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Updated: Sep 1, 2023

“The progression of sound in time, its movement, has much in common with physical movement in time and space.”

- Leonard G. Ratner, Music: The Listener’s Art

Excelling in compulsory dance requires you to practice and demonstrate strict adherence to the placement of steps—relative to the size of the skating surface—as well as the timing of the music, while still conveying rhythm, ease, and gracefulness in your carriage and movements.

I enjoy the similarities between understanding roller dance and understanding music, so I wanted to share my favorite parts of learning both solo (one athlete) and team (2 athletes) compulsory dances. I find that reading a dance diagram (images) is similar to reading music, which I learned to do as a teen playing the violin. Roller Sports (all) is rich with lexicon unique to our history and evolution, so learning new vocabulary is just part of the daily journey.

Diagram: USARS

Learning to Dance The first dance I learned from my coach was the Glide Waltz as a solo dance. Glide Waltz is a wonderful first dance to learn since it is on the early RSA Solo and Team Dances Achievement Program tests and usually in beginner dance categories at local meets. The first two dances I competed in were team Glide Waltz and American March, and solo City Blues and American March. I have learned almost ten dances now and American March is still my least favorite ( I have respect for the person who wrote it, but it caused me a lot of stress and was not fun to compete in).

Suggestions for Starting Out

I learn best by following someone and watching them do the dance AND by studying the diagram. The more steps and types of steps a dance has, the more I recommend doing both. A diagram alone was not enough for me when I was new to roller dance, I also had to see someone do the dance. This is like learning to read music, it helps to learn to play what you hear before learning to read music (at least according to the Suzuki method). Even if I have already learned the dance, I understand and remember the dance better if I also note the diagram. See my example of a diagram breakdown below under “Reading a Diagram.” As always, consult a professional coach, since I am still learning, and the way I understand the information may be different from the way you do.

The Music Music impacts how I skate by inspiring me (a good 138 bpm waltz song always makes me want to start doing the Double Cross Waltz) so having music to practice to is a must. It is important to note that Compulsory Dances at competitions are always skated to the organ music selected by the meet’s host. Some of the organ music is charming, but I also love dancing to melodies with vocals, so I found music with the correct time signature and tempo for practicing the Glide Waltz using GetSongBPM.

USARS also posts songs with dance tempos that will be used for that skate year on their resource page. Here is the 2023 Modern Music Google Drive. If you are training to compete in compulsory dance, I recommend practicing the most frequently to organ music so you will be prepared for competing and be able to recognize the beat. Two places to find organ music used in roller dance are Tim Laskey's Soundcloud and Skate Dance Diagrams Weebly page with each diagram. If you know of others, please share in the comments! The tempo determines the speed of the dance in beats per minute (bpm) and the time signature shows the note value (the bottom number) and the number of notes in a measure (the top number). For example, the Glide Waltz is a 108 beats per minute, 3/4 waltz. This means that in each bar, or "measure," there are the equivalent of three-quarter notes, and each quarter note is valued at 108 beats per minute. I see the steps of the dance as corresponding to a note value, with a single beat representing a quarter note and a step held for two beats equaling a half note.

To see what a note value looks like, in the sheet music example below "Some" and "where" are both on half notes, and "rain" and "bow" are both on quarter notes. An example of a whole note is the bottom two notes on the last two bars (or measures).

“Music is an art directly dependent upon the dimension of time”

Fundamentals of Sight Singing and Ear Training

Sheet music for "Over the Rainbow"

Why organ music?

At the turn of the 19th century, roller skate rinks turned to mechanical band organs as an inexpensive alternative to live music. It became a tradition that remained when music was performed live as well. To learn more, visit the National Museum of Roller Skating website.


Reading a Diagram I am currently learning the Southland Swing, so I am going to use it to show you how to read a diagram. You can find all dance diagrams arranged alphabetically at this amazing online resource called Skate Dance Diagrams and Tools.

Southland Swing dance diagram
Southland Swing dance diagram

1. Music, Tempo, Position, Pattern, Axis.

The Southland Swing is a 4/4 dance, 88 beats per minute, meaning it has four quarter beats in a measure with each quarter note valued at 88 beats per minute. If you don’t own a metronome, you can use a Google browser metronome feature to hear what a 88 bpm sounds like. The 4/4 beat is written out on the inside of the dance diagram’s footwork line, opposite the edge abbreviations.

