West coast swing dancers know that music can inspire our dancing. Great songs make you want to move on the floor and can bring out movement from your body. But, too often dancers forget about the power of music when practicing; they will put on “a song” for background music without thinking about what kind of movement that song encourages.
West Coast Swing Music for Practice
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When you practice, you should be intentional about the music that you play. Think about what kinds of movements you are trying to master, and practice to music that brings out these elements. Don’t practice your smooth arm motions to hip hop or body isolations to lyrical music: learn to draw out your movement with the smoothness of the lyrical songs and use the sharp hits of hip hop for training your isolations.
Build your practice playlist with songs that fill the following niches. Remember to have music at a variety of tempos so you can practice at different speeds!
Here are some west coast swing music styles to chose from:
- Straight count (for clear weight changes)
- Rolling count (for swing timing)
- 32 beat phrase (for phrasing)
- 48 beat phrase (for phrasing)
- Smooth, lyrical (for filling space)
- Sharp, staccato (for quick and hard movements)
- Changing volume levels (for changing your intensity)
- Changing effective tempo (for speed changes)
- Pulsing on upbeats (for pulsing)
- Clear beat (for beginners or pattern work)
- Implicit beat (for timing)
- Builds to the phrase change (for phrasing)
- Breaks (for phrasing)
- Music for different moods (e.g., playful, dramatic, sexy, funky)
- Piano accents (for footwork)
- Syncopated rhythms (for syncopations)
As you develop your own dance style, you will expand this list with things that you hear in music. The great thing about building a music library is that it can grow with you.
When social dancing, you will usually switch among musical genres every song. Competitive dancers can expect that their songs will also rotate through the various genres—generally blues, then lyrical, then contemporary.
Because the musical styles will change every song, it is important to be comfortable switching between genres. A great way to build that comfort is to practice in “rounds.” When you practice a skill to music, dance straight through a round of musical genres. That way, you’ll gain comfort in applying the skill regardless of the musical style.
The Drill: For this drill, select a skill that isn’t linked to a particular musical style. You can use techniques that you will modify from style to style (for instance, shoulder isolations might be used in a variety of genres with varying degrees of intensity), but don’t choose a technique that only makes sense in a single musical style.
When you practice to music, don’t dance to a single song. Instead, dance to a round that goes through the standard musical genres for WCS. Competitive dancers can use the typical prelim format of blues, slow lyrical, and then fast contemporary. If you are primarily a social dancer, you can adapt that round to your scene’s typical music rotation.
As you dance through the round, think about how your execution of the technique needs to change in order to fit the musical style. Some elements, like timing, might work the same but feel different because of the different tempos or musical phrases; other elements, like body shapes, may actually require a slightly different performance.