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Put you best foot forward

Posted by James Briggs on August 27, 2010 at 09:22

In Reply to: Put you best foot forward posted by David FG on August 26, 2010 at 05:32:

: : : : : : I was once told in a master class discussing medieval dance that the phrase 'put you best foot forward' derived from the starting position of minuets. Also in many pictures from that era men would pose with their best foot forward to accentuate their calf muscles. Has anyone else heard of this possible origin?

: : : : : Beware anything you are told by anyone with a vested interest. I wonder how the best foot was decided upon? The best thing about this phrase in my view is the implication that we have three or more feet.

: : : : : Of course, the tradition answer here to 'I was once told' queries is - "...and what evidence did they give?".

: : : : Well, medieval dance does not by any stretching of the definition include minuets, so an expert on medieval dance doesn't necessarily know a thing about minuets (which date from the late 17th century). And evidently this one didn't: 17th and 18th century men posed with one foot forward because the rules of correct deportment laid down that this was how well-bred men should stand. (The basic positions in ballet derive from Court dance and deportment of this period.)

: : : : The proposition also just doesn't make sense, anyway - a man whose calves were so unequally developed that one was handsomer than the other would go to some lengths to avoid drawing attention to them! (Or wear one padded stocking, to even them up.)

: : : : What is true is that in many cultures it has been thought lucky to step over a threshold, start a journey, or take any other ritually significant step with one's right foot, and an act of ill-omen to do so with the left. The "Satyricon" of Petronius Arbiter depicts a dinner party given by a nouveau riche Roman, where slaves were given the duty of reminding arriving guests to step into the room with their right foot foremost. Since the right foot was clearly agreed by all to be the "best" foot,this is quite possibly the origin of the phrase. (VSD)

: : : All no doubt true, but I have sometimes wondered why this doesn't seem to have applied to the military, in which the command 'By the left, quick march' (or whatever the march speed might be) is a common - if not the most common - one.

: : : DFG

: : I've wondered that too. It was only at the end of the 18th century that the armed forces of the civilised world all seem to have standardised on the left foot as the one to step off on. There must have been a reason for that, but I have no idea what it was! Before then, in the British Army at least, each colonel specified what drill his regiment was to use, including what foot it would step off on. (VSD)

: I also seem to remember from my days of tripping the light fantastic - a brief and unspectacular 'career' - that, uniquely, when dancing the tango one starts off with the left foot.

: Again, I have no idea why.


In ballroom dancing the UK, and I guess many of the 'old' commonwealth countries, dances almost always start on the left foot. In the US, the quickstep (and perhaps other dances) starts on the right. Again, I have no idea why.