Swing Discussion Boards > w.c. swing, patterns versus musicality

Discussion in 'Swing Discussion Boards' started by Hank, Feb 26, 2004.

  1. Hank

    Hank Member

    Why is there such a disconnect between the way west coast swing is taught and the way the advanced dancers actually dance?

    For years, women complained to me that I just led patterns and wasn't actually dancing to the music, i.e., my dancing lacked musicality. Yet, all the classes I took just taught one more complicated pattern that was suitable for a choreographed routine, but was quite difficult to lead and follow socially or in a Jack and Jill competition. I also noticed that the advanced dancers and those in the finals of the Jack and Jill competitions weren't doing the complicated patterns that I was learning in the group classes. Instead, they do the 5 basic patterns (sugar push, underarm turn, left-side pass, tuck, and whip) with accents, hesitations, breaks, body isolations, and extensions that rely on connection, leverage, and compression.

    Yet, when I asked teachers (both locally and at national conventions) to teach me to get away from patterns and dance the way the advanced dancers do, they would act all mysterious, as if I didn't know the secret handshake to get into their club, and would give vague, meaningless responses, such as "I just dance the way the music moves me" or "it's important to listen to the music."

    Now, I've scaled way back on my wcs classes. Instead, I buy video tapes of Jack and Jill competitions, and take them to my ballroom instructor. We watch them together and imitate the competitors. It is a completely different way of dancing from the way I was taught in the wcs classes. But, it is not unusually difficult to learn or to teach, so I don't get what all the mystery and reluctance was about. Frankly, I am resentful of all the wcs teachers who refused to teach me what I now believe is clearly a teachable skill, and I am reluctant to give them any more of my money.
  2. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    did you ask your local teachers to show you in a private lesson? most group classes will not go into those nuances. one local instructor actually does isolations & kick-ball-change footwork (both feet, front/side, turns) as part of our warmups & includes hesitations in his moves but i think he's an exception. i would have stayed with him, but the majority of followers in class really didn't belong (int-adv) and worse yet, when given opportunities to style would invariably ignore my lead & anchor on the downbeat instead of being ready to start a new move with the next musical phrase! <shudder>
  3. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Hi Hank . . . you have a right to be somewhat resentful, however, I think you got what you asked for - WCS lessons - not musicality lessons! I do believe, that eventually the instructors would have got to that point with you. Ask them for it!

    Remember, you cannot do WCS w/o the basics, or a good foundation. If you are absolutely sure of your WCS basics dancing and can WCS dance w/o counting, then I think you are ready for the musicality area that you mention. I would only count in really difficult or long (32 count) patterns. Also, remember you said "classes" - and classes are for the general masses - and many people do not "hear" the music, nor want to, as you would like to hear.

    Now start listening to the music. Know where count 1 is . . . that's how you could (notice I didn't say should be???) be dancing if you are "playing" in WCS - what it sounds like you want to do. Now, if you are competing, it's different story - you need to perfect in your basics - it's what you get judged on - not how fancy you can dance. TIP: always go back and re-learn your basics!

    Start counting the music . . . a lot of Swing music is based on eight counts - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Learn to listen to where count 1 is, and then you can learn to play in WCS dancing, and once you can do this, sometimes other steps can be added and/or left out. (I used to be amazed at how the Pros knew every "break" in the music, or could do a facial gesture or body move according to the music. It's because they have learned to listen to the music).

    The main thing that you need to know is count 1 and count 6, but be cognizant of what your feet are doing for the other counts. Now you can stand "off the rail" and put her everywhere and not even have to move . . . you can stay on the rail and change your mind right in the middle of a move and push her right bak to start. You can dip her, you can bend her, you can do body rolls against her body, and most important of all, you can allow her to play right back to you. Women love to "play" in WCS.

    Unless you are competing, WCS is meant to be fun. That's F-U-N.

    Know your basics and knowing the music makes it that way.

