Technique Geek Alert! THE BOOK part 1

Posted on by Elizabeth



THE BOOK part 1


Many people ask me about THE BOOK. I use THE BOOK on a daily basis. THE BOOK is our main written reference source. We study from it, we are inspired by it, we swear by it, we swear at it. I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time. But when the word count topped 5,000 I came to a screeching halt and divided it into parts. We’ll start here.




You will see and hear references to THE BOOK almost from Day 1 one of your dancing, or at least from your first serious technique lesson. What on earth is THE BOOK?


THE BOOK is a singular collective term for our technique manuals. In fact, most professionals refer to the manuals so often as THE BOOK that we have forgotten the exact names of the books! When a student comes in and says, “I got THE BOOK!” I say, “Great! The gray book?”


Student: “No, not that one.”


Me: “Oh, the little hardback with a picture of the young John Wood and Anne Lewis (Gleave) on it, then.”


Student: “No…..not that one. Wait, should I get that one too?”


Me: “NO NO NO!!!! Um, which book exactly did you get? Do you have it with you?”


Student: “No, but it’s great and it tells me exactly how to dance!”


Me: (cartoon thought bubble: No it doesn’t.) “Really? Cool. You’ll have to show me.”


When we say THE BOOK, we are commonly referring to the manuals that are produced and sold by one or the other major teaching organization in England, either the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD…we have a branch in the US, so it’s the USISTD here) or the International Dance Teachers’ Association (IDTA).


ISTD Manuals


The gray book (Ballroom) and the red books (Latin) are pretty much the gold standard (pun intended) of our industry. They are by no means perfect, and have a whole lot of things in them that a whole lot of people disagree with (including me), but they are the most common reference tools. They have the most information that is clearly codified…once you learn how to read them, that is. They are NOT teaching manuals per se, but were originally intended as training manuals for candidates use to study for exams. The best analogy is that they are our dictionaries. You can’t use a dictionary until you know the language and a rough approximation of spelling. Same thing here: you can’t effectively use THE BOOKS until you kind of know what you are doing. And even then, you need to be taught to read the books, and you might only use them as reference for footwork or timing or something. You won’t use them as in depth as someone studying for an exam.


IDTA Books


These books were written and revised by single people, not by committee as the ISTD books were. Guy Howard wrote the Ballroom book, and Walter Laird wrote the Latin one. Wally was pretty much a god in the Latin dance community, and much of what is in his book is how people really dance. He put in a lot about styling, musical interpretation, updated and more modern mechanical productions of Cuban actions etc., and really focused on fundamental characterizations of the dances. Guy Howard wrote his book with much simpler terms than are in the ISTD book, and really paid attention to how we teach things rather than being an technical analysis of the patterns. For example, I prefer the way he wrote about Foxtrot. Foxtrot in the ISTD book is confusing and there’s a lot of overlap. Guy’s descriptions are clearer (more on this in another post).


So why don’t we use Guy’s and Wally’s books as our exclusive authority? Neither of the IDTA books list as many step patterns as the ISTD books, and they don’t divide the syllabus into Bronze, Silver and Gold figures, which is necessary for the way exams and competitions (especially in the USA) are conducted. So most people either use only the ISTD books or use the ISTD books and use the IDTA books as supplement. There is really good information in both books if you know how to read them! I use both books.




**Check with your teaching organization as to which syllabus they use! Or, if you are a student, ask your teacher.


**The National Dance Council of America (NDCA) does not have an official syllabus, but has what they call a list of steps and restrictions for each syllabus level. The list of steps for International Style, which is what we are discussing today, pretty much parallels the ISTD list. So if you are really really really interested in getting technique reference manuals, get the gray book and the red books. And then PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE book a lesson with a trained professional who will teach you how to decipher the books.


**Many teachers don’t like their students reading THE BOOK. What I find is that even if my students get the books, unless they are using them under my supervision, they’ll give up on them pretty quickly. They are very dry and technical, and can be confusing when paired with the dynamic information you get from your teacher on a real life lesson.




Next up: how to read THE BOOKS


About Elizabeth

US National Professional Ballroom Champion National and World-class Ballroom Judge Ballroom Examiner Teacher, Coach, Judge, Invigilator AAS, Gerontology View all posts by Elizabeth → This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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