About Rock 'n' Roll
What is acrobatic Rock'n'Roll?
It's a question that wouldn't need to be asked in most of Europe, where Rock'n'Roll is included in mainstream DanceSport. This competitive style involves a couple performing footwork at speeds of 192-208 beats per minute, with high bouncing kicks and spectacular acrobatic feats. At the highest level the most common Rock'n'Roll move is for the woman to somersault 12ft high in the air. Once you've seen a good Rock'n'Roll couple, you appreciate that this really is DanceSport and competitive couples don't just rehearse, but also train together.
Where did it all start?
Originating in the 1950s, Rock'n'Roll dancing was part of a youth rebellion against the social expectations of the older generation. This original "authentic" form is danced today in social clubs across the country. Footwork is kept simple, the man spins the lady a lot and there are occasional low-level acrobatic moves.
Enthusiasts argue that you can't teach this kind of Rock'n'Roll, you just have to pick it up and feel the rhythm. However, the basic step is variously taught as two side steps (toe-heel; L foot first for the man; R foot first for the woman) followed by a small back step and finished by replacing the weight forwards (slow, slow, quick, quick). This six beat basic is described in various UK Rock'n'Roll dance syllabi as the "tap step basic", "single step basic" and "basic in fallaway". A major development occurred in the 1970s when couples in continental Europe began swapping the nimble authentic steps for low bouncing kicks, forming the foundations for the modern "nine step basic". This new competitive dance with high, energetic kicks and acrobatic figures is virtually unrecognisable from its more peaceful authentic ancestor.
There are four classes separating moves on the basis of difficulty (A-D, with A the most difficult). "B class" includes complex rotational moves around the neck, and dives. "A class" allows free throws with flips, somersaults and dives. With the correct teaching, beginners can manage the easier moves with only a few hours of training. An experienced coach and safety training is required before attempting any B or A class moves.
The UK scene
There are a handful of genuine modern-style acrobatic Rock'n'Roll dancers in the UK, including past winners of the UK open Acrobatic Rock'n'Roll Championships held by the British Association of Disco and Freestyle Professionals. However, their regulations state "Free Handed (i.e. with no hands) rotating gymnastic movements are not permitted at any time" and therefore most of the aerials which are permitted in International competition would be disallowed.
The recently-formed British Rock'n'Roll DanceSport Federation (BRRF) aims to get more clubs involved with continental European-style acrobatic Rock'n'Roll Dancing. The BRRF hope for better representation at student competitions, as well as better understanding for competition organisers and judges about how the dance works, so that the best preparations can be made (e.g. minimum floor space) and enabling judges to recognise difficulty levels and technique in order to mark more appropriately. Goals include forming a UK-open competition where WRRC-qualified judges would preside; and UK dance teachers and coaches becoming involved with the WRRC and attending their judge-training course. The BRRF, is affiliated to the English Amateur DanceSport Association, and recognised by the World Rock 'n' Roll Confederation (WRRC).
The world scene
At the top level, there are two international competition circuits (A class and B class) where individual couples represent their country. Due to the high danger level of A class moves, many couples choose to stay in B class and consequentially both categories feature advanced couples. There are also separate youth (under 12 years: no acrobatics) and junior (12–17 years: restricted acrobatics) categories.
Of the 28 member countries, most couples come from Germany, France, Croatia, Russia, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. The sport is dominated by continental European countries and Russia, with smaller and less advanced groups in Canada, Australia and the US not actively participating. There are around 100 couples in each of the adult classes and 200 couples in each of the youth and junior categories. France probably has the most active couples, with their two federations representing over 100 dedicated acrobatic Rock'n'Roll clubs across the country.
Most of the international competitions are organised by individual clubs, who must make a bid to the World Rock'n'Roll Confederation (WRRC). The WRRC approves the winning bid and provides the judges, invigilators and an electronic marking system with a touch screen panel for each judge. Rock'n'Roll is also one of the four DanceSport disciplines to take part in the four-yearly World Games where all the "Olympic-recognised" sports are represented.
With thanks to Steve Romans & Claude Schneider