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British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by FlashGordon
9/7/2004  1:38:00 PM

Lunch. I was sitting near two very distinguished international level adjudicators. Trying really hard not to eavesdrop on their conversation--and not succeeding :) Most of it was mundane (they were talking about the show "West Wing") until--over the din of plates and the clatter of silverware--I heard the words:

BRITISH STYLE...posture... rigid...ITALIAN SCHOOL...fluid...though gapping often...evolution of dance.

Can anyone enlighten me about the British versus the Italian Style (or school)?

I've heard a lot about it, but never really heard definitive descriptions for either one.

Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by quickstep
9/7/2004  6:36:00 PM
This is an intetresting one. I do know that the Italians are very strong in the foot department. One off those top UK teachers sugested that the surfaces that many of them dance on which is marble or painted concrete has an influence on their style. Another said, he didn't agree but many are much closer to the floor with their second step in a natural turn which gives much more rise on three. Strong feet would come in here. The Tango has been completely revolutionised by the Italian Style. We now have rise and fall on some steps. Harry Smith Hampshire on his web site among other things said that if new techniques are to be allowed then the technique books should be revised. In no other dance has there been such a change as in the Tango.
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by Anonymous
9/8/2004  10:12:00 AM
Yes, the Italians are really making a mess of things, and not just tango.

I can't agree on the foot usage either - one of their real problems is substituting body actions for foot ones, resulting in really distorted shapes. The English looked rigid because they maintained proper posture and used their feet to maintain near contact... the Italians may look fluid, but what it really is is sloppy.
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by phil.samways
9/9/2004  5:19:00 AM
For a while, i had lessons from a french coach. He used considerably more body sway and angulation than i'd been taught before. Actually, it felt nice sometimes (although i wasn't really good at it) and very different from the apparently rigid 'british' style which, as anonymous points out, maintains the proper 'frame' at all times.
However, i think it's important to realise that maintaining a proper frame is a skill which MUST be acquired before excessive body shapes can be attempted.
As in any sports, at the highest levels, the 'text book' approach is often not followed. Most tennis players in the final week of a grand slam use shots way off the coaching manuals. But they know what they're doing. I assume dancing is the same.
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by Laura
9/9/2004  9:49:00 AM
It's funny to me that several people here have characterised the English style as being rigid. I recently read a review of Max & Leysa Sinitsa's dancing, and the reviewer commented that they were excellent examples of the "soft, classic, English style."
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by Iluv2Dance
9/9/2004  11:36:00 AM
Thank you, Laura, for writing English style and not British! Our style has nothing to do with the Welsh, Irish or the Scots.
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by TheFryingDragon
9/14/2004  1:10:00 PM

It is nice to see such an advanced topic on this board for a change. So, FlashGordon, my two cents worth:

The difference between the English (not British) and Italian style is expression.

But before I get to that, let me address the English Style--which as Laura noted--has nothing to do with rigidity.

The English style is, in fact, marked by soft flowing movement. The transitions from figure to figure, and for that matter the transition of weight from step to step, is supposed to be done with such care that the observer should not see where one (weight change or figure) begins and ends. It is this exquisite care in weight transition that in turn produces the softness that English style dancers aspire to achieve.

When people say that the English style is rigid I think they are actually reacting to the illusion that the dancers create. The silhouette of the dancers has to be quiet. That is, unmarred by unnecessary movement or "jarring". For instance when doing the Quickstep hops, the elbows should not bounce (not a centimeter). In another example, the head is held steadily in one direction during a series of steps (as in the Foxtrot Feather) despite the body torque the torso goes through. But these are basic techniques that all dancers need to master.

An example of extreme body torque -- Promenade Movement (yes, as opposed to Promenade Position)--when the gentleman moves his right leg forward in P.P. The torso twists, and yet the man has to show the illusion of a straight or positive frame.

So, in Standard dance, the frame is by no means held rigidly, because it has to be flexible enough to survive twists and turns of movement, and yet create that silhouette or impression of a consistent posture.

