders turn as feet describe arc of a circle; relative positions of torsos unchanged; each half box moves through 1/4 circle. R close
Step He..She
#CountFirst Half (Quarter turn)
1.SL fwd CCW 1/4 turn; R brush L R back to match; L brush R
2.QR to side L to side
3.QL close
Second Half (Quarter turn)
4.SR back CCW 1/4 turn; L brush R L fwd to match; R brush L
5.QL to side R to side
6.QR close L close
Steps 7-12: repeat 1-6 to return to starting position

It contributes to 'feel' to lean very slightly in the direction of turn, i.e., lean slightly to the left in a CCW turn or (in the next-described Right Turning Box) to the right in a CW turn.

Right Turning Box (for Rhythm Fox Trot)
Lead: Shoulders turn as feet describe arc of a circe; relative positions of torsos unchanged
Step He..She
1-3 First Half Basic Box
4.SR fwd CW 1/4 turn; L brush R L back to match; R brush L
5.QL to side R to side
6.QR close L close
7.SL back CW 1/4 turn; R brush L R fwd to match; L brush R
8.QR to side L to side
9.QL close R close
Steps 10-18: repeat 4-9 (steps 10-15) and then add a Second Half Basic Box (steps 16-18) to complete the figure and return to starting position.
It contributes to the 'feel' to lean very slightly in the direction of the turn, i.e., lean slightly to the left in a CCW turn or to the right in a CW turn

Weave (for Rhythm Fox Trot)
Lead: Shoulders turn as feet describe arc of a circle
Step He..She
1.SL fwd CCW 1/4 turn; R brush L R back to match; L brush R
2.QR to side L to side
3.QL close R close
4.SR fwd CW 1/4 turn; L brush R L back to match; R brush L
5.QL to side R to side
6.QR close L close
It contributes to the 'feel' of weaving to lean slightly in the direction of the turn (or perhaps with exaggerated leaning if you are in the mood).

Left Turning Box (for Waltz; all steps same time interval)
I'm sure you have enough imagination to substitute "S" for each "Q" in the description of this box for Fox Trot, since the only difference is that all footfalls in Waltz have the same time value.

Right Turning Box (for Waltz; all steps same time interval) As Left Turning Box for Waltz, you may substitute "S" for each "Q" in the desciption of the comparable Box for Fox Trot.

Weave (for Waltz; all steps same time interval) As you did with Turning Boxes for Waltz, you may substitute "S" for each "Q" in the description of Weave for Fox Trot.

Side-to-Side Basic (for Rumba)
Lead: Closed position
Step He..She
#CountFirst Half
1.SL lft 8-12" R rt
2.QRock onto R Rock onto L
3.QL close; take weight R close; take weight
Second Half
4.SR rt 8-12" L lft
5.QRock onto L Rock onto R
6.QR close; take weight L close; take weight

NOTE: Travelling Basic and Running Basic are not commonly done in Rumba unless necessary to reach a more favorable spot on the dance floor. And Side-by-Side Basic is not commonly done in Rhythm Fox Trot or Waltz even though it may serve a useful purpose on a crowded dance floor.

There are several underarm turns (where she goes under his upraised left arm). In this one (which I call, simply, the Arch Turn), She walks forward in a tight circle to return to Closed position while He does two complete Basic Boxes.

Arch Turn (for Fox Trot; adjust for Waltz and Rumba)
Step He..She
1-3 as Basic Box as Basic Box
Lead: During Step 4 He raises his lft straight up above the height of her head and rotates his hand to palm down so her fingers now rest on his thumb; his rt urges her to his left and in a CW turn and follows through, allowing her to maintain contact with his lft once her rotational move is obviously commenced.
4SR back L forward
Lead: In Steps 5-10 move lft in a circle over her head; her hand must rotate as she turns although a loose hand hold should be continuous; keep rt in position to receive her after her turn is completed.
5QL: continue Basic Box R forward commencing to turn CW
6QR: ditto L forward continuing to turn CW
7SL: ditto R: ditto
8QR: ditto L: ditto
9QL: ditto R: ditto
10SR: ditto L: ditto, completing CW full turn
Lead: Return hands to Closed position
11QL: continue Basic Box R to side as in Basic Box
12QR to complete Basic Box L to complete Basic Box
NOTE: On the public dance floor he will, as a practicality, adjust his position to return to Closed Position; in practice sessions he should not turn his torso but should encourage her to complete a full turn and return to face him.

You should do additional practice in each of the above. These figures, taken together, are adequate for a session on the public dance floor without apology for a limited repertoire. You should strive to do them comfortably with your partner.


