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What is the Quickstep?

The quickstep is a form of ballroom dance that involves kicks and runs.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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The quickstep is a ballroom dance that certainly deserves its name. Marked by extremely quick stepping, syncopated feet rhythms, and runs of quick steps in time to 4/4 or common time music, usually jazz, the quick step is fun to watch and difficult to perform.

The dance includes kicks, runs, and complex rhythm patterns. The quickstep can be one of the more difficult dances to learn, since a single set of moves may often take place over several measures of music. It’s comparable in some ways to the waltz, since some of the steps are performed in triples or triplets.

The modern quickstep was first developed in the 1920s in England, and was closely related to dances like the foxtrot and the Charleston. As with the foxtrot, the overall impression dancers make should be elegant. Upper body posture remains rigid and perfect, at least it should, while the dancers move through the various forms of the quickstep. The dance should also leave people with the impression that the dancers are exceptionally light on their feet. Even when the moves become complex, light stepping, with the feet barely touching the ground should be part of the overall impression.

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Beginning dancers learning the quickstep first learn the most basic moves of the dance. A single measure of 4/4 time is danced as slow-quick-quick. Slow takes up beats one and two, and quick-quick is danced on beats three and four. Most “slow” steps in the music are taken on the heel, while most quick steps are done on the balls or toes of the feet.

Two other important moves in the quick step are the side shasse, where the dancer takes three steps to a side, and the lockstep, where one foot is crossed over the other in the step. Together with the very basic foot movements, these make up beginning the beginning steps of quickstep. Once dancers have mastered these three steps, turns, and runs are added to keep the dance varied.

In the 2000s, there have been several Hollywood references to the quickstep. In Shall We Dance, an American version of the classic Japanese movie, Richard Gere fails terribly at the quickstep, tripping on his partner’s dress and ripping it. However if you watch the few moments before he falls, his dance form is excellent.

The quickstep has also been referred to as the “kiss of death” for contestants on the reality show So You Think You Can Dance. Many dancers on the show, coming from different dance backgrounds have completely failed at producing the light quick steps needed to pull off the dance. This changed in 2007, when a couple performed an admirable quickstep that won them greater popularity with the judges and with viewers.

To see excellent versions of the quickstep performed, consider watching it at ballroom competitions. These frequently air on local PBS or BBC stations. They’re fun to watch and will give you marvelous examples of a well-executed quickstep.

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