    I could write a lot more, but am trying to keep it relatively understandable.
  4. jon

    jon Member

    For the same reason that styling doesn't get taught much in most group classes in other dance forms. Not what most students want.
  5. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Thanks jon . . . I should have mentioned that too!!!
  6. Neil

    Neil Member

    Ok, here's my take. Those little accents, hesitations, isolations, etc are very easy to learn. Here's what's not so easy:

    Predicting what sounds are comming up in the music.

    Selecting a movement that will goes with the sound.

    Getting yourself in a position to execute the movement when the corresponding sound appears in the music.

    Executing the movement while keeping a good WCS connection with your partner, but not throwing her off or even adding any noise to the connection.

    Doing all of the above in real time as you are navigatinga crowded dance floor.

    Once you are so experienced that you can do all of that, you don't need anybody to teach you how to hesitate or flick your foot. That is just too simple to teach.

    If you are just imatating the movements that the competitors do, but you do it to different music, you are NOT dancing more musically. You are still just doing patterns. The advanced dancers are being sincere when they say you have to just feel the music. That is what makes their dancing more musical.
  7. tsb

    tsb Well-Known Member

    but probably in a private.

    YES! dancing feels so much better when you pay attention to the downbeat - and start new moves on the downbeat. a problem is that the passes (as taught) take only 6 counts and (unless you do four of them in a row), takes you off the downbeat.

    and also pay attention to when a phrase begins and ends (on a multiple of those eight counts).

    another thing to listen for is when the melody is either silent or is holding a long note - good arrangers invariably put fills that usually make good breaks.

    i often take for granted my musical background - but it does get me into trouble because i often anticipate a break because that's where i'd put one in if i'd written the arrangement - and it doesn't happen! argh!
  8. dancergal

    dancergal New Member

    Hank, don't know what's wrong with your dance instructors. No one pretends it's a mystery over here. Ours instructors teach patterns, styling and musicality in the advanced classes. The beginners cannot grasp it yet as learning the basic footwork is usually hard enough. Ditto what everyone else said about learning the basics first and adding musicality and styling later as you get better. Also get the instruction tapes from some of the pros that teach advanced styling. From that you can learn where you can add styling and musicality in your dance and they can show you advanced footwork that will help you. Watching a competition tape sometimes doesn't really show you how they do their footwork. What has helped me a lot is to listen to a lot of WCS music that they play at the dances and the competitions (I have a lot of CDs that I listen to in my car) so that you become familiar with the songs, the breaks and where you can "play."
  9. Hank

    Hank Member

    This is my strategy for musicality, which I developed by watching advanced dancers. When I try to explain this to teachers, so that I can get feedback on it, they stop me before I’m nearly done and tell me it’s too complicated, and that they just feel the music.

    1. For blues songs, I pulse the upbeats, that is, I hold the even counts a little longer than the odd counts. Some people recommend counting in a “rolling count” with 3 counts for each beat to facilitate this (+ ah 1, + ah 2, + ah 3, + ah 4 …), but I already have too high a workload for that. Contemporary, funky songs are usually too fast for this to be comfortable.

    2. I count in phrases of 8 beats, regardless of the patterns I’m doing, and I try to figure out the phrasing of the song. Most songs have a phrase structure of:
    verse, chorus, bridge,
    verse, chorus, bridge, …

    All the verses will usually be of equal length, as will all the choruses. The chorus is the catch-phrase of the song and is often shorter than the verse. The bridge is usually intrumental and is shorter than the chorus. Songs that are all instrumental are really hard to figure out.

    If there is a break, it usually happens on 1 or 5 at the transition between the phrases and will often be at the transition between the chorus and the bridge.

    3. I accent every 1 (out of 8 beats) with some kind of minor body action or isolation, such as a tap step instead of a triple step, a hip pop, a leg pop, or a single shoulder roll.

    4. I accent every transition between the phrases with a major isolation, or by starting a new pattern at the beginning of the phrase. When I hear the end of the phrase coming, I extend the pattern I’m doing for as many beats as needed, so that I can end the current pattern at the end of the phrase.

