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The Dilemma
of the Basic Locomotor Movements

By Ann I. Czompo, 1965

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Ann I. Czompo

In all the rush and hustle of trying to obtain "new" material to present at our folk dance classes and clubs, it is amazing to me that so few people have ever stopped long enough to learn the real fundaments of dance. Of course, I am referring to the basic locomotor movements that are the basis of all dance forms. How many times have you seen written dance descriptions such as ". . . end standing on the right foot, step right . . . (anyone knows that you can't step on the foot you are standing on!)? Or take another, "Jump on the left foot to the left, jump right across in front of the left, etc." (The jump is a movement done on both feet!) I fear that the typists who did the copy work were not at fault when such directions were written.

The basic locomotor movements are easy to learn to do, but the problem comes when the movements must be translated into words. Each locomotor movement can be defined, as you well know from reading any dance text books. A thorough knowledge and understanding of these simple steps can pave the way for much better literature in the dance field, both published and unpublished sources.

First of all, what are the locomotor movements? Locomotor movements move through space and take you from one place to another. There are two basic classifications of locomotor movements – even and uneven. Even movements take an even amount of time between the movements if done in a series. Uneven movements take an uneven amount of time between the movements if done in a series.

The even locomotor movements consist of the walk, run, leap, hop, and jump. The uneven movements include the skip, slide, and gallop. These can also be classified as simple or compound step patterns. The simple or even movements can be completed in one movement and the compound or uneven are made up of two movements. The eight basic locomotor movements can be done in all directions and turning.


The most common of the simple locomotor movements is the walk. A walk or step is a transference of weight (change of feet) from one foot to the other, with one foot in contact with the floor at all times. A walk can be done in any direction – forward, backward, sidewards or turning, but it is still a walk!


The run is also a transference of weight from one foot to the other. Most people think that the difference between a walk and a run is the tempo. No, you can walk fast and run slowly. The run differs from the walk in that at some point during the run both feet leave the foor. A run, however, implies continuous motion and needs no preparation.


The leap is also a transference of weight from one foot to the other. At some point between the changes of weight, both feet leave the floor. How then does this differ from the run? A leap does not have to be done in a continuous series. You may or may not have a preparation (step leap or step step leap). Usually, there is the additional height and suspension in a leap that you do not strive for in the run.


The hop is a movement from one foot to the same foot. There is no transference of weight because the base of support is the same when you leave the floor and when you land. If the hop is done as a movement in a series, it is always done on the same foot. How then do you change feet? By doing one of the movements that transfers weight – the walk, run, or leap. A very common step pattern is the step-hop to illustrate this.


In a jump, you leave the floor from one or both feet and land on both feet. Again, there is no transference of weight because the base of support is the same when you leave the floor and land.

The uneven or compound locomotor movements are usually done in a triple rhythm, either in the 3/8, 3/4, 6/8 meters or other meters that include triplets. They each consist of two movements: The first is done on count 1, you are in the air on count 2, and return to your base of support on count 3.


The skip is a combination of a step and a hop completed on the same foot. Because there is just one transference of weight in the skip, you change feet on each pattern.


The slide, usually done to the side, consists of a step and a close, or if analyzed further, a step and a small leap. If you move to the rightwith a slide, you step to the side on the right foot, lift into the air slightly, and land on the left foot, thus transferring weight. If you do a series of slides, you will always move in the same direction. (You change weight twice during the step which brings you back to the original starting foot.)

If you wish to change directions, you can take an additional step, and a hold. Because this constitutes one transference of weight, you will be free to begin the step on the other foot and move in the opposite direction. This applies, of course, to people with two feet. Those who have two left feet, in addition to one right foot, will have to find another solution!


The gallop, similar in structure to the slide, usually moves forward or backward. You step forward or backward on one foot, lift in the air slightly, and land on the other foot. Again, in a series of gallop steps you will always be leading with the same foot. One method of changing feet is to do several gallops, followed by a step and hop (or skip), thus freeing the other foot.

Two movements that may or may not be classified as locomotor movements, depending upon how they are performed, have probably caused more difficulty in written directions than all the locomotor movements combined. These are the "touch" and the "close."

Touch and Close

Very often the touch marks the time and there is no transference of weight. The touch, however, may be a preparation for another locomotor movement that does change weight, but in either case the feet close from and open position. A good example using both types of closes is the ballroom two-step. If you do a two-step moving to the right, taking weight on the right foot, close the left foot to the right, taking weight on the left foot, step to the right on the right foot, and close the left foot without taking weight. This frees the left foot so that you can move in the opposite direction with opposite footwork.

