There was a class at IDB by Glenn that I found really interesting on this. It put a name to a feeling I had when looking at a lot of feathers. Part of me was like, 'that's not right', but I couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong with it. The core concept in his class was keeping the girl in front of you. It's a subtle distinction. If you stand in a closed position, with the slight 'twist' to right, and keep your feet constant, there is the feeling of her being both in front of you as well as to your right. A further expansion of the position into outside partner involves a further 'twist' to the right by both partners. My upper body and her upper body maintain the same angle with respect to eachother, but they change with respect to our (stationary) feet. I am now angled so that she is less to my side and more to my front. This stationary example doesn't directly correspond to the feather step, because the feather step involves stepping into the OP position, an action that requires both partners to break their tracks. However, the logic of where she is with respect to me still holds. Before thinking this through in this detail I just applied the simple concept of changing what I thought in the step. Rather than think of putting her beside me, I thought of putting her in front of me. It had great results (or so I feel).
The Reverse Turn:
There are two bits of knowledge that I've heard on the heel turn, one for each gender role.
For lady (and guys for their heel turns) - One important concept that is often missed in the heel turn is the clear transference of weight. Ieva was the first person who showed me this exercise. First, place your legs at shoulder width, then lift both toes off of the floor and balance on two heels for 10 seconds. Do the same with closed legs so your feet touch. It is extraordinarily difficult, and one can argue nearly impossible. That's why this is an action that should not be contained in ballroom dancing. Now, with feet together, step on your left heel, then quickly shift weight back and forth between your two heels. You should be able to maintain this pattern, on the spot, for 10 seconds with much ease.
I have heard of two schools of thought on the weight distribution of the heel turn. I'll describe them in the context of the reverse turn.
1: after taking the right foot back to begin the heel turn, the left foot will close to the right foot (in the presence of rotation). During the closing action the left foot maintains contact with the floor with a light pressure (I'd say < 10% total weight). After rotation is completed you transfer your weight to your left foot as the guy transfers his weight to his right foot.
2: During the closing action the left foot maintains contact with the floor with a light pressure. As the leg closes to the right foot, the weight held by the left heel gradually increases. The rotation completes with a near 50/50 weight distribution. The rest of the weight is transferred to the left foot as the guy transfers his weight to the right foot.
I'd be interested in hearing peoples' take on the two methods, but notice that both of them contain a clear transference of weight between the two heels in sync with the guys second step.
For man- Many coaches will talk about the concept of a "quick rise" when the lady does the heel turn. This concept can be quite elusive, and is often described in very different ways. It was once simply explained to me as "a partial rise in order to enable you to rotate around the girl on one leg". Putting a purpose to the action can often clear up what exactly it is you are trying to do it. So whether you think "rise to 50% and rotate", "rising, blocking, and bracing", or some other thought process, it is important to remember that the quick rise is there in order to facilitate the movement. In particular, the smooth rotation of the man on the outside of the turn, with the lady smoothly rotating on a fixed turning point.
I don't have much on the three step, and would love some insight on it. I personally consider it my worst figure in foxtrot.
The feather step was originally danced slightly curved to the right, hence the name "feather". I like to dance it this way. The swing still goes in one direction (DC), but as you curve slightly to the right, it creates a nice shape in the lady, it allows the man to swing through the step like a natural turn, and it allows the last OP step to be taken diagonally, which all outside partner steps should be taken. If you focus on keeping your feet pointed towards your partner and your shoulders parallel with your partner's shoulders, the relative alignments with your partner should work out.
The lady should end up swinging her right hip back on the second step to make room for her partner. She should also make sure to use proper footwork - TH, TH, TH. Many lady's forget to only use body rise on step 2. However, it's often the leader's fault for actually rising on step 2 instead of using the foot rise to progress forward.
Also, it's the lady's job to MOVE once the leader has initiated the step, including the timing and direction and amount of power. The leader shouldn't put her anywhere, she should already be gone and the leader should focus on keeping up to stay together. I have a feeling that if you have to worry about putting her to the side or the front, then she isn't moving on her own as much as she should be. Putting the lady "to the side" on the feather shouldn't even be possible, but I believe occurs when the man overtakes the lady.
Reverse Turn: Glenn gave a nice exercise: just stand with your partner and rock her back onto her foot, then forward, then back onto her foot again. This is the basic feeling you need to lead the heel turn. The lady should not think of anything. She has to follow it, so her step is the same as any other step she would take except her weight is put over her foot rather than passing through. To put extra pressure in the left heel would require her to anticipate the step, which is not good for a follower. Garry also gave a trick for the man - step forward onto a straight leg to create the early foot rise. But be warned, it's a trick to get the feel for the early rise, not a technique you want to develop.
Feather finish: There are different ways to do this, but I prefer to slightly curve the first step between LOD and DC toe turned in. This gives room for the lady to swing through. It should not be a very big step, because the lady has to swing by you. Then the head should immediately turn to put your nose over your left toe, while keeping your body and hands toward your partner. Again this outside partner step should be taken diagonally.
Three Step: Depending on who you hear it from the previous figures can be danced differently. For example, Peter Eggleton likes to dance them by alternating swing by your partner - man swings by lady in the feather, lady swings by man in the feather finish. But for the three step, the man must go directly towards the lady, which gives it a completely different character. The first two steps of the three step are without rise and should essentially feel like two tango walks. The rise on the second step (and in fact in all of foxtrot) should really just be used for additional forward progression, not a vertical change in height.
1: Are you applying it to your OP step (RF) or the step that "opens" the OP position (LF). I've had OP explained to me in two ways.
Lining up facing a wall. Stepping actions would occur straight to the wall. The LF will step DW to precede an OP step in which the RF also steps DW to nearly join the track of the LF.
A more compact version omits the LF stepping DW and only has the RF stepping to nearly join the track of the LF.
Applying this w/ respect to the feather step, which commences with a forward step along DC, which foot are you taking diagonal, and what is "diagonal" with respect to room alignments. Does it involve breaking the "track" and moving towards center (or a blend of the two), and if so, when does this occur?
And I completely agree with you on the lady not dancing to the full of their ability. But this is not to blame the partner. Often the man does not allow the lady to get away from him. He'd rather hold her snug and not have to play the essential catchup game. It feels so good when the lady just 'books it' and I feel left behind. Definitely a freer motion than when she doesn't.
Luca steps his LF step diagonally prior to the OP step, and the OP step follows in the same direction to create CBMP. (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2BEabWFZBE) He is doing the same thing I am describing, but without rotation.
I actually 'expanded' the exercise, and do it under various positions of the free leg (in front, behind, to the side). It's helped my balance in those positions tremendously.