Swing presents a different basic pattern of footfalls. There are several variations, so let's consider first the simplest, the Single Step Swing. It consists of stepping to his left and taking weight, then stepping to his right and taking weight, then a rock step. In moving to either side, body motion must be in that direction in order to take weight on the active foot; the idle foot may swing in the air toward the active foot, but when the idle foot becomes the active foot it must be moved back to its starting point. The rock step consists of stepping backward (both man and lady), taking weight on the active foot but keeping the idle foot in place, then rocking back to restore weight to the foot that initially supported you. (Granted, we didn't practice rock steps initially, but it is hoped they will prove easy enough. Note that both partners step backward, away from each other, and then rock back forward to complete the rock step, thus returning to the same positions from which they started the rock step.)

Single Step Swing Basic (S-S-Q-Q timing)
Lead: Closed Position
1.SL to lft & take weight R to rt & take weight
2.SR to rt & take weight L to lft & take weight
3.QL back 3-6" rotating body CCW about 1/8 turn so L crosses over behind R to take weight momentarily R back 3-6", rotating body CW about 1/8 turn so R crosses over behind L to take weight momentarily
4.QRock onto R, returning to face Rock onto L, returning to face
NOTE: Modified hand holds: If you step slightly apart and change hand holds so his hands are near waist height, in front of him but spread apart, with her hands palm down with fingers resting on his pointing finger, his thumb atop, steps 3, 4 may be rock steps backward and forward with no body rotation. You may dance comfortably with, and may in fact prefer, this hand hold rather than using Closed Position.

Arch & Loop Turns (for Single Step Swing)
This is best done starting with the modified hand holds described above under Single Step Swing Basic.)
Step He..She
Arch and Loop Turns comprise a single figure; it should be preceded by a Basic
Lead: He raising his lft high enough she can comfortably go under & gently tugging CW with his rt enough she understands his invitation to turn; he may follow thru part way
1.SAs #1 in Basic; commence turn CCW R fwd; on ball of foot turn CW while crossing to her right
Lead: Maintain loose hand hold but lower lft to allow her more freedom of motion
2.SAs #2 in Basic; complete aprx 1/4 turn L complete 3/4 turn to face him
3.QBack on L Back on R
4.QRock back onto R Rock back onto L
Lead: Raise lft and pull her with CCW motion over her head
5.SAs #1 in Basic; commence turn CW R fwd; on ball of foot turn CCW while crossing back to her left
Lead: Restore hand holds
6.SAs #2 in Basic; complete CW to face her L complete CCW turn to face him
7.QBack on L Back on R
8.QRock back onto R Rock back onto L

You may note that the Arch Turn in Single Step Swing differs from that used in Rhythm Fox Trot, Rumba and Waltz in that she turns approximately 3/4 of a full circle while he turns about 1/4 of a full circle. (You will encounter other Arch and Loop Turns in Rhythm Fox Trot, Rumba and Waltz later.)

Concluding the Introduction

Let me repeat: Dancing without a partner may seem the ultimate in futility. But, men, you can, all by yourself, pace yourself through the footfalls of a sequence, with or without music, and move your hands to provide the lead to your lady. And, ladies, you can, all by yourself, simulate the lead provided by a partner while you pace yourself through your footfalls. Granted, a partner would provide greater reality, but practice by yourself is far better than no practice at all.

There are, of course, several other forms of dance, such as Square, Round, Clogging, Contra, Country Western, . . ., as well as emphases on certain forms of ballroom dancing, such as Rock, Shag, Western Swing, . . . Ballroom Dancing emphasizes music from the Big Band Era (1930s & 40s, and similar music) because of the immense popularity of Ballroom Dancing at that time (and there were fewer dance forms widely practiced then.) although much contemporary music is also suited to Ballroom Dancing. Each dance form has its peculiarities and each has its devotees. Some of these dance forms might be termed ‘Folk’ dances although Folk Dancing embraces an exceedingly wide range of ethnic backgrounds and rhythms and their accompanying patterns of movement, while Ballroom Dancing is international.

I have been involved with dancing for more than three decades and, before that, with teaching. My experience tells me that the most rapid learning occurs with a combination of study, demonstration and practice. In dancing this takes the form of 1) demonstrations of a sequence of footfalls in keeping with a written description, 2) attempts to act out the same sequence of footfalls under the watchful eye of an instructor, 3) reading or studying the written description, 4) listening to music appropriate to the dance so you can visualize and coordinate the timing of your footfalls, 5) practice the same sequence of footfalls, moving to the music as you listen, and 6) review under the watchful eye of an accomplished dancer during the next session with your instructor. Some practice time each day will be helpful, even if only a quarter hour. And, if music is not available or is of uncertain value to your practice, count and move in keeping with the count.