    5. I do a hestiation on the break, if there is one. Immediately following the break, there will often be some minor accents. I do minor body isolations on those.
  10. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Hi Pam . . . nice to see you're still here!

    Don't re-write the music and don't anticpate the breaks. If you hear the break coming because of the buildup of music (I won't go any deeper than that), then set up for it and hit it. If you don't hear it coming, still don't anticipate, just react to it . . . you don't have to strike a pose . . . just react and do something with your body, arms, or legs, and your partner.

    Listen and feel and hear the music. Learn where count 1 of the 8 counts is always at . . . hear it . . .

    A lot of Swing music will break on 1 and 5, but that's NOT a steadfast rule . . . as I have music that breaks on the other 6 counts of the music.

    So, to sum up . . . don't anticipate- REACT. If you can learn to hear the break coming, or as dancergal says - "become familiar with the music" - then you will be able to execute those breaks. "Hit the brakes" or "hitting the breaks" - both are the same.

    Just don't anticipate or force it.
  11. d nice

    d nice New Member

    Copying improvisation is not improvisation... it is just someone elses moves... more patterns.

    You can not be truly musical until you understand the concepts of the dance, how to lead and follow, and have the vocabulary with which to improvise off of.

    Complicated patterns normally have inherent musical qualities as well as syncopations... the base of whcih improvisationa dn musicality come from.

    IT is like asking why first grade teachers are not teachign their students how to compose sonnets... the students don't have a firm grasp of the English language let alone rules of grammar... writing a sonnet is beyond them.

    As adults we have the ability to see others composing poetry, and want to do it as well... but we don't always understand that we are not ready for it.

    To add to this, even when a student is ready for musicality and improvisation a standard group class is not the place for it. So many rules get broken that unless the class is specially targeted (as in a workshop) or has a high teacher/student ratio (as in private or semi-private lessons) it is in fact going to be counter-productive.
  12. d nice

    d nice New Member

    Hank... I agree with your teachers. Your method is way too complicated (sorry we haven't been properly introduced, I'm Damon and I'm the rsident DF/Swing "Devil's Advocate" and all around "Bad Guy" TM).

    If you have to map out the music mathmatically I'll bet you $50 that what you are doing is not only, not musical, but mechanical. Being musical is about tapping into the spirit of the dance and the song. If you dance from your head rather than your heart you will be extremely limited in what you will be able to achieve.

    Don't get me wrong... knowing what is happening in the music can certainly allow you to wrap your mind around what will come next even on songs you haven't heard, but when you are on the dance floor the knowledge should be something more visceral rather than intellectual, allowing you to literally feel the changes in the music rather than having to count or plan.
  13. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    What you outlined . . . it is way too technical. It makes you think, and if you are thinking, you are not feeling and hearing the music.

    I think all of us are trying to tell you to relax and just dance. If you know your basics . . . just "do" what the music is making you feel. Forget about the long difficult patterns . . . go back to the basics . . . a L side pass, a R side pass, a push, a whip, a slow L side pass and let the follow "play, same on the R side . . . let her play. Then build a playground around the rest of your moves.

    You can also play or compliment her while she does her thing.

    She "knows" where she has to end up, so let her do it. For example, in a R side pass, by count 2, she knows what your intention is and she knows the move and she knows what she has to do. You do not need to put her at the end of the slot for the anchor. Now, just do your part.

