The Dumbing Down of Technique

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As a coach involved in training students for professional examinations, I am becoming more and more concerned with the lack of understanding of  “Hows and Whys” of the average student, and I do my best to address this when coaching.

As an Examiner, I find that few candidates have any understanding of why a movement is performed in a certain way. They generally can recite the technique as written in chart form, but do not know why some steps have sway and others do not, do not comprehend what a foot position is, have twisted minds (and bodies) as to the meaning of CBM, and generally have a far lower standard of technical knowledge than students had twenty, thirty or more years ago.

It is my belief that this has come about since Alex Moore passed on around twenty years ago.

Until then, the recommended study of technique was by using Alex Moore’s book “The Revised Technique”. But, in the front of the book was the recommendation that it be used in conjunction with his reference book “Ballroom Dancing” which gave more comprehensive explanations to each figure, including the use of diagrams.

Some churlish and small-minded people might say that this was designed to enhance book sales, but there is no doubt that by studying both books in unison, candidates had a far greater knowledge and understanding than they appear to have today.

Upon his passing, The Imperial Society Ballroom Committee made revisions and changes, and renamed it “The Ballroom Technique”.

They chose not to continue with the recommendation that “Ballroom Dancing” be used in conjunction with the chart form, and thereby lies the root of the problem.

As a hobby, I breed parrots, and I am sure some of my brighter birds can recite the technique, but would have no more understanding than many of  the candidates one examines today.

I would like to take just one movement and highlight the lack of necessary detail in the charted form of technique without explanation.

The Open Telemark

LF fwd Facing DC Com to turn L
RF to side Backing DW 1/4 between 1-2
LF to side and slightly fwd in PP Pointing DW
Body facing wall
1/2 between 2-3
Body turns less

I then ask the question, “why is there no sway on step three?”

The average candidate, not having been exposed to the explanations in “Ballroom Dancing” has no answer to this.

The technical explanation is that sway is generally involved with turn, and as there is no turn on step three because the turn has already been completed, there can be no sway.

“But, but, but there is turn, the book says ½ between two and three! Sir”

Let us examine the detailed description in Ballroom Dancing.

  1. LF forward, turning body to left.
  2. RF to side, across the L.O.D.
  3. Continue turning on ball of RF, until body is facing towards outside wall, and step to side and slightly forward in P.P.

It is worthy of comment that the amount of turn in Ballroom Dancing is ¾ to left. In the Ballroom Technique it is;

¼   between 1 and 2.  ½ between 2 and 3

I contend that the above description has the turn completed before step three is taken, hence no sway on three.

Perhaps a better chart description would be

¼   between I and 2.  ½ on 2, body turns less.

Let us not call them anomalies, rather points of discussion.

I do observe that in the Imperial Society’s “The Ballroom Technique” I have discovered four errors, whether of fact or typographical it doesn’t matter, but there were none in Alex Moore’s “Revised Technique”, and there are none (to my knowledge) in “Ballroom Dancing”.

I possess several different text books, several by Victor Sylvester, Carl Bryant. Alex Moore, they all give explanations that are virtually the same. They give a wealth of detail that is sadly lacking in the charted form. And are necessary for any student to study in conjunction with the sparse information that is contained in “The Ballroom Technique.”

Unfortunately, after twenty years the coaches who train students for the profession have not themselves been exposed to the idea of studying two books together and this, I believe, is leading to or has lead a dumbing down of technical knowledge of  our wonderful art.

It is up to old geezers like me to try and bring back the standards of yesteryear.

Barry Gasson


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3 Responses

  1. Although I prefer the chart books by Guy Howard (due to their greater clarity) I still tell my students (in the meantime more teacher / adjudicator candidates than competitors) about the difference between “text book” and “chart book”. “Ballroom Dancing” is still a MUST for everybody who WANTS to understand and not only “pass the exam”. I fully agree in the observations that the understanding of “how” and “why” is diminished constantly, while the “parrot like” reproduction of steps is growing. Geoffrey Hearn did a paramount Job in attempting to combine textbook and chartbook contents, yet his books are not as popular as they ought to be.

  2. Michael, I agree. From my first technique lesson where I had to break down the forward and backward walk I have always tried to understand and analyse what we do and why we do it. Unfortunately too many professional candidates just want the qualification and the knowledge ultimately gets watered down.

    Maybe It’s my slightly obsessive nature but I need to understand and find it so refreshing when I come across a professional candidate who questions as much as I do.

    Anyway, I must get back to my technique book…….

  3. It´s interesting to see that even I, as a simple ballroom teacher for beginners with a little experience in compatitive dancing realized this years ago. I could not put my finger on it as to why I lost interest in competition dancing. Maybe because teachers began considering technics a goal at it self, instead of ONE of the tools to become a good dancer. Maybe the most important, but still … I´ve seen people pass examinations because they could recite Alex Moore by heard without knowing anything about ballroom dancing. Wow! thank you for this informative article!

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