8.11 On Teaching The Leading And Following Of Slows And Quicks

By my observation, most dance classroom instruction is directed at leaders, even when classes are co-taught by a leader/follower team. And when a teacher is a male/leader, instruction to followers is often phrased in the negative (“Don’t anticipate” or “Don’t do *this* because it makes it difficult for the leaders”) rather than in the positive (“Keep the tone in your arm, and let the leader indicate where you are to move”). Following is not merely the absence of bad habits, of knowing what NOT to do. Teachers know this, but their actions do not always reflect it.

Toddlers all learn to babble before they can learn to talk with proper diction. Though we all _first_ learn to talk this way, note that this is _not_ the way to teach language to adults; their brains are wired differently. Ballroom dancing is like a language. I think it important to teach partner dance skills as a language, as you say, but the way you’d teach it to adults:

  1. the alphabet has positions — and here are closed, promenade, and offset positions; let’s see what they feel like…
  2. the punctuation has movement and rhythm — slows and quick-quicks; let’s see how they feel when combined with the alphabet of positions…
  3. words are “steps” that use the alphabet and the punctuation… some simple ones we’ll look at now are the magic step, the left turn, _and_ a couple of patterns with SSSS and QQQQ
  4. sentences are amalgamations of steps, and before the course is out we’ll do a few of those…

Adults are capable of assimilating this kind of organization, and using it to _speed_ the learning process beyond the kind of rote learning required for small children. If you consciously organize the instruction this way, _and make the organization known to the students_, you can make it very interesting and it will better prepare students for real dancing. They will learn that dancing _is_ a language, rather than a frozen set of steps and amalgamations. As it is, there are too many (studio-trained) partners who are terribly insecure as soon as you get off the schoolbook amalgamations.

Foxtrot comprises the following two most basic counts:

  • quick-quick
  • slow

All other combinations, including SSQQ and SQQS, and many others such as QQQQ and SSSS, are made up by combining these. Beginners are often mistaught to expect either SSQQ or SQQSQQ when they follow. It takes some unlearning for them to become real foxtrot dancers. The above is a good example of how teaching “the count” (either SSQQ or SQQSQQ) fools followers. If they were simply taught to follow S and QQ and expect no such thing as “the count” we would all be better off. Example: when I lead natural right turn with the rhythm SSQQSSSSQQ I find that some women are unable to accept the fact that four slows can occur in a row. Their brain forces them into a quick-quick after two or three slows.

To prevent this, I would teach foxtrot thusly:

  • Not tell them that SQQ or SSQQ is “the count”. Instead, tell them that the basic steps are S and QQ. Count S and QQ randomly to real foxtrot music so they can hear it in the music. Explain to them that the critical property of foxtrot music is that you can do SSSS… to it, and can replace any S by QQ.
  • Teach them to lead and follow SSSS… ad infinitum, the leader changing the direction of S arbitrarily.


  • Then teach them to lead and follow SSSS… ad infinitum punctuated by random occurrences of QQ. All possible combinations of directions would be included.


  • Once they can lead and follow this, add traditional patterns:

    SQQ SQQ … (box and other waltz patterns)
    SSQQ SSQQ (magic rhythm)
    mixtures of these

When I encounter a beginning student who confuses SSQQ basic with SQQ I often try to break up the step and ‘practice’ just forward walks (SSSSSSS) and side steps (QQQQQ left or right) in closed position. When these work I try various combinations of SSSSQQQQ just to practice the point. Then I stick to the school figure. In this case, for practice, I would talk and agree on the plan. Spontaneity can come later.

  1. IMHO the ‘basic’ step isn’t just Forward-Forward-Side-Together or SSQQ but a “pattern moving down the line of dance in closed position composed of forward walks and also has side steps.” One should be able to lead and follow any simple variant (eventually).
  2. It’s easier to practice things in isolation. When practicing a series of slow walks, we both can concentrate on the walking action, lead and follow, rise and fall. When practicing a series of side rocks we can concentrate on that feeling also. When we practice changing direction from forward to side we can concentrate on the gathering, momentum change or whatever.

Each step encompasses many techniques, movements and positions. If necessary, break it down and work on one at a time. I also don’t try rhythm changes, syncopations or too many variants to make the point. Keep it simple – and get back to the basic which wasn’t working when you started.

Other beginning school figures illustrate other techniques or positions: promenade position, offset, parallel partner, or moving backward.

The next level of the same concept is a student who follows the basic (closed position) patterns, but ‘refuses’ to follow offset position leads, trying to keep in closed position whatever distortions are required. Usually she hasn’t been introduced to the offset position and feels it’s ‘wrong’.

One can execute any number of slows, backwards or forward, in offset position just to practice the feeling (learning situation) or just because that’s what I felt like executing to the music (real-time dance situation). It’s not required to stay with the school figures – though they do usually run the gamut of techniques.

When teaching foxtrot timing I call the Basic in American Style.

and Step,    and Step, Quick, Quick.
1    2       3    4     5      6

By calling the Slows “and step” it helps in getting the student to delay the weight change to the second beat. I have found that technique is the key to good timing. Remembering that the legs are there to hold up the body, so they should be under the body. Also try to push off the opposite leg in any step that has direction (fwd., back, side)