The Italian style has its roots in the English style. I've never been able to verify this, but according to my mentor, the Italian style was developed by a top ENGLISH style coach who went to Italy. Additionally, he is/was English. Makes sense actually, but there you are.

The main difference is expression. The Italian style pushes the silhouette of the dancers into a more radically open position. This gives a sense of freer movement. Look at it in terms of painting. There is the classical work of MichaelAngelo as opposed to the impressionist work of Van Gogh. Both are rooted in the same discipline and technique. One strong difference is in the use of the brush stroke. The basics need to be mastered before the style can emerge.

To achieve expression, the mechanical structure of frame, posture, movement, and posture will need to be pushed. This is even more so in the Italian style.

There is no difference between a bronze English style dancer and a bronze Italian dancer--because there is no such thing. Both are simply bronze Standard dancers. They will diverge in styles only when they reach a certain level of mastery of technique.

As bronze dancers, our feet is about an inch away from our partner's. What
a lot of beginning dancers don't realize is that: as we improve, the distance between the man's and lady's feet increase. Why? Because as gold level (or higher) dancers, we now begin to take longer steps, so we need a little more space so we don't bump against the feet and knees of our partner. The farther apart we stand from our partner, the higher the point of contact will be on our torso.

My point is this. To create more expression (as in the Italian style), there are times when one has to take deeper, longer steps. As mentioned, this changes the point of contact to a much higher part of the chest. This creates a gap between the hips which some (right or wrong) see as sacrificing technique for expression. Others see this merely as a mechanical consequence of a more expressive style of dancing.

As my last point, the Italian style is not sloppy at all. There is no room for it. In fact, in the area of footwork, one needs to be just as precise in foot placement as the English style -- because of the lesser amount of contact. And by sloppy, I mean bad technique. As in the English style, the elbows should not bounce during Quickstep hops and the head must also be held in a quiet position. Good technique must still be maintained.

The best Italian dancers (e.g. the amateur Domenico Soale) have very precise footwork. Although the footwork technique is stretched to accommodate the expression being created, it has to be grounded in proper technique all bronze dancers must suffer through.

Obviously, there are other differences between the two styles but this should be a good start. Sorry this was such a long post, but I thought it might help answer your question.


Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by Anonymous
9/14/2004  2:25:00 PM
Actually, the Italian style is sloppy, using increased body spacing to compenstate for lacking movement technique.

Because dancers in that school neglect to develop sufficient foot strength in the "bronze" stage, when they want to take larger movements they have to move their bodies further apart in oder to have space for a leg swing. In contrast, the English dancers take large steps by using their feet and ankles to create space before their legs swing. While the Italians preach feet apart, the English still keep their feet very close to their partners, but move their body weight to the extremes of the feet, something they can do as a result of strenght training. Even when high-level italian school dancers do develop impressive strength all throughout their bodies, they are not in the habit of using their feet before their legs, since they initially learned to take large movements from the legs at a time when their feet were weak.
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by Laura
9/14/2004  2:37:00 PM
Thanks...this explains what a coach of mine once said when my old Standard partner and I had a lesson. He yelled at us "stop dancing with your butts sticking out, you look like those damn Italians."
Re: British vs. Italian Styles
Posted by WindDancer
9/14/2004  6:40:00 PM

Your argument doesn't make sense... if you stand further apart, doesn't that put your weight in the extremes of the feet anyway? And from what you're saying, it is not bad technique but bad individual development that makes Italian style dancers weak.

In writing, bad spelling is being sloppy but bad word choice is simply bad style and not sloppiness. Dancing the Italian style correctly within the boundaries of their technique would be considered un-sloppy or good for that style.

I'm not particularly fond of the Italian style either but I can appreciate it. But your argument doesn't consider WHY the Italians developed their style.

Simply labeling a style as bad or sloppy without regard for the reasons for the difference is the height of conceit. It shows a lack of appreciation of artistic development. As in Fryingdragon's post, it is like saying Van Gogh was sloppy because his brushstrokes were different.

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