If you want to dance to a relaxed, groovy rhythm & blues song, it would be hard to find a dance better suited than west coast swing. This post will help you feel the rhythm in your own dancing.
As always, remember that these suggestions should not override your basics—they are styling choices and should be treated accordingly.
When you dance to R&B, keep in mind that contrast is key. You want to have contrast in all of your dancing, but it’s particularly important when dancing to R&B music because the genre tends to blend smooth and hiphop already, so your dancing needs to acknowledge that mix.
- Mix up staccato and legato styling. If you’re in a legato section, find ways to hit staccato accents (such as tap steps, isolations, and freezes). In a staccato section, listen for moments that flow, and use rondes, body rolls, and fluid movements to bring those sounds out.
- Soften your isolations. Hiphop has lots of sharp hits and correspondingly large isolations. R&B is more subtle; you want to include those isolations, but take them down in both size and frequency.
- Relax the slot. An elongated, wider slot brings out the relaxed and flowing quality of R&B music.
- Use blues footwork. R&B’s blues heritage comes through in a lot of instrumental rhythms, and your blues footwork variations and syncopations are great tools to show this ancestry.
- …But keep the footwork quiet. In blues music, the rhythm is often the focus of the song. In R&B, it tends to back up the vocals or the melody. Keep your footwork smaller and closer to the ground (for instance, with a hold-ball change rather than a kick-ball change) in order to show that difference.
- Use distance to change the volume. Contrast between the louder choruses and the quieter verses can be shown by shortening the distance between the partners during quieter sections and opening up the dance during louder sections.
- Within phrases, height changes can show volume. Lots of R&B music has volume changes within the phrase as well, and the height of your dance can change to reflect that quality. For some styling options check out this page
- Play within patterns or by extending patterns. Setting up large hits with patterns is too much for the relaxed sound of most R&B. Instead, use the middle of the pattern to shape within your basics, or groove at the end of the slot while waiting for the next phrase to begin.
- Use lyrical elements when appropriate. While R&B is not as free-flowing as an acoustic cover, it has a similar character. Taking your lyrical stylings such as arms and rondes and making them a little more subtle can often fit the music well.
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