Fox Trot can begin as a basic social dance from which you can acquire a strong foundation of movement. Learning to combine steps easily and smoothly teaches variety and maneuverability. Being able to dance to slow, medium, and fast tempos will add confidence and great social adaptability to your dancing. As this dance develops it ultimately becomes an extremely skilled dance that can be challenging at the highest levels of the Smooth and Standard styles of Ballroom Dance.
The social Fox Trot provides a good foundation for all dances and is often called the “get-acquainted” or “first impression” dance. It can also be adapted to a small dance floor for those “slow dance” situations.
- Dance Position–To develop attractive appearance in ballroom dancing
- Footwork–Work on ankle flexibility, smooth walks and chasses
- Follow Through–Develop control of timing
- Maneuverability–Learn to move comfortably in all directions
- Amalgamations–Combine steps easily and smoothly to all tempos, transitions from Swing to Fox Trot and back
- Continuity–Be able to move continuously and smoothly
- Compare/Contrast–Waltz, Tango, Rumba, Swing
One story says that in 1913 a man with the stage name of Harry Fox, a vaudeville comedian, introduced a trot to a ragtime song in “Ziegfield Follies” starring the Dolly Sisters that pushed all the other trots into the background. Before that time there had been many “trots” and animal-named dances that had a short lived popularity such as the Bear Trot, Possom Trot, Lobster Trot and Turkey Trot, along with the Kangaroo Dip, the Bunny Hug, the Chicken Scratch, the Buzzard Lope, the Crab Step and the Snake. Some of these dances were quite risque, even by today’s standards, the Bunny Hug particularly being described as the “imitation of the mating of two rabbits”.
The Fox Trot would eventually transform into a smooth, graceful and debonair dance but the quick trotting nature of the original dance did spawn other dance forms including the Peabody, now a quite obscure American dance, the Quickstep in England and more recently the Disco Fox in Germany.
The Fox Trot itself would have probably died out, as the other animal-named dances did, if not for a man named Oscar Duryea. As member of the “American Society of the Professors of Dancing” Duryea was put in charge of standardizing the dance some time in 1914. He found that the dancers got quite tired of doing this fast inelegant dance and slowed it down making it a “trot” in name only and reinvented it into a rather smooth, gliding dance.
American high society rejoiced that that now there was something other than the vulgar animal-named dances to do to this great music. This version of the dance was also demonstrated in every centre of the western world by Vernon and Irene Castle, the famous ballroom couple of the ragtime era, giving the Fox Trot a glitzier sophisticated persona.
Arthur Murray himself is credited with helping to standardize this dance as well, having trained with the Castles and including Fox Trot in his slate of dances when he started his “learn to dance by mail” business in 1912. It became America’s most popular dance and remains to this day an extremely popular and adaptable social dance. This medium tempo version of Fox Trot adapted well to the “swing music” that came later. The social Fox Trot shares its music and basic rhythm with the dance of Swing, notably the American Style/East Coast Swing. Fox Trot is sometimes used in conjunction with this dance to the same piece of music by accomplished social dancers.
In another incarnation the dance was slowed down even further, made more sophisticated and eventually developed into a dance known as the American Style Fox Trot. This is danced in professional competitions in the American Smooth division — a style made hugely popular by Fred Astaire. Fox Trot was also picked up by the English and was eventually developed there into the International Style or Slow Fox Trot danced in the International Standard division competitions. As an added variant, in country music, the Progressive two-step also shares its basic initial rhythm and structure with the social Fox Trot.
Fox Trot music is written in 2/4 or 4/4 time. The first and third beats are accented in 4/4 time. Fox Trot can be danced to a range of tempos, depending on its varied styles. For competition purposes a tempo of 28 to 30 bpm (bars per minute) is recommended for the International Style and a tempo of 30 to 32 bpm for the American Style.
Much of the Fox Trot music is from the big band era and has become increasingly popular again with the music of Harry Connick, Jr. and more recently Michael Buble, Diana Krall and Caro Emerald. There is a huge adaptability in the dance, however, to many peices of music you would hear in a nightclub and refered to as “slow dance” songs.
The basic components of Fox Trot are walking steps based on a natural rolling action of the feet and side steps or “chasses”. Sometimes in social dancing the terms “Fox Trot” and “Two Step” are used synonymously to describe a social dance using a slow, slow, quick, quick rhythm which is either danced on the spot or meandering around the room to basically any 4/4 time music.
The social Fox Trot taught initally in the American Style is an extention of this with some more specific techniques to increase its manoeverability, adaptability and the incorporation of more patterning. The social Fox Trot is usually introduced as “forward, forward, side, close” for the man, starting on his left foot with the lady starting on her right foot and dancing the natural opposite. In this form Fox Trot is danced to a slightly faster tempo at first (SSQQ – slow, slow, quick, quick). [note: In the International Style this type of dancing is not known as Fox Trot but rather is called Rhythm Step, a precursor to the later introduction of Slow Foxtrot.]
As the social form of the dance progresses other timings are introduced such as “box rhythm” with a step the same as the basic step introduced in Waltz but using the timing of SQQ (slow, quick, quick). Introduction of this rhythm allows for much of the Waltz patterning to be incorporated into the Fox Trot as well. Another popular timing change is to use a series of ‘quicks’ or ‘slows’ to provide adaptability for musical changes and variety. These timing changes make the dance much more interesting and increase its musicality.
Social Fox Trot’s adaptability increases even further when it is alternated with the single step version of the American Style / East Coast Swing, with which it shares its rhythm. Another way to adapt Fox Trot to varied music is to use what is called Society Tempo Fox Trot where the usual Fox Trot patterns are maintained while using a constant and even rhythm. Open spaces allow for lots of movement but crowded dance floors or night club conditions require that the dance be expressed with short steps. A good dancer is able to adapt to conditions as necessary.
As the students’ skills become stronger Fox Trot can expand to include styles called Slow Foxtrot and American Style Fox Trot. These dances are characterized by longer smooth, gliding steps, demanding ease of movement and control in order to give this dance an easy, unhurried appearance and at times a cool, jazzy kind of feel. It is these forms, at their highest level, that you see in competitions – the International Style always remaining in closed hold and the American Style with open movements and turns based on the Fred Astaire tradition.
Today the Fox Trot has many faces. It can be danced in the style of a slow dance in any nightclub, as a fun traveling dance that moves all around the dance floor, or a showy ‘tripping the light fantastic’ dance as a modern day Fred and Ginger. At it’s highest level it is innovative, playful and full of interesting uses of timing.
Fox Trot songs and artists include:
- New York, New York – Frank Sinatra
- My Baby Only Cares For Me – The Brian Setzer Orchestra
- It Had To Be You – Harry Connick Jr.
- Charmed Life – Diana Krall
- Come Fly with Me – Michael Buble
- Have you Met Miss Jones – Robbie Williams
- Completely – Caro Emerald