Timing Play

West Coast Swing Online Musicality & Timing

We know that we want play to compliment WCS rather than replace it, and we also know that we use play in order to help interpret the music. These two goals actually provide a lot of guidance for when play is and is not appropriate, as well as how long play should last.

Some play is dictated very precisely by the music. For instance, sinking into a sugar tuck because of a note held by one of the instruments has a definite end: the sugar tuck should tuck out when the note ends. This post will set aside those cases in order to focus on situations that are more free-form.

When there is not a specific musical accent that is being hit by play, your goal should be to phrase your play to the music. It becomes the responsibility of both partners to know where the musical phrase is so that you can be in the right position to end the phrase. In order of preference, here are the places you want to end your play:

  1. On beat 6 of the phrase: this allows you to anchor as the phrase completes and start the new phrase with a new pattern. This fits the music perfectly.
  2. On beat 8 of the phrase: in this scenario, you will both need to finish play in an anchored position so that you can start the new phrase on time. Because this doesn’t give you a standard anchor to prep for the next pattern, it is less ideal than finishing on beat 6.
  3. On beat 4 of the phrase: this is a worse spot to end than on beats 6 or 8 because you are finishing your play to the half-phrase rather than the phrase. This also doesn’t allow both partners a standard anchor; they need to settle into an anchored position right away on beat 4 so that they can start the next pattern on beat 5.
  4. On beat 2 of the phrase: the only thing this option has going for it is that you ended your play on an upbeat, which is all-but-mandatory. In order to end on beat 2, you had to be playing through the phrase change, which is generally a bad way to acknowledge a phrase. Since you are also ending your play in the first half of the current phrase, your dance will look disconnected from the music because there’s no resolve for your play to finish with. If you have to end here, at least do a two‑beat anchor on 3&4 so that you finish the half‑phrase with your partner.

Since the best way to phrase the music is to end your play on beat 6 and then anchor, we can create…

General Play Guidelines for Phrasing to the Music

  • When play starts on 1: play for six beats, then take a two‑beat anchor. Aim to end beat six on your non‑anchor foot (leader’s left/follower’s right) so you can perform a triple rhythm anchor.
  • When play starts on 3: play for four beats, then take a two‑beat anchor. Again, aim to end play on your non‑anchor foot so that you can do a standard anchor.
  • When play starts on 5: the musical phrase is ending very quickly, so your best bet is to simply play as an extension of the pattern for two beats rather than doing free form play. Doing a two‑beat extension allows you to add your creativity while remaining within the musical phrase.
  • When play starts on 7: think long and hard about whether you really want to play here. This scenario gives you no opportunity to reconnect with your partner before the new phrase, so you have to dance your play through the phase change. Unless something in the music is crying out for play at this moment, it’s better to hold off.
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