Swing Discussion Boards > Still Counting?

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by Vince A, Sep 25, 2006.

  1. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Are all of you WCS dancers still counting, or do you "feel it?"
  2. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    When I'm going good, I feel it. One thing that has helped has been experimenting with my tap and anchor steps and doing some different things and getting a feel for how they time. However, I seem to spend a lot of time lately doing WCS with beginners who want me to count it for them. It's been good exercise, though.
  3. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Hm-m-m-m-m, never thought of that. I've had a lot of beginners lately, and I've been doing more than the usual amount of counting . . . it's no doubt helping me too!
  4. chandra

    chandra New Member

    Nowadays, when I count, its music not pattern. I only count pattern if Im dancing with someone really off time, and I have to count there time inorder not to fall back onto music time.
  5. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    I do sometimes have a habit of getting a bit ahead of the beat on my anchor step. So sometimes I count to get that nailed down.
  6. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    I've learned to "roll" the anchor, feet almost together instead of third position, counting 5&6&1 - ball of the foot at 6, and heel down at &, step back left and out at ct1 . . . just adds a little funkiness to your swing . . . don't do it too often in competition though!
  7. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Counting which: patterns, music, or something else?

    For me, the answer is no to both questions. The patterns are second nature to me at this point. The music I hear - rather than counting, I'm using the cues in the musical structure to tell me where I am.
  8. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    I have to count when I add something new. So if I am doing variations on the main slot moves, I don't have to count and can feel the music. As I start to add in the side to side elements or the extended elements, I still have to count. My brain just can not keep up with trying to learn new footwork, leads and counts all at the same time. Once I burn them in my brain and muscle memory ....
  9. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    What kind of clues would you pass on? Maybe just taking 6 and 8 count patterns, how do you know when to fit a 6 in vs an 8?
  10. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    I'm with you, kayak, I have to count on most new patterns until I get them, then I guess it becomes second nature to me, but only after a few million times!
  11. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    To be honest, I don't really think about it. I tend to more listen to the general flow of the music and use certain moves to emphasize certain things in the song, and I don't worry about whether it's a 6-count or an 8-count step. The only time I think about it is if I decide I want to nail the end of a song that I'm familiar with.
  12. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Disclaimer: the best instructor on musicality that I've seen takes an hour just to scratch the surface of this stuff.

    OK, point the first - you can fit either 6s or 8s anywhere, provided that you know how to use them to express the music. For instance, you can have totally rockin' dance, beautiful and lyrical and completely in step with the music, dancing nothing but push breaks. (That does require spending a lot of time, and by this I mean a whole lot of time, on push breaks.)

    What this typically means is practicing how the natural accents in the music can be expressed in the pattern. The first approximation is learning how to "hit" each of the odd beats in the pattern count.

    But this is going the other way around - I'm starting with the pattern, and changing it to fix the music. Is it possible to go the other way? Start from the music, and pick the right pattern to match?

    The answer is yes (surprise), and let me warn you that this is the deep end of the pool.

    Accent is easily expressed by contrast - moving becomes stopping, or spinning becomes not spinning, or moving left becomes moving right, etc. Points of high contrast have a natural synergy with accents in the music.

    Patterns, as a rule, have points of high contrast in them, usually on some odd count in the pattern. A push break has a lot of contrast on 3; the same with a tuck. A whip has a lot of contrast on 5 (if you've ever seen a power whip, where the follower explodes back down the slot, you know what I'm talking about). So if you can anticipate how far away you are from an accent, and how strong that accent is going to be, you can choose a pattern that hits that accent automagically.

    Great. So how do you anticipate the accent?

    Two things I learned right away when I started working on this
    • Music has rules
    • Musicians are not smarter than dancers

    What that means is that that music can be learned, and has been learned by people who aren't not as smart as you are. So you need to have someone explain the rules, and provide you with examples, and then you need to spend time listening actively to the music, seeing how those rules are applied and learning how to identify exceptions.

    This last bit is (for me) the key to the whole mess. It allows me to go completely on autopilot, because my ears wake me up any time something weird drops into the music, and from there (in most cases) I can figure out what it is I need to do to stay with it.

    Now, the exceptions are important - because without them, every song you listen to is one you've heard before. But they aren't anything to worry about, because you aren't ever asked to dance to music with too many exceptions in it (the DJs don't play it, because nobody likes it. It's like trying to dance to a record that is skipping).

