One of the questions west coast swing dancers have is how to dance 6 count patterns to 8 beat music. In this post we will talk a bit about how to get comfortable dancing 6 and 8 count patterns to the music. If you’re not comfortable with the basic patterns of west coast swing, you can brush up on the basics of west coast swing here.
How to Dance 6-Count Patterns to 8-Beat Music
There are two basic rhythms in WCS: the six count rhythm and the 8 count rhythm.
Six Count Rhythms:
Once you are comfortable with triple steps, six count rhythms are easy.
The basic rhythm for six count patterns in WCS is double triple triple (also called walk-walk, triple step, triple step, and counted 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5 & 6).
In short: you step on the beat twice, then perform two triple steps.
Leaders start the rhythm by putting their weight on the left foot on 1, while followers first move onto the right foot on 1.
If you have a background in music, you’ll notice that dancing 6-count rhythms to a song feels a little weird because WCS music is phrased in 8 beat segments, rather than 6 beat chunks.
This is a feature, not a bug; because WCS is an inherently off-phrase dance, the dancers have the opportunity to use their pattern selection to interpret the music in a way that’s not possible in many other dance styles.
Having said that, you’re right that your timing will be off from the song at first.
When you start learning about musicality, you’ll learn how to reattach WCS rhythms to the phrasing of the music.
Our Video, Counting Straight 8’s will explain
Eight Count Rhythms:
The basic 8-count rhythm simply extends the 6-beat rhythm with two walking steps between the triples.
The rhythm is thus double triple double triple, or 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8. Again, leaders start on the left and followers on the right.
How to practice this?
Put on a slow to medium tempo song and practice doing nothing but six count rhythms. Your goal is to become comfortable alternating between the double rhythm and the triple rhythm so that you move fluidly through the entire six beats
As you gain proficiency in moving between double and triple rhythms, practice dancing to faster songs.
Initially, you should aim to dance up to 120 bpm, which should allow you to keep up with most songs played socially.
Eventually your goal will be higher (some social songs go up to 130 bpm), but getting to 120 bpm will give you plenty of music to dance to in an evening.
Once the six count rhythms are instinctive and comfortable, do the same thing with the eight count rhythms.
The final addition is to switch between six and eight count rhythms during the song.
The key here is to make sure that you finish your last triple before switching—if you try to switch after only 4 beats of a six-count pattern (or 4 or 6 beats of an eight count), you will be on the wrong foot and things will feel really awkward.