A technique used in Japanese Noh theatre. For every three paces that the actor takes, they only proceed one pace. The actor can walk for longer, giving the impression of a longer journey, without turning round or falling off the stage and without having to move his legs more slowly.

I tried doing this with a normal gait, and found it very difficult, in the same way that moonwalking is difficult. My legs are not used to that motion. Then I read that in Noh theatre one does not walk, but performs a kind of complicated shuffle. I can’t do that either.

The phrase is also used to describe

  1. a process with inefficiency built in. E.g.: Anything to do with local government.
  2. progress in one way that is undermined by regress in another way. E.g.: “I got a new car, a Lexus! But on the way home from the dealers, I wrapped it round a tree.” “Two steps forward, one step back.