Dancing to Lyrical Phrases

West Coast Swing Online Musicality & Timing

Many musicality drills focus on dancing to 8-beat phrases within the music. However, dancers can also bring out the lyrics of the music. Although some lyrical dancing requires actually knowing the song, it’s possible to dance to lyrical phrases even if you’ve never heard the song before.

Lyrics are generally written within musical phrases that last for eight beats. Usually, the last word of the lyrical phrase has some kind of accent. The accent can be a hard accent: da-da da-da da-da da-DIT. Alternatively, the accent can be stretched out: da-da da-da da-da da-DEE. Al Green’s “So Tired of Being Alone” is a great example of a stretched out accents, which are also common in lyrical or acoustic pieces; contemporary, hiphop, and club songs tend to have harder accents.

Because the ending of the lyrical phrase is usually a consistent kind of accent and usually occurs in a similar place in the 8-beat phrase, it’s possible to dance to that accent as you are listening to the song for the first time. The following drill will develop your ability to dance the lyrical phrases.

The Drill: In this first part of this drill, you will prepare some possible accents to dance within your basic patterns. Pick a simple pattern like a push break and ask yourself what you could do to indicate a soft accent that began on the anchor. You could drag or brush the foot, do a ronde, do a body roll into your anchor, etc. Practice that variation until it feels comfortable.

Now go through each of the other two beat sections of the pattern. If the drawn out note was on the walk walk, what could you do? What about during the first triple? If you’re doing a whip, what could you do during the 5, 6? By the time you finish this part of the drill, you should have a way to show a drawn out accent during any part of the push break.

The second part of the drill can be done alone or with a partner. Put on a song with soft accents at the end of lyrical phrases. A song like “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is a good choice because it has very consistent lyrical phrases: sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide flow away, etc. Dance just push breaks to that song. When the lyrical accent occurs, use the variation you practiced in order to highlight the drawn out syllable.

Bonus Variations: Once you’ve learned to dance the accents on push breaks, go through your other basic moves and identify variations for each two beats in those patterns, then practice dancing to just that pattern. (For whips, you’ll need to throw a six-count in between whips or you’ll just dance the same accent every time.) Once you’ve developed the ability to dance each pattern’s accents, try mixing the patterns together.

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