How to stay on time!
Staying on time in West Coast Swing is something that new dancers struggle with. Hopefully I can provide a couple tips to help you make the leap from ‘thinking through your dance’ into a state of ‘just dancing!’
1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
West Coast Swing (and swing in general) is structured in 2 beat increments. 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8. When counting the music its important to identify these increments. Once you can find these 2 beat increments I want you to focus on finding these beats, the 2-4-6-8 beats. When dancing patterns in basic time, 2-4-6-8 will always be whole beats. This means you will be dancing one step per beat.
Looking at a triple step:
If you look at a triple step. You have 2 beats of music. 1-2. When we dance a triple step we count it, 1&2. We are putting 3 steps into 2 beats of music. 2 steps into the first beat (1&) then one single step in the the second beat of music (2)
Stand up and dance a whip why yourself. Count out loud. 1,2,3&4,5,6,7&8. Now dance the whip again and really pause on the 2-4-6-8. Now you are starting to feel the most critical parts of the timing.
Know the rules to bend the rules:
First you need to know these rules and recognize the basic rhythm structure of the dance. You need to be able to dance all of your basic patterns and timing by clearly identifying the 2-4-6-8 in each pattern you dance. Once this is accomplished you may want to begin to play a bit more within the patterns. As pattern become more complex it becomes necessary to have your basic understanding of timing to fall back on.
This is where the real magic happens! As you watch high level dancers seemingly know what their partner is doing even though you don’t recognize any basics at all. They are often playing within the ‘structure’ of the dance, within these basic rules of timing. Skippy Blair says “The separation of Dance Rhythms into “2 -Beat” increments – allows the dancer to feel the connection to the heartbeat of the music….and allows for greater musical interpretation of the music.”
Explore timing in a slightly more advanced way:
Return to the previous ‘whip exercise’ and explore accelerating and decelerating your dancing, leads and follows within your 2 beat increments. Just remember to always return to a clear 2-4-6-8.
There are more advanced things to do with timing but I’ll stop right here for now. I think if you master these things you will have accomplished your goal of staying on time in West Coast Swing and you’ll be well on your way to “getting really good!”
- Identify the critical 2-beat increments in the music
- Focus on keeping the 2-4-6-8 clear when you dance your patterns
- Practice to different types of music till you can identify the critical timing without getting distracted.
- Once you have mastered this start to explore different ways of accelerating and decelerating your dance inside of these critical 2 beat increments.