    Darn . . . just have fun . . . that's what it's all about.
  14. Neil

    Neil Member

    To me

    thinking the music = feeling the music + being aware of the process

    Sometimes you learn how to do something unconsciously and don't even realize what you are doing.
  15. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    I agree, the way you wrote it. Hank was "only thinking," and not feeling the music. I was trying to get him to relax. The producer's of the song have already done the thinking, and he was trying to anticipate what they did - hence, he was to pre-occupied with the music, and not doing your formula for success!
  16. dancin/dj

    dancin/dj Member

    hank, i think all the answers are good - there are different types of teachers out there, i think (some) milk people for money- opps not politically correct- bear in mind i said some.of course we need a strong basic foundation-but i've seen soooooooooooooo much of what you said in hustle . salsa, and west coast swing,students wishing they could dance w/ the music etc...and the teachers acting strange, i would recomend to start listening to all kinds of music-and sort of meditate on it-absorbe it- eat it so to speak-not dance for a brief period- learn from musicans we can teach u- a lot of times teachers cant give you what you ask because there milking you- or they dont know how to communicate listening/feeling the music- some of them dont listen/ feel. vince is a musican like me and i like what he said about how the musicans already wrote out the parts-so listen to them-you can get there by that route.
  17. kubo

    kubo New Member

    I know this is an old thread but i just wanted to say that I've started dancing the West Coast Swing a few weeks ago and am glad to remember at least half of the patterns we have learned so far, let alone the basics correctly! i know that once I am completely comfortable with the basics, I can move onto more advanced things. :D
  18. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    Knowlege + Feeling

    I'm glad you revived this old thread. It is a very interesting discussion, and I was not around back then to participate.

    I think there are two main points that people keep reiterating, and I agree with them both:

    1) You can't improvise and truly dance the way you feel the music until you have a deep understanding (in your body) of the structure of the dance and the music. It can't just be head knowledge; it has to become so ingrained that it becomes second nature, like becoming fluent in a language.

    2) Copying someone else's improvisation, or trying to memorize improvisational patterns, are not improvisation in the true sense of the word. You have to "feel" the music, not the way anyone else feels it, but the way you experience it.

    My personal experience with improvisation first came from salsa. I have taken a few classes and lessons in improvisation for salsa before, but none of them permanently affected the way I improvise in salsa. It was only when I had been dancing salsa long enough and often enough, when I had truly immersed myself in the music and the dance, that improvisation began to naturally come out in my dancing without much conscious effort. That would not have happened without that deep knowledge and embodiment of the structure (you can't break the rules until you know them) as well as feeling the music and letting it come out naturally the way my body experiences it. Now I am sure that classes and videos and lessons in improvisation help with feeling comfortable with the structure and the variables in the structure that are possible, and that contributes overall to the body's muscle memory and absorption of the rhythmical structure, movement possibilities, and everything else, but the actual improvisation itself comes from the body's knowledge and feeling.

    That is what I enjoy so much about West Coast Swing. Even more so than salsa, it emphasizes musicality because the structure is so malleable. My experience with improvisation in salsa was helpful to me, because I have practiced different syncopations, and they are fun, but I am not forcing my improvisation. I do it when I feel it. And people often compliment my style and musicality, and specifically that it is unique and not forced or fake. I think we should not seek improvisation for its own sake but for a greater enjoyable of the music. So by all means practice, but also make an effort to just not do anything else unless you feel it and it feels good. That really helps you to develop your own style naturally, instead of just being a cookie-cutter image of someone else.
  19. Me

    Me New Member

    Just wanted to say that I am very glad this thread was brought back to life and I will continue to read with interest.

    I am very interested in WC Swing but it is my least favorite to dance. I always feel a fool. Most men give me noodle arms and verbally coach me through convoluted patterns that do not work, yet they insist on trying them over and over again. It is not enjoyable at all.
  20. kayak

    kayak Active Member

    I always figure if something didn't work the first or second time, it isn't going to get any better the 25th time. So I might as well try leading something else. Sometimes, the problem is with my lead and others the lady just isn't getting it. So I try to adjust and find things that are fun.

    I'm glad I spent a lot of time on fundamentals and basics. The amazing thing about complicated patterns is they all break down to linking together little basic patterns.

    This year, I am finally able to play with the music more. It took me a long time to get the dance ingrained so I don't have to think about it and try to listen to the music at the same time. It is really funny to hear a change coming and miss by a beat or two. As long as I don't make it too dramatic, we just dance right past and hopefully only I know I had planned on hitting something differently in music :)

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