Rolling Count: Dancing Rolling Triples

West Coast Swing Online Musicality & Timing

One of the biggest keys to dancing rolling triples is using the rolling count. In a rolling triple, the middle step (what we normally call the &) is closer to the upbeat than the downbeat. In order to push the middle step later in the beat, we divide the beat into 3 parts rather than 2. As a result, we count the beat &a1 &a2 rather than 1&2&:

Two beats of rolling count

Two beats of straight count

The “&a1 &a2” counting structure comes from blues musicians. As dancers, we follow the musicians in dancing on the “a” count of the rolling count rather than the & count because we want to dance later in the beat. Notice that we also link the &a with the following beat, so we start counting on the & before the 1, whereas straight count starts on the downbeat. This practice also comes from blues musicians, who use those pickup notes to build momentum into the downbeat rather than trying to start abruptly from a dead stop.

However, if we just attempt to dance a triple as 1 a2, we tend to push the a count back towards where the & would be in straight time. So, the first key for dancing rolling triples is to count the whole thing: &a1 &a2 &a3 &a4, etc. By counting all the parts of the beat, even when we aren’t stepping on each one, we are forced to dance to the rolling count rather than cheating the a back towards the middle of the beats.

The Drill: Put on a slow song in rolling count (Let’s Rendezvous by Michael Andrew and Swingerhead is around 80bpm; if you really want to work on your control, try Brother Yusef’s Freedom Train Blues, at an agonizing 55bpm). For the whole song, simply count sets of 8 in rolling count.

Once you are comfortable with counting, play the song again and try doing triple steps to the rolling rhythm. Remember to: 1) count every part of the beat, and 2) dance on the a, not the &. Dancers who are new to rolling count almost always err by putting the middle beat of the triple too early. Wait, wait, wait!

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