No, I'm not discussing holiday decor today. I am discussing FOXTROT. I am teaching a series at Ballroom by the Bay, and twinkles and grapevines will comprise a substantial part of my curriculum. Why, you ask? Because they are important and useful figures.
So. What is a twinkle? A twinkle is a figure involving:
- a first step forward (or back);
- a second step to the side; and
- a third step, either closing the feet or (more advanced) brushing through closed to forward, diagonally forward, side and slightly forward, or forward and slightly side.
Well that was simple, now wasn't it??
Clearly not. There are a lot of options there, and things get even more complicated when you add the upper body (and the partner) to the mix.
What is the purpose of a twinkle? It is to A) change the alignment; and/or B) change the dance position. Usually it is BOTH. Alignment refers to the direction of movement, from the leader's perspective.
A basic twinkle begins with the partners in closed position, leader facing diagonally toward the nearest wall and preparing to move down the line of dance. The first three steps (in foxtrot, this is in S-Q-Q timing) will end with the partners both facing down the line of dance in promenade position. The next three steps are a step through in promenade, a step to the side, and closing the feet; the partners end back in closed position but now squarely facing wall.
There are several important changes that occur during the basic twinkle. The lead to promenade happens between steps 2 and 3; this is a change of dance position. Step 4, coming through in promenade, stays in that position, but between steps 4 and 5 comes the lead to closed position. Then there are the changes in alignment. The basic twinkle begins diagonal wall, goes into promenade facing line of dance, and finishes facing wall. Understanding the differences between the positions and the alignments is a big benefit for the social dancer.
Why is it called a twinkle? It's a mystery.
The grapevine, however, is a little easier to account for. The grapevine is a pattern in which the dancers' feet move side - across forward - side - across back. Generally this is done with the partners' feet parallel: that is, if the leader's foot is coming across forward, the follower's foot is going across back. The result is a light, floating action with a distinct weaving quality suggesting a twining vine.
In foxtrot, all grapevine steps are "quick." The grapevine is usually done in four or eight steps to stay on phrase with the music. Advanced dancers can split a measure and do six steps of grapevine to transition into a different figure, but I don't recommend splitting measures in the social dancing context; it's hard to follow.
Grapevine actions are used in all ballroom dances, from jive and samba to tango and waltz. There's a variation I'd call an "in and out" grapevine, in which partners go across forward or across back at the same time. This allows their shoulders to open away from each other, whereas in the parallel grapevine, the shoulders stay parallel.
Because of this, an "in and out" grapevine is commonly done in a double hand hold, or alternating hands, rather than in closed dance position. The parallel grapevine can be done in closed position. "In and out" is a more difficult grapevine to execute because partners tend 1) to bend in toward each other and 2) to go pigeon-toed.* They also tend to open too far away from each other and lose connection.
This series will be a real test of my ability to convey the essentials without preaching technique too much. The fact is, most social dancers do twinkles incorrectly. I always want to fix things, but ultimately I'll be happy if the series ends with our dancers doing their twinkles a little less incorrectly. We'll see!
*In the smooth dances, the dancers' feet should be substantially parallel rather than turned out; however, the feet should never turn IN except when taking a backward step that is commencing to turn.