Dancing can be defined as movement to music.
West coast swing is famous as a dance in part because of the variety of music that works for the dance. It’s so obvious that dance and music belong together that it can be bizarre to think about dancing without music.
Today, we’re going to be bizarre.
Practice west coast swing with no music
When we dance with a partner, we tend to use the music as a shared metronome.
We figure out where we are in the beat, or the pattern, by first identifying where we are in the music and then asking whether our partner is there with us. As a result, we can lose sight of our partner’s timing.
It’s hard to listen to when your partner is moving if your default reference is the song.
To really hone in on our partner’s timing, your drill is to dance with a partner, without music. This is not your typical music-free practice when you go through moves slowly and pause to figure out how the pieces work.
For this drill, you are going to do honest-to-goodness WCS dancing, but the only music will be the beat in your head.
Since you don’t have a shared timing device like a metronome or a song, you will need to pay attention to your partner much more than normal.
Each role has a slightly different responsibility during this exercise:
Your lead needs to accomplish two things.
- You need to establish what the beat is in your head. To do this, your body needs to communicate your timing clearly. Your footwork, center movement, and even styling all need to send a consistent message about where the beat is.
- You need to tell the follower when to prepare for the lead.
You have two major responsibilities during the no-music dance.
- You need to “hear” the leader’s timing. Pay attention to his center movement, his footwork, and his connection in order to zero in on when the beat is hitting in his head.
You need to identify when the leader is asking to lead. To do this, you need to stay responsive through all your movements. Maintaining your frame, paying attention to when the post is established, etc. are all part of being prepared to receive a lead.
Practice to a Metronome
When you are working on any technical element of the dance, you want to be able to concentrate on the technique rather than what the music is doing. However, you also need to be able to keep a consistent pace as you develop fluency with the technique. Dancing to a metronome is the perfect solution.
With a metronome, you can keep consistent timing. Because there’s no music, there’s nothing to distract your artistic side. You don’t have to worry about finding a song that’s at the right tempo or choosing a song that matches the style of the movement or technique you want to refine.
The Drill: Pick a technical element of your dancing to work on. Timing is a great choice, as are body mechanics, connection, or spinning. Some people also find it helpful to practice styling options without music, while others need the music to help them feel a new movement.
Work on your technique until you have some level of fluency. If you need to think constantly, you aren’t ready to put it to a beat yet. First practice until you can execute the movement without having to pause and remember in the middle of the motion.
Once you have that basic level of familiarity, put on a metronome and practice the technique to a slow rhythm. Don’t be afraid to go too slowly; you can easily speed up the tempo later when you are more comfortable. As you become more fluent, you’ll be able to increase the metronome’s rate.