Videos can be helpful, but the subtleties of lead and footwork are not described; if accompanied by written descriptions that you can read, the video will be much more helpful. Printed diagrams of foot placement as found in books on learning to dance lack coordination with tempo and seldom discuss the techniques of leading. Neither provides music with which to coordinate your movements. The form of presentation in this work has evolved for my own benefit in recalling demonstrations and in practicing; while it lacks the demonstrations an instructor provides it has proved useful to me in recalling so I can practice -- or even remind me of a sequence of footfalls that has been long neglected.

As you progress in your dancing career you will discover a distinction in the interaction between partners between dancing in a social setting and dancing for instructional purposes or for demonstrations or competitions. The principal distinction, in my assessment, lies in the ease of leading and following. Whereas in the social setting you may dance, in no particular order, with a number of different partners, in other situations you will be teamed with a specific partner for the purpose of learning or honing your skills. In instruction, for instance, you may be introduced to a number of figures and practice them in an order suggested by the instructor where leading and following are subordinated to learning sequences of footfalls in individual figures and then combining figures into a routine; it is anticipated that, as you add these figures to your repertoire, the lead dancer (usually the man) will break apart the routines so as to lead his selection of figures in whatever order he feels appropriate to his partner and to the space available on the dance floor.

In contrast: In honing your skill for a demonstration or competition you will likely be limited to a specific partner to perform a selected set of figures in a fixed sequence (which I call a routine) where the emphasis is on each partner performing his role with no or limited leading and following; in general there will be relaxed limits in available floor space so the dancers' program (set of routines in a fixed sequence) may proceed without concern for other dancers.

My personal dancing is generally in the social setting so my various partners possess a variety of skill levels and there is little likelihood we will share knowledge of any specific routines; leading and following become paramount. Moreover, in attending workshops, instruction is likely to demonstrate specific figures and then combine them into a routine for the purpose of on-the-spot practice; as you incorporate those figures into your own repertoire you will likely select favored figures from the workshop so leading and following once again become important to the joy of dancing.

This work presently consists of three sections:
1) This web page, Inroduction and beginning handwork and footwork, is Book One. It will get you started with as little detail as possible; dances are limited to Fox Trot (Rhythm only), Waltz, Rumba and Swing (Single Step). If this proves helpful to you, then you should consider Book Two.
2) Your Initial Repertoire (Book Two) continues from Basics by introducing a modest variety of figures for the above dances and adding Progressive Fox Trot, Triple Step Swing, Cha Cha, Samba and Tango with a modest variety of figures for each. While I follow the same format of presenting the lady's response to the lead, you may have developed a skill level in leading and following so that the presentation should be ignored. [Progressive Fox Trot is for many teachers the first dance taught; the sequence of footfalls is S-S-Q-Q rather than the S-Q-Q of Rhythm Fox Trot. Triple Step Swing is Rock Step (to the side) followed by three footfalls in rapid succession, whereas Single Step Swing has a single footfall between the rock steps. I portray Cha Cha as Rock Step, Cha-Cha-Cha. Samba has a unique pattern of footfalls that I describe as Step-N-Cut. And, of course, Tango is basically S-S-Tan-go-Close. Polka is increasingy popular; there are variations practiced as folk dances.] (For information on availability e-mail me by
clicking here.
3) Completing your Basic Repertoire (Book Three) rounds out a reasonable repertoire for all nine of the above and introduces other dances (with a small set of figures for each) for which appropriate music is commonly played only by request. In preparation, but I welcome inquiries about progress.
There is no thought for presenting an exhaustive collection of figures; that is a task for the professionals.

True, this Introductory course is limited to the four dances. But these will embrace perhaps 70% of all rhythms presented in a typical ballroom dance experience. In your practice between lessons, you are encouraged to emphasize first Rhythm Fox Trot (some third of rhythms presented will be danceable as Fox Trots), then Swing (closely akin to Fox Trot in rhythm and the second most popular rhythm), then Rumba (since it is remarkably similar to the Rhythm Fox Trot), and Waltz (which is not enough played but seems to get more people on their feet than any other dance).

Don't be hard on yourself if you aren't an instant expert; many folks have spent years training their feet to hear the rhythm and follow what their heads told them to do. In starting your Basics, of course there are details to be mastered. Learning requires repetition, and learning to dance is no exception. You need practice.

An apology up front: Naming of various figures may differ from studio to studio as each seeks competitive advantage. I have named as I have learned, or coined names, or renamed, all without regard for tradition. Where this causes confusion, please accept my apology; I don’t know how to do otherwise.

To studios and teachers: This web page should be placed in the hands of new (and recently acquired) students as an assist in their early efforts. Its presence on the World Wide Web will, hopefully, interest others in acquiring skills in ballroom dancing. You are welcome to copy it and distribute it freely so long as you respect my copyright and make no changes.

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