“BUT I CAN’T HEAR THE BEAT!”
Is a cry I hear from many students in their journey to learn dance, from ALL levels of dancers from beginners to competition champions! In this artiicle will de-mysify the musical beat so everyone can enjoy moving in time.
All Ballroom dance music – but not necessarily all music – will have a beat – which means you can clap your hands or tap your foot regularly to the music. If you relax your mind and body and feel rather than listen to the music – the beat is usually played with drums or other percussive instrument within the music. Try to listen to the instruments playing rather than the lyrics – which are often do not help you find the rhythm. It’s easier to find the beat of a faster piece of music such as Quickstep or Cha Cha Cha, and more difficult to find the beat in slower music such as the Waltz or Rumba (and you won’t feel like clapping anymore) – but it’s there. Sway and see if you can feel it.
But more than just a beat – Ballroom music has rhythm – which is a regular occurrence of an accented or stronger beat within the music. It’s like the drummer hits the drums a little stronger – or the musician emphasises one beat every 3 or 4 beats. It’s not always obvious – but as you are clapping or swaying – close your eyes and try to feel a place where the beat is a little stronger. If you struggle, it’s often at the beginning of a chorus sung by the vocals or the beginning of the melody. This accented beat is what we need to find in order to start dancing correctly with the music. We call this accented beat – Beat 1.
Ballroom music has an accented beat either every three or four beats. If you feel an accented beat every three beats then the music is a Waltz, slow for Modern Waltz and quick for Viennese Waltz. If you feel the accent every four beats then it could be any of the other dances. Music which has an accented beat every four beats is very common in today’s popular music. As you feel the music, see if you can count 1,2,3,4 (or 1,2,3 for Waltz). Sense the accent (beat 1) and then the beats following (2,3,4).
To identify which dance you then – after identifying the beat – need to listen more carefully to the style, tempo, and ‘flavour’ of the music. The passionate Tango is quite different from the dance of love the Rumba, and the Quickstep different to the Slow Foxtrot, particularly in tempo, even through they are all danced to music grouped in four beats.
Finally – dances of similar tempo can be identified by the rhythm. The galloping syncopation of the Samba is quite different to the brisk but steady “Big Band” Quickstep and again different from the syncopated Jive rhythm.
Monica Fincham is the Principal of Dancesport Kingdom in Lilydale, Victoria, Australia A former champion ballroom dancer – over the last 11 years she has now helped more than 1000 adults and children beginners start to dance – adding music, passion and confidence to each of their lives. Some of her students have themselves gone on to be champions. She is also a Grade 8 AMEB pianist and studied music theory – which she attributes greatly to her success. “A deep understanding of music, it’s meaning, its development and culture is a big advantage for the dancer.”