If the teaching, performing, and describing of the basic locomotor movements has been a cause for concern, the greatest problem is still to be discussed – the confusion in the traditional step patterns, or as they are sometimes called, the derived locomotor patterns. The five standard traditional step patterns that are taught generally in the American educational system, as well as in folk dance groups of all types, consist of the waltz, mazurka, schottische, two-step, and polka. Unfortunately, too many teachers, particularly those in physical education programs, firmly believe that they are teaching the waltz, the mazurka, the schottische, etc. Many times, their training in folk dance and other dance forms is limited to a study of text books and dance that have been handed down from one physical education teacher to another. Very often, because they are not exposed to folk dance through authentic sources – natives – they are not aware that these steps often vary widely from one nationality group to another, not only in the way they are performed, but in terminology.

For example, a teacher may find in a published source the directions for a lovely Austrian dance, written by a native. In one part of the dance, the directions state that you polka with your partner for sixteen measures, or whatever. Of course, we all know (because we have been taught this) that a polka consists of a hop, step, close, and a step. Of course, what the teacher does not realize is that the Austrian polka does not use the hop, and she and her students learn the dance in completely different style. Another example shows an even greater problem. In some parts of Europe the term "polka" is used for a step pattern that we know as the "schottische." Conversely, the term "schottische" is used for the step pattern that we know as the "polka." Imagine the problem of the poor folk dance teacher encounters trying to fit an even 4/4 step pattern (our schottische) into an uneven 2/4 musical pattern, or an uneven 2/4 pattern (our polka) into an even 4/4 musical pattern!

Of course, we all have to begin somewhere, and for the majority of folk dances taught in the United States, a thorough knowledge of the traditional step patterns as they are currently being taught will equip the teacher to do a better than adequate job of teaching.

The traditional step patterns are also classified in terms of even or uneven rhythm. Of the five, the three even patterns consist of the waltz, mazurka, and schottische.


The waltz is in generally 3/4 or 3/8 meter. The pattern usually has three parts, or a step on each beat. Exceptions would be the hesitation step used in the ballroom waltz or a waltz-balance that may consist of a step and a touch. There is no one waltz pattern that satisfies all the possible used in folk dance. A "running waltz" usually refers to steps taken in a specified direction, one step per count. (Example: six or twelve steps moving forward or backward). The "box step" takes two measures to complete and is performed in the following manner: Step forward right, step side left, close right taking weight. Of course, this step can begin either forward or backward on either foot, depending on the directions given. The waltz turn may be done as a "box step" turn or as the Viennese waltz (a faster waltz) turn, depending upon tempo and style of the dance.


The mazurka is another even step pattern done in 3/4 meter, although the quality of the music and the movement differs from the waltz. In its simplest form, the mazurka is a step, step, hop. Depending upon the national style of a particular dance, however, it may assume other forms. For instance, the step, step, hop pattern may become a leap, cut (leap), hop, or a stamp, step, hop. Although the mazurka step has three parts, there are only transferences of weight – in the step, step or in the leap, leap. Therefore, in performing a series of mazurka steps you will always lead with the same foot. One transitional step pattern that may be used to change feet is made up of three steps or three stamps (changing weight on each stamp). To illustrate the use of the mazurka step and the transition, you might take three mazurka steps forward, followed by three steps or stamps in place.


The schottische is an even pattern done in 4/4 meter. The schottische, as a step pattern, consists of three steps and a hop or three running steps and a hop. Many people, however, think that the combination of two schottische steps and four step-hops, is the schottische. No, the step-hops in this case act as a variation for the schottische, and although this combination is found frequently, it is not the schottische.

The uneven patterns are the two-step and polka.


The two-step, an uneven pattern, has three parts and is done very often in 2/4 meter. Because there are three parts, done in two beats, the pattern is uneven and is counted: 1 & 2 ( bar note quarter note ) with a movement on each of these counts. The two-sep, in any direction, is made up of a step, a close taking weight, and a step. I wonder why it is called a two-step – there are three steps in the pattern! Because there are three steps, you will change the leading foot on each successive pattern.


The polka step, the other uneven pattern, has four unequal parts and is done in 2/4 meter. The counting for the polka is: uh1 & 2 ( flag note | bar note flag dot note ). This particular step pattern occurs over parts of two measures. The first movement, a hop, begins before the regular measure on the upbeat of the music. The polka, as a step pattern consists of a hop, step, close taking weight during the pattern, so you will change the leading foot on each succesive polka step.

One thing is for certain. We need to strive for greater consistency in the writing of dance material that is distributed to the skilled as well as the unskilled teacher. It is the responsibility of the leaders ot be clear and consistent in their own presentation, and it is in the best interest of the participants to understand and make the best possible use of the wealth of valuable material available.

Used with permission of the author.
From Let’s Dance! magazine, Vol. 22, No. 7, June-Sept., 1965.

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