The history of the foxtrot dance steps begins in the classic days of vaudeville in New York City. A popular performer named Harry Fox was seen in between shows dancing with his wife and fellow performer Yansci Dolly. Their dance was very fast and energetic, moving across the stage with a kind of trotting step. Fox plus trot equals foxtrot, even as the dance has changed.
Evolution of Foxtrot Dance Steps
When Oscar Duryea and the American Society of the Professors of Dancing decided to standardize foxtrot dance steps, they determined that the high-trotting steps were "unladylike" and smoothed out the motion of the dance. Borrowing from the conventions of the waltz steps, they replaced the hops with a more graceful rise-and-fall motion. The dance is still considered in competitive ballroom dance competitions to be a "smooth dance."
As one of the social dances, the foxtrot follows the "line of dance" - that is, while the steps are in a square format, the dancers themselves travel counter-clockwise in a circle around the dance floor. As the form has developed in the decades since Harry Fox, various open or closed dance positions have been adopted to go along with styles (American or International).
How to Dance Foxtrot
Foxtrot is not incredibly popular among those trying to learn ballroom dances when compared to tango or salsa. Part of this lies in the difficulty of the rhythm, which is slow-slow-quick-quick (or, in some versions, slow-quick-quick) which can be hard to keep track of. In fact, once the rhythm and movements of foxtrot are internalized, the advanced steps and movement hardly have any resemblance to the basic steps as outlined below.
Beginning dancers can console themselves with knowing that everyone started out mouthing the words "slow…slow…quick-quick" under their breath when they first began learning the dance.
Here are breakdowns of the footwork for the basic foxtrot steps:
- Begin in closed dance frame, left hand holding your partners right, right hand under their left arm with your palm pressing lightly on their left shoulder blade.
- Step forward with the left foot, sliding the sole of the foot parallel to the floor and stepping heel-toe. This is the first "slow" step, and there should also be a sensation of rising in posture as you take it.
- Step forward with the right foot, still rising and smoothly passing the foot past the left. This is the second "slow" movement.
- Bring the left foot forward until it is next to the right, but not touching the floor - instead, step to the left, on the first "quick" beat.
- For the second "quick" beat, bring the right foot to rest next to the left, shifting weight to it in preparation for beginning the step again.
- The follow's dance frame has the right hand resting in your lead's right, left hand held up and resting lightly on the lead's right shoulder.
- When the lead starts forward with their left foot, step back with the right foot, sliding the sole of the foot parallel to the floor and stepping toe-heel. Good leads will give you pressure with their hand on your back to signify rise and fall.
- Step back past the right foot with the left, keeping the motion smooth. This is the second "slow" beat of the basic step.
- Bring the right foot back parallel to the left, stepping to the right slightly (follow the lead's stride to determine how far to step here).
- The step closes by bringing the left foot to rest next to the right, shifting weight onto it until the lead signals into the next cycle of the basic step.
Once the basic is mastered, the number of beautifully intricate variations of foxtrot dance steps can be endless. While it is one of the more complicated forms of social dance, those who take the time to explore the foxtrot find it a rewarding and enjoyable pastime for dancers of every age.