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by Annette Woodruff

This is the second article by Annette Woodruff (Belgium). She is one of the most well known cuers/instructors in Europe. If you like the article and would like to contact Annette, her address is: I know that some words of appreciation often motivates people to write more. Annette is such a treasure of knowledge, and I would like to see more articles from her. - John


by Annette Woodruff, Belgium

Just as there are "levels" in square dancing so there are "phases" (expressed in roman numbers I to VI) in round dancing. Again as in square dancing, the PHASES are simply lists of figures. Here is an example:


  • Fishtail
  • Left-turning two-step
  • Side stair
  • Forward stair
  • Strolling vine
  • Susie Q
  • Whaletail
As you can see, this particular phase (III) in this particular rhythm (Two-step) consists of a short list of 7 figures... but in the Two step Phase II, for instance, there are 70 figures. Traditionally, most R/D classes used to reach graduation after completion of Phase II waltz and Phase II+1 Two-step. If this "+1" intrigues you, learn that it simply means "figures of Phases I and II, plus one move belonging to Phase III". This added move from the next higher phase happens, in this example, to be the "fishtail". Its occurrence in Phase II dances is so high that most teachers felt that it had to be taught before graduation. To-day, however, the class pattern is changing and, more and more, teachers also include (and even start with) Phase III cha cha and rumba (and foxtrot sometimes) in the basic class. The reason for this is that the cha cha is a very appealing rhythm that immediately gives the new student a feeling of "high performance" while being easy to learn.

Rating a particular dance is quite easy: if the dance consists of figures all belonging to Phase II, for instance, it is a Phase II dance. If all the figures belong to Phase Il except one which is in Phase III, the dance is rated II+1. If there are two Phase III figures, the dance will be rated II+2. BUT ! if there are at least 3 Phase III figures in the dance . . it is a Phase III dance. Let's go one step further in complexity: suppose a dance including mostly Phase III waltz figures, one Phase IV figure and one Phase VI figure (an extreme case just for the sake of argument). Well, the dance would be rated Phase V+1! That's the way it goes: one single phase VI figure causes the whole dance to be rated at the Phase immediately under that figure. The fact that there is not a single Phase V figure in the dance is "starling snot" as they say in this country -- meaning insignificant.

All the rhythms used in round dancing contain figures belonging to several phases, BUT ! all the phases are not represented in all the rhythms. For instance: there is no such thing as a Phase IV Two-step. All Two-step figures are contained in phases I to III. Similarly, there is no such thing as a Phase II cha cha. Cha cha figures start at Phase III, as well as Rumba, Mambo, Tango, Jive, Quickstep, Foxtrot and Slow Two-step figures. There are even two rhythms, Samba and Paso doble, that start at Phase IV. The only rhythm in which all phases are represented is the Waltz. To be complete in this overview, I should also mention that there are not only figures rated in the Roundalab rating system but also "actions" and "movements". An "action" is a motion without weight change, for instance "point". A "movement" is a motion requiring a change of weight, for instance "change point".

Again as in square dancing, the dance rating does not necessarily reflect the degree of difficulty of that dance. Just as there is easy Plus and tough Mainstream, there are easy Phase IV rounds and pretty tough Phase II dances (the waltz "Feelin" is a Phase II dance; "Old Vienna" and "Kontiki" are only rated II+1!).

The Roundalab rating system is now used everywhere with very few exceptions: the old terms "easy", "intermediate" and "advanced" have disappeared, which is why it is important that all round dancers understand the Phase system: know your "fluency phase" and avoid the disappointment of having to leave the floor because the dance is too hard.

The parallel with square dancing has often been drawn to facilitate this understanding, but keep in mind that this is only a very rough comparison. Phase II could be said to correspond, more or less, to Mainstream, Phase III to Plus, Phase IV to Advanced, Phase V to C1/C2 and Phase VI to C3/C4.

Understanding the Phase system is a good thing, becoming a "phase snob" is NOT. Remember that you will enjoy round dancing more, and you will look better on the floor, if you stay within your "comfort phase". In other words, a good Phase II dancer has more fun and looks better than a poor Phase IV performer.

This article may be reprinted with no further permission from the authors and/or publications.  Permission has been granted in advance for the reprinting with the stipulation that credit be given to the contributing author/publisher.

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