Once you’ve learned to hear the beat, it can still be challenging to dance on the beat. You need to train yourself to move your body before the beat hits, so that you are in position to land at the same time as the beat.
Today’s drill will help to strengthen your timing by pushing you to think about time you spend moving before the beat. With practice, you’ll be able to anticipate the beat and land precisely on time.
The Drill: This drill works as a solo exercise, but it gets really interesting with a partner or a small group. Stand on a hard, flat surface like a wood floor. Have everyone hold a tennis ball, and play a song with a clear, relaxed beat.
Your challenge is to bounce the tennis ball at the exact same time as the beat. Start by bouncing the ball on the 1 and 5 of the musical phrase; as you get more skilled, you can try doing more beats. (To do every beat, you probably need a slower song and you will need to crouch down so the ball is not as far from the floor.)
This exercise is great in groups because you will probably hear a ripple of tennis balls bouncing at almost the same time. Keep practicing until all the balls are hitting in unison.
As you work through this exercise, you will discover two things. First, you will notice that you need to start throwing the ball to the floor before the beat. The exact timing will vary from person to person, but the principle of starting before the beat will be the same. This lesson translates perfectly to WCS—stepping on the beat requires you to start moving before the beat, and you will need to practice you own body’s mechanics in order to figure out exactly how soon before the beat you need to start moving.
Second, you will notice that it is much easier to control the precise timing of the ball if you throw it to the ground. Simply letting go of the tennis ball and having it hit at the exact right moment is really tough. In this exercise, you can control the ball by throwing it down. In west coast swing, that same control comes from using the sending foot.