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The Slow Foxtrot: English Elegance Conquers the World

The Slow Foxtrot is the ultimate representative of the "English dance culture". Furthermore, when the Slow Foxtrot evolved in the first part of the 20th century, England rose to be the dominating nation in competition dance. Here the first world championships took place and English dancers became the first champions.  If you know how Slow Foxtrot developed, you know the history of the competition dances.

 A Detailed History of the Slow Foxtrot

The Foxtrot, from which the Slow Foxtrot was later developed, evolved from the Ragtime in North America between 1910 and 1915. It also implemented elements from the One-step, Two-step and the Castle Walk. With its fast and slow steps, based on natural walking, it became a pioneer for the "English Style."

The origin of its name cannot be definitely placed anymore today, as the sources are too ambiguous.  Most likely it can be traced back to the actor Harry Fox, who connected the Ragtime with many steps from the One-step and Castle Walk in his dance show "Harry Fox & the Ziegfeld Follies". His steps were recorded by dance instructor F. L. Clendenen in his 1914 book Dance Mad as "The Fox Trot as danced by Mr. Fox". In this way the Foxtrot appeared for the first time in the USA in the summer of 1914, and with his popular show, Fox quickly spread this dance to the public.

The ragtime as the forefather of Foxtrot was the first music trend from the USA to be transmitted on sound carriers. In this way it represents a significant era in American entertainment music. Between 1897 and 1917 it dominated the American music stage and developed, like almost all American music and dance trends, from the suffering of the African slaves, who in this manner came to terms with their destiny in the New World. Blues and Jazz also have their roots in ragtime.

The dance caught the eye of the talented husband and wife duo Vernon and Irene Castle, who lent the dance its signature grace and style. Shortly before the First World War, the Foxtrot came to England. There, the first Foxtrot ball took place in 1915. The Foxtrot soon established itself as the most important representative for the many walking style dances.

It was first and foremost English dance teachers who defined ballroom dances and who developed new techniques in the 1920s. At the biggest conference for English dance teachers in 1920, the basics for many new dances were developed. Complicated dance figures were simplified for the main public.  This is how the already mentioned "English style" evolved in 1921, which is characterised most of all by its "normal" walking movements.

 Shortly after, in 1922, Victor Silvester and his partner Phyllis Clarke became the first to win a World Championship in dance, naturally taking place in London. London quickly established itself as the world capital for all standard dances. English dancers have dominated the world's dancing stages ever since.

From 1923 on fluent movements more and more replaced the previous marching-like steps and the dance tempo steadily increased. In 1923, at the next World Championship in the Queen's Hall in London, quick and slow Foxtrot was  danced.  In 1924 the slow and the quick Foxtrot were finally separated and called "Slow Foxtrot" and "Quick-Time". The Slow Foxtrot had been born into the dancing world. 

Both new forms were included in the newly developed competition dance program. The way the Slow Foxtrot has been danced since then is characterised by wide curves with progressive turns and long waves, which are not allowed to come to a stop. The couple should uniformly and without any stops glide over the dance floor. The Slow Foxtrot therefore needs a lot of space and can hardly be danced in public without sufficient room.  A more compact version of the dance (correctly termed Slow Rhythm) was developed for the crowded ballrooms of the time.

Another reason why it is difficult to dance is because it demands a high degree of body control from the dancers. Many artificial turns, the body-close dancing pose and the lifting and lowering require great skill. Therefore more complex step combinations are not included in the training of beginners.  This is the reason why Slow Foxtrot is taught only at advanced level.

In 1929 another meeting of British dance teachers took place, the so-called  “Great Conference". The Official Board of Ballroom Dancing was established, and continues to govern Ballroom Dancing today. For the One-step, Slow Foxtrot, Tango, Blues and Waltz a uniform "standard" was established. At this groundbreaking conference the figures as well as the pace of the different dances were determined. 

The Slow Foxtrot that we know today owes a great deal to the work of the early "greats" of the dance world - Josephine Bradley, Phyllis Haylor, Victor Silvester, Maxwell Stewart, and Alec Millar.

Rhythm: 4/4 beat. Slow steps: 2 beats; Quick steps: 1 beat.

Tempo: 30 Bars/120 Beats per minute. 

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