    So what are the rules? Your music tends to be phrased in chunks of 48 beats (most blues) or 32 beats (everything else), and the phrases tend to repeat themselves, in much the same way that poetry does. So you can listen to the first 32 beats of the song, and get a really good idea what the rest of the song is going to sound like.

    Most songs are using one of a small handfuls of basic skeletons (chord progressions), and if you can recognize the chord progression, it becomes really easy to guess what's about to happen. If you've ever complained that all early 50s rock and roll sounds the same, this is what I'm talking about here.

    You reach this point (or at least, I reached this point) by listening to a lot of music, over and over and over. I would put a single song into the car stereo, set the player to repeat track, then spend an hour driving to work. And you just start practicing identifying elements. First just letting the song play, then when that gets old you start skipping to random places in the music, trying to reduce the amount of time it takes you to identify where you are.

    When you start getting confident about that, you start dropping in songs that have unusual structures in them, and practicing with those, trying to learn how to recognize the weird bits before they happen.

    When you get to where I am (which I promise is in the middle of the journey, not the end), you find yourself listening to a piece of music like "Folsom Prison Blues", and hitting the big accent.... then thinking "hey wait - that was in the wrong place".

    Long answer to a short question. Did it help at all?
  13. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Just in case that last answer was too brief (?!), I'll toss in my current musicality playlist (ie, if I'm trying to explain WCS music to someone <<Edit: ie explaining musicality to dancers, not explaining the music to muggles>>, these are the songs I use).

    • Liberty Bell March
    • Paris Nocturne
    • Por Una Cabeza
    • Take Five
    • Mission Impossible
    • Money
    • All you need is love
    • Riverdance
    • Staten Island Groove
    • Dirty Laundry
    • On Broadway
    • Wipe Out
    • Batman
    • Hound Dog
    • Move It On Over
    • Fiddle Player's Got the Blues
    • Folsom Prison Blues
    • Crazy Little Thing Called Love
    • Honky Tonk, Badonkadonk
    • Mary Had a Little Lamb
    • Sweet Sixteen
    • Since You've Been Gone

    Open challenge: identify why each of these songs is in the list
  14. cornutt

    cornutt Well-Known Member

    That's quite a list. One thing that jumps out at me is that "Liberty Bell March" is in 2/4 time, "Take Five" and the "Mission: Impossible" theme are in 5/4, and Money (if you're referring to the Pink Floyd song) is mostly in 7/4. How do you use these in the context of WCS?
  15. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    Well done, how about the rest? :)

    There are a couple ideas at work here. One reason that it is difficult for people to understand music is that so much of the music is the same (this is my working theory, your mileage....). In particular, since everything is in 4/4 time, it's difficult to pick that out without something to compare it to.

    By providing contrast, it kicks in the same part of the brain responsible for noticing that the air conditioning just turned off.

    When you are listening to music in another time signature, the count changes, but the one doesn't change. In other words, if you try to count, or otherwise anticipate that the one is going to follow the four, you get busted; but if you "feel" the one, it turns out to feel the same in any signature.

    And it helps to enforce the idea that you can listen to anything - any music at all - and improve your west coast by learning to hear what the music is telling you it is going to do.

    Disclaimer: I'm in the UAE right now, primarily dancing salsa. The salsa music is totally straight forward, because the rules work. But the local Arab music (not the club music, but the more religious stuff) sends my inner westie into fits, because it doesn't have a beat. Gahhhh
  16. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member


    I enjoyed reading your last post . . . can I take it a little deeper? I do "hear" the music, so . . .

    If I took your last two sentences of the post . . . re: "anticipate," "feel," and "learning to hear what the music is telling you it is going to do" . . .

    Something that has always been on my mind to know . . . HONEST!

    About "hitting the breaks (brakes)" . . . if I took what you said above, how can one apply it to "hitting the breaks?" I seldom hit breaks these days, rather I do more accenting of the musical breaks, but if I were to hit a break . . . is it more correct to anticpate that break? If I've been listening to the music, and say the song consistently hits a break at ct5 every X measures . . . do I set up for that break? Do I wait and react to the music and hit the break, thus stopping wherever I am in the pattern? Do I . . .???
  17. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    Yea, I am kind of starting down the Zen path with the encouragement of some nice friends. I do OK if I listen over and over to a song until I can hear the changes and envision what would fit best there. I really struggle if it is music I have not listened to very often.
  18. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    1) Breaks

    OK, you can dance obliviously and play redlight greenlight, stopping wherever you happen to be in the pattern. What are your other choices?


