MOTION IN THE DANCE

The Country Dance is pre-eminently a figure dance, depending in the main for its expressiveness upon the weaving of patterned, concerted evolutions rather than upon intricate steps or elaborate body-movements. That the steps in the Country Dance should be few in number and technically simple is, therefore, natural enough. For complicated foot-work is obviously incompatible with that free, easy, yet controlled, movement needed in the execution of intricate figures. In a figure-dance such as we are now considering, the way in which the dancer moves from place to place is obviously of far greater importance than the steps, and to this, therefore we will first turn our attention. An analysis of the way in which the traditional folk-dancer moves shows that it is based upon two main principles:-

  1. The weight of the body in motion must always be supported wholly on one foot or the other, and never carried on both feet at the same moment. From this it follows that the transition from step to step, i.e., the transference of weight from one foot to the other, must always be effected by spring, high enough to raise the body off the ground.
  2. The motive force, although derived in part from this foot-spring, is chiefly due to the force of gravity, brought into play by the inclination of the body from the vertical. The dancer in motion is always in unstable equilibrium, regulating both the speed and direction of his movement by varying the poise and balance of his body. When moving along the straight, for instance, his body will be poised in either front of his feet, or behind them, according as his movement is forward or backward; and laterally when moving along a curved track.
    The function of the legs is to support the body rather than to help to move it forward, the actual motion being set up, regulated, and directed by the sway and balance of the body, as in skating. The body, it should be pointed out, cannot be used in this way, that is to set up and regulate motion, unless it is carried essentially in line from head to foot, without a bend at the neck, or at the waist, or sag at the knees.

The advantages of this way of moving are obvious. Motion is started and kept up with the least expenditure of muscular energy; it can be regulated, both as to speed and direction, with the greatest ease and nicety; above all, its expressive value is high in that it brings the whole body, and not the legs alone, into play. The strongest argument against "leg-dancing" is not merely that it is ugly, or that it involves superfluous muscular effort, but that the legs, being primarily concerned and almost wholly occupied in supporting and preserving the equilibrium of the body, cannot effectively be employed for expressive or any other purpose.

Page transcribed by Hugh Stewart