Feel the Beat

If you want to be able to enjoy partner dancing and look good while doing it, you have to be able to dance to the music.  A lot of what I’ve been working on with the music4dance project is solving the problem of finding music that works for particular styles of dance.  But for many beginning dancers, the first questions is more fundamental – you need to be able to hear the rhythm in the music so that you can match your dance steps to it.

There are probably as many ways to do that as there are dancers.  But as far as I can tell there are two major schools.  Those dancers that have a musical background and those that don’t.  I’m definitely in the second category, but the first category is critical.  You don’t have to know how to play music or have in-depth knowledge of music theory to be able to dance.

So for those of you who don’t have a musical background and are working on dancing to the music, I would highly recommend James Joseph’s Every Man’s Survival Guide to Ballroom Dancing: Ace Your Wedding Dance and Keep Cool on a Cruise, at a Formal, and in Dance Classes.  The entire first section is devoted to “feeling the beat.” He does a great job of building up a system for learning how to find the beat and phrase.  He also spends some time on talking about the breadth of systems that dance teachers use to do a verbal count which is really useful because this can confuse the heck out of a new learner whether they have a musical background or not.  Joseph also talks a lot about hearing the eights – which I found apropos of one of my recent posts.

The biggest downside to the system that he’s teaching is that it really glosses over the idea of swing rhythm, which is particularly ironic since it’s based on Skippy Blair’s system and has its roots in the swing dance world.  To be fair, though, I suspect this gets down to the idea of feeling the music vs. being able to put it down in musical notation – the early swing musicians just started adding a swing accent to their music, they didn’t figure out how it fit into a classical notation system until later.

I’m continuing to search for either a website or a book that does a good job of showing the musical notation and instrumentation for a wide variety various kinds of partner dances.  I’ve found a few sites  that will go into a single dance and a pretty stale site with many broken links that does a better overview.  But nothing comprehensive in sight yet.  Please share if you have good resources on this subject, I’d love to get a good reference section going here.

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