    How fast can you do the math?

    If you can work out "hmm, the break is on count 5, and I'm leading her forward on count one..." then any pattern that hits five is going to be a good choice. A power whip is another good choice. My preference is for any 6 count pattern that spins in the middle (inside roll, right outside turn, barrel roll), giving it a nice sharp stop on count 5, to coincide with the break. Technically, any six count pattern works (you hit the first beat of the anchor no matter what you do). Yes, I've really got these filed in my head as things that hit 5.

    Note that a more useful way of thinking about this is not "I'm on count 1, and the break is on count 5", but rather "I'm five beats out from the break".

    What if you are ahead of the phrase? You find that you are leading her forward on the 7 of the previous mini phrase? So now you are seven beats out. This time, any eight beat pattern works, though the good ones introduce some contrast on 5 & 6... say a basket with a single turn before the anchor. Another natural choice is a six count pattern with a double spin on the anchor (she lands the spin on the break).

    Nine beats away? You may have guessed that an eight beat pattern with a spin on the anchor works - bravo. Or you can dance any six count pattern, which leaves you three beats away....

    At three beats away, you are doing a tuck, a sugar push, a half whip. There are a lot of different looks you can use, but they aren't all that splashy.

    So it makes sense to file patterns away based on what beat in the pattern count they hit.

    You can practice this by working on hitting the ones, using six and eight beat patterns. If you start on phrase, you are 9 beats out from the first accent - so any six count pattern works. The accent is now three beats away, so you hit it with a tuck. The next accent is five beats away, so you hit it with a six count pattern. Now the accent is seven beats away, so you hit it with an 8 count pattern. Oops, it's still seven beats away (eight count patterns don't race ahead of the music), so now a six count pattern with a spin on the end. Now the break is 9 beats away again. Lather rinse repeat.


    Now, it turns out there is another trick for hitting a 9, one that I use constantly. A six count pattern has a natural hit on 5. So two six count patterns in a row naturally hit 5 then 11. If we could magically remove two beats from the middle of that pair, the second accent would fall on 9.

    The toy that pulls two beats out of the middle is called a rock and go; you completely dispose of the anchoring action of the anchor step and the first walking step of the next pattern, counting 3&4, 5& 2! This has the effect of adding a lot of movement and acceleration into the pattern, hightening the contrast you get when you bring it to a stop on 9. Wicked look.


    Now again, how quickly can you do the math? A rock and go is a pattern contraction; you've likely run into pattern extensions already (prances, or repeating whips). If you know what count you want the last pattern to have (I've got to pull out the Trade Mark Move for the break!), work out what count you need to start it on (I have to start 13 beats before the break), figure out where you are, and decide if you are on track, or if you need a compression or an extension to get there. Stick it in early (when nobody is looking), and then you have a smooth run of patterns that moves effortlessly into the break. Pull this off twice (without moving your lips) and you'll get a reputation for being a naturally musical dancer.

    The key to a lot of this is to do all the thinking in advance, so the moves can flow organically, and you can concentrate on the dancing part. It can reach a point where it becomes habit - pretty much every time I dance to Mustang Sally, if the one of the pattern count falls on the lyric "town", you can make good money betting that I'm leading my follower through a right outside spin, followed by my berating myself for being so predictable.
  19. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    What an answer . . . you really get into this, eh? I printed it out!

    I was OK with most of this, but had to read it several times, and . . . I think I do most of it, especially the 13 counts ahead, etc.

    What did get me is the 5& 2, or the rock and go . . . I'm stumbling over this, though my feet can do it, but I'm not sure to the "whys" of it.
  20. Dancelf

    Dancelf Member

    That question is a bit vague, can you try again?

    The why of it is essentially that we need to chop two beats somewhere, and the two beats that we are cutting out are "six, one". Since the follower is now covering more ground on two than she normally does, the rock and go gives the feel of accelerating the lead.

    The lead is purely body lead, and has a little bit of a leverage feel to it, because you are working counter to the follower's expectations.

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