I agree with everyone, counting is a way to practice. Then it naturally goes away as confidence arrives. My instructor uses a count to explain a step, then transitions to sound effects phrases in practice. Giving a little timing help without going all the way back to marching mode. It sounds something like sha-da-da, boom-boom hold. Any way you get the idea.
Sometimes I count, sometimes I don't. If it's a song I really "feel" counting isn't necessary, and I think my dancing is better because I'm thinking less and reacting to the music more.
If I'm dancing with someone I'm just not connecting with - and that doesn't necessarily mean a less experienced dancer - then I will find myself counting. There are a couple extremely "advanced" dancers I just don't click with when I'm dancing with them. I don't hear the same things they do in the music and it feels like we're wrestling, not dancing. Sometimes leads like to "experiment" with new things, which is fine, but when it doesn't fit with the music I'll find myself counting just to make sure I'm not the problem.
As regarding "hitting" the breaks, I've tried to think of this more as acknowledging the breaks, or any variation in the music. While I do understand technically "the break is 5 beats away," to me that's way too much thinking in too short an amount of time to actually do anything other than just stop, which gets old after a while. If I can acknowledge that something changed, maybe with something simple like a body isolation or a different variation to a basic pattern, it takes out a lot of the panic for me about hitting something perfectly every time.
I dance a lot of WCS, so I don't really find that I need to count anymore. I will sometimes count when I am trying something new that involves a syncopation. But mostly I've been working on styling and musicality. And that keeps me plenty busy!
I don't remember which song it was, but last night there is this place in the music where you get drum beats on each 1/4 note (or were they eighths?). We were doing West Coast Swing. I dropped the slows and stepped on each beat. Was I still doing West Coast? Don't know, but it was a blast. I know that. When the insistent, every beat drumming stopped, I waited for my partner to do an anchor step, and we were back into normal mode.
Later in the evening another of my partners said, "I'm beginning to think you are making this stuff up". They're starting to catch on to me.
No one says you have to catch all of the breaks perfectly all of the time. I don't understand, though, how people feel comfortable just dancing through them. I was using them well before I knew what to call them.
I enjoy finding myself in unexpected places when those pauses come, if I haven't, or couldn't, plan ahead. It's fun, too, to think up different ways to start up again after your pauses.
And, some of the women I dance with seem to be enjoying themselves, too.
Yea, I know what you mean . . . I have a tough time dancing through breaks in a competition routine . . . my Pro says it screws up the phrasing . . . and I tell her "who cares," as I don't to win or even place, so "let's hit 'em." but she refuses . . .
i was counting in my first competition last weekend, but not for finding when to enter spotlight, but to figure out, when the breaks are, so that i can use them. i couldn't hear them in that song. (btw - not missing the breaks made me win )
when learning new moves, i usually don't count anymore. i'm making use of scatting. shoo-be-do bap-dee-da
here it's the same as the first - i probably count through the move ONCE, so that i know which break i can reach with it, or IF i can reach a break at all with this move.
I've just started WCS and I still need to count. But as a follower, sometimes counting and following can get a little confusing so I stop counting and just let the lead worry about the timing. But then I'm a real newbie and there is no WCS where I live, so its very rare that I ever get to actually dance.
Found the discussions above on phrasing and breaks really interesting. In other dance styles I do I just 'feel' the music and find the breaks etc by musical cues, but since starting to learn WCS I'm trying to understand the structure of the music more.