The "Position" refers to how dance partners hold each other when the dance is competed with a partner, or “team dance,” so it does not apply if the dance is performed Solo. “Side B” (Also known as the Killian position or hold) is the most common dance hold that I have used with the beginner and intermediate dances I have learned. See “Position, Side B” in the Dance dictionary at the end of the blog.

This is a “set pattern” dance, meaning the steps have to be placed along the imaginary lines indicated by the dashed lines through the middle and in the shape of a box. Controlling your speed and the depth of your lobes will help you to place your steps on the pattern in the same place each time, something that is required to do the dance correctly (and achieve a high score when competing). In other words, when completing your two rotations, the dance should be symmetrical. My dance partner, Patrick, has been skating for over twenty years and he said the the best way to achieve this is to find some reference point on the floor (like a painted line or figure circle) and place your imaginary baseline in reference to that. Then each time you have to place your steps in the same place, for example ensuring that the “and” position between steps 3 and 4, and 4 and 5, are in line AND placed on the same spot on the floor each time.

2. Description

3. Starting the dance

4. Turns and Edges

In Summary

Looking Forward There have been over two hundred fifty dances invented and there is always room for more. At some competitions, you can enter an original compulsory dance of your own design! If you are interested, USA Rollers Sports has a video explaining the process: Original Compulsory Dance.

If you have been skating Dance for a long time and want to try something different, consider becoming a judge for roller dance (see the tests here: RSA Judges Manual), share this blog with someone who needs it, and leave helpful comments below for the skaters still in training. I am fascinated by all of the rules, techniques, and music for dance, but it does not replace the feeling of dance and learning with a partner, so go, dance! Allons danser!

Dance Dictionary

Here are just a few definitions that apply to Dance. For a full dictionary, see USARS Integrated Roller Figure Skating Dictionary under the “Figure Technical Manual” link.

  • Accent: The emphasized beats in dance music.

  • Barrier: The perimeter of the skating surface.

  • Bar: The apparent count of a single musical unit as employed by the skater in timing a dance. The bar is usually commenced with an accented beat.

  • Barrier Lobe: Any lobe belonging on the barrier side of a dance baseline.

  • Baseline: The imaginary line on the skating surface around which the steps of a dance are patterned, and which separates center and barrier lobes. The pattern line of a dance.

  • Beat: A musical term; a regular throb or pulse of the music.

  • Border Dance: A dance whose steps have no prescribed location on the skating surface. A dance skated so that the movement of the skater/team changes the starting location of each successive pattern, and therefore, the position of the steps on the surface.

  • Compulsory Dance: A dance event where the dances are set-pattern or border-pattern and the steps of the dances are prescribed.

  • Center Lobe: Any lobe belonging on the center side of a dance baseline.

  • Dropped Mohawk (or C-Turn): A Mohawk, either open or closed, where the second or turn edge is not held longer than one beat.

  • Lobe: Any step or sequence of steps on one side of the continuous baseline, approximating a semicircle in shape. A curved portion of a dance pattern beginning and ending at the baseline.

  • Opening steps/ Starting Steps: Preliminary edges or flats used to gain or build momentum for the execution of the required edges or flats of a dance.

  • Position, Side B: partners face in the same direction, follower at the right of the leader, leader’s right shoulder behind followers left shoulder, follower’s left arm extended in front across leader’s body to leader’s left hand while leader’s right arm is behind follower’s back, both right hands clasped and resting at follower’s waist over hip bone.*

* Dance diagrams use the pronouns “he/ his/him” for the leader and “she/ her/ hers” for the follower, and there are some Governing Body instructions that specifically list one male and one female for team Compulsory dance, but there is nothing inherent to Compulsory Dance that requires a male and female. It does help to have a leader that is taller than a follower.

Example of Team Free Dance (USARS National Championship)

Free Dance is a freeform competition category that is choreographed and is different from Compulsory Dances.

Example of a Team Compulsory Dance (USARS National Championship)

This is an example of a beginner Compulsory Dance. The City Blues is a great team dance to learn if you are just starting.

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1 Kommentar

22. Okt. 2023

I just found this interesting post about organ music:

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