Rhythm Units

West Coast Swing Online Musicality & Timing

Almost all dances can be broken into 2-beat units of a downbeat and an upbeat. Each unit of the dance, in turn, can have a different number of weight changes and can have those weight changes occur at different times. To keep track of the “how many” and “when” of weight changes, we use rhythm units.

Rhythm Unit Notation

Skippy Blair and the Golden State Dance Teacher’s Association introduced a visual representation for rhythm units based on dots and slashes. Each dot represents a weight change, while a slash represents a lack of a weight change on a beat. Note that a slash can simply represent standing in place, but it can also represent a touch step, a kick, a ronde, a drag, or any other motion that doesn’t involve a weight transfer.

Thus, a single rhythm unit (representing a single weight transfer on the downbeat, and no weight transfer on the upbeat) for beats 1 and 2 would be notated as:

Single rhythm unit (straight count)

A double rhythm unit, which represents a weigh transfer on both the downbeat and the upbeat, looks like this:

Double rhythm unit (straight count)

For a triple rhythm unit, it is necessary to add a dot representing a weight transfer on the & count between the downbeat and upbeat. In order to aid in reading the rhythm units, it is common to make the dot representing an & count slightly smaller than a dot on the beat. This convention is strictly for visually distinguishing beats and & counts; both kinds of dots still represent full weight transfers.

Triple rhythm unit (straight count)

Advanced Rhythm Units

Although west coast swing basics are made up of just double and triple rhythm units, there are a number of rhythm units that are useful for higher levels of the dance. The first is the delayed single. As an odd rhythm, it can replace a triple. Thus, delayed singles are often seen on anchors as a touch-step or a ronde (sweep, land on the upbeat).

Delayed single rhythm unit (straight count)

A second common rhythm in west coast swing is the delayed double. This rhythm is used for most ball changes (e.g., kick ball change). Because it has two weight transfers, it can be substituted for a standard double easily; this is why you often see dancers use this rhythm on the first two beats of a pattern.

Delayed double (or ball change) rhythm unit (straight count)

A third common rhythm in WCS is the syncopated triple. Normally, the triple step has a weight transfer on the & count between the downbeat and the upbeat. In a syncopated triple, the weight transfer occurs on the & before the downbeat. This rhythm is frequently used in order to accent a downbeat; for instance, a tuck turn with a syncopated triple for beats 3-4 will have a greater emphasis on beat 3, which is frequently a musical hit.

Syncopated triple rhythm unit (straight count)

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