Cued Ballroom Dance offers dancers professional dance choreography, without the need for memorization.   A choreographer sits down with a piece of music and a list of dance figures (steps) that dancers at a particular level should know and choreographs a dance to match the music.

So, where does this list of figures come from?

It comes from the governing body of cued ballroom, an organization called Roundalab.  They build lists of figures for all the many rhythms and multiple levels within each rhythm, carefully weighing the difficulty of a figure, its usefulness to the choreographer, the number of figures appropriate for the level, and so forth.

These figures lists are called “phases”.  And, like the Super Bowl, they are designated with roman numerals.

So far, so good.  The snag is, the numbering system used for these phases creates a lot of confusion.

For one thing, they don’t always start with one (or, rather “I”).  In fact, most rhythms start with III.  One of the newer ones starts with IV.  And even the ones that start with I don’t actually start with I, since the lowest level actually taught is II.  To make matters worse, it is entirely possible for a phase III dance to be easier than a phase II dance.  Huh?

Higher numbers within a rhythm generally indicate greater difficulty (as each phase includes the ones below it, and the figures generally get harder as you go up the scale).  But this doesn’t necessarily hold for comparison between rhythms.  Most teachers would agree, for example, that the lowest level of rumba, which is phase III, is easier for most people to master than phase II two-step, and is dramatically easier than, say phase III waltz.

Here’s a table to help you translate levels to phases.  The number of figures in each phase is shown in parentheses.

RhythmLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
WaltzII (36)III (19)IV (38)V (32)VI (6)
FoxtrotIII (26)IV (47)V (35)VI (30)
RumbaIII (25)IV (11)V (11)VI (14)
Cha-ChaIII (23)IV (13)V (13)VI (10)
BoleroIII (15)IV (8)V (6)
Jive (East Coast Swing)III (21)IV (15)V (9)VI (9)
West Coast SwingIV (11)V (8)VI (6)
Two StepII (68)III (8)
Slow Two Step (Nightclub Two Step)III (8)IV (7)
TangoIII (8)IV (17)V (27)VI (16)
QuickstepIII (10)IV (35)V (25)VI (14)

Note that there are many more rhythms not shown, but by the time you’re learning these rhythms, the whole phase number thing will be all-too-familiar.

The general rule is:  the entry level of most rhythms is III, except two-step and waltz, which start with II.

It’s interesting to note that the phase assigned to a dance actually consists of three numbers.  The first indicates the base phase as described above.  But a choreographer is allowed to borrow up to 2 figures from the next phase up without bumping the base phase.  Thus, a phase “II+2” dance has mostly figures from phase II, with 2 from phase III (if the choreographer were to use even one figure from phase IV, the entire dance would be bumped to phase III).

These clever choreographers also sometimes just make stuff up, which is where the third number comes from.  These “made up” steps are called “unphased figures”.  So, if the choreographer made up a special step for the dance above, it would become a phase “II+2+1”.

Clear as mud?

All joking aside, the system actually works pretty well, once you get used to the idea that “phase III”, although it sounds intimidating, is often a beginner dance.  Sure, it would be nice if everything started from one, but with tens of thousands of dances already choreographed and rated by the current system, don’t hold your breath.

Instead, use the table above and don’t be intimidated by a high phase number.  After all, learn the first 11 steps in West Coast Swing, and you’ll be a Phase IV dancer!