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This a dance performed by couples in ballroom hold to music with a 4/4 rhythm and about 120 beats/minute tempo. A faster dance of this nature was variously called the One Step or Two Step in the Victorian era in Western Society (Coll, 1919, 73). This had one step per beat or two steps per bar; hence the dual nomenclature. It was introduced as the Castle Walk into the nightclub performances of Vernon and Irene Castle, and popularised by Harry Fox in the stage show "Ziegfeld Follies" in New York in 1913.

Irene and Vernon Castle ca. 1912,
Practising some Exhibition Dancing.

Fox's involvement has been taken as the origin of the name "Foxtrot", although there other posibilities. The term had been introduced previously by the military for an equestrian gait (Simpson, 1989, 134) which could well have been used to describe the dance. This gait is unusually smooth. In a normal trot, the horse picks up and lands on both diagonally related fore and hind legs at the same time, left hind with right front, and right hind with left front. This means there are moments when all four legs are off the ground, the landing from which causes a jarring action. In the Fox Trot, the fore leg is moved before the hind leg, so that the horse always has one foot on the ground, which gives a smoother action and which is also less tiring for both horse and rider. This gait is so useful that a breed of horse has been developed that more naturally adopts this gait: the Missouri Fox Trotter. The smooth action is also a characteristic of the Slow Foxtrot dance.

However, the Fox itself could be involved. The Fox has also been said to have an unusual gait amongst animals: it can walk with its feet under its body to form a single track. Early on, the Foxtrot was danced this way, with the left and right feet falling on one line of dance, each being placed directly in front of or behind the other. Only in the 1950's was the "Revised Technique" propagated, in which the left and right feet have each their own separate tracks on the floor.
The original dance had a tempo of about 160 beats per minute, and was described as being extremely jerky. It is still taught in dance studios of the of the schools of Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire. This original "Foxtrot" is called "Rhythm" or "The Blues" elsewhere.

Music Cover ca.1925 (Note angle of man's left hand)

It rapidly became popular in New York and a year later in London. It was fashionably regarded as a rebellion against 19th Century dancing, as it used parallel feet (rather than the turned out feet of the Victorian dances). Around 1922, the trotting steps were discarded for a less energetic movement called the Saunter (Andrews, 1979, 79). By 1927 the dance was called the Slow Foxtrot and was characterised by smooth gliding movements (Sadie, 1980, 6/738). Attempts have been made to derive a formal grammar for this dance (Herbison-Evans, 1989).
Since that time, the dance has been developed into two derived forms internationally: the Quickstep and the Slow Foxtrot. The Slow Foxtrot is performed to slower music (120 beats/minute), and retains the walks and pivots of its predecessor. It has continued to have a smooth flowing aesthetic, (Moore, 1951, 154), which makes it a great contrast on the ballroom floor to the antithetical Tango.

By Don Herbison-Evans
Departmental Report TRS-96-008
Department of Mathematics and Computing,
Central Queensland University,
Bundaberg, Australia
(revised 21 January 2001)
References have been removed for easier reading.