Archive for the ‘Music – Timing – Tempo’ Category

The Most Important Part of Ballroom Dancing

Monday, December 21st, 2009
Rumba

Rumba

What is the most important part of ballroom dancing?

Practice is the most important part of learning how to dance.

You probably don’t want to hear that. I am no expert, but I believe that the only way to improve our ballroom dancing skills is through the physical development of our body and muscle movements, particularly our upper leg muscles and back muscles. It is this muscle memory that ensures the predictable outcome of dancing to the music with a partner. I find that dancing is like any physical skill in that it can be learned well through practice.

The correct technique feels wrong at first.

When learning new dance steps and patterns in ballroom dancing, I often find that the correct technique feels wrong at first, while the incorrect technique feels natural.

If what I am doing feels natural, right and comfortable, I tend to receive feedback during the dance classes from the instructor that corrects errors that I am making. I learn from my mistakes. Practice is where I make mistakes and find my errors and weaknesses. It gives me something specific to work with.  Once identified, I can turn these weaknesses into strengths through practice.

Failure is a vital part of the learning process.

As a new ballroom dancer, we must be willing to fail. When learning new patterns or steps, we need to commit our entire body to the step. We need to ‘act as if’ we have been doing this step for years already.

It’s OK to make mistakes when we are learning something new. In fact, it is desirable. In dancing this is how we train our muscles. The same mistakes will only persist if we keep doing the same thing and are expecting a different outcome each time. Learning to dance can be like learning to walk all over again. After all, children learning to walk make mistakes and never give up.

I do find that with practice – over time – the correct technique and dance steps will feel right and become more natural. This is because through repetition we can transform unfamiliar body movements into the familiar, consistent movements required for effective dancing.

Practice increases confidence.

During practice time, we build our confidence naturally. The use and training of our muscles will increase our confidence on the dance floor. The confidence comes from our increasing competence – knowing what to do and how to do it.

Only after lots of practice is it wise for us to attempt in public what we have nailed in practice. I believe that it is better to raise the level of our physical capabilities before learning more complex steps and patterns. That is, get the basics right first.

Set attainable goals for each practice session.

When we want to learn to dance, setting short-term and underachieving goals work best. Especially if we write them down. (It is well-known that people who write down their goals are more successful than those who do not.)

Taking baby steps works better than giant leaps forward. This is why we set underachieving goals. The intention is to do less than we want to. Instead of practicing for an hour, commit to only 20 minutes or less. By doing so we will feel underwhelmed and look forward to practicing, instead of being impatient and pushing ourselves to overachieve. Too much effort may well work against us and be counter productive. Once stress, pressure or emotional reactions have occurred in the practice session, it is time to stop.

There is no need to practice for long periods of time. Shorter, frequent intervals are best. For example, two times a day practice for 10 minutes is better than one hour once a week.  It is easier to find this time than a few hours per week. This approach lends itself to the step-by-step way of learning ballroom dancing. Each new step is dependent on successful learning and improving the correct technique.

In summary

By being willing to fail and creating an authentic, practice schedule with realistic and easily attainable goals, we will find that our dancing becomes better and more enjoyable when we do.

How to Find The First Beat in Ballroom Dancing

Monday, December 14th, 2009

As one of the mistakes that I used to make regularly in my ballroom dancing was dancing off the beat, I have spent a lot of time learning how to find the beat and in particular recognizing the first beat of a song.

The ability to find the first beat of a song is important when learning how to keep time to music in ballroom dancing. It is a fundamental skill when we learn how to dance. This is because we begin our dance at the beginning beat of the music. As a couple we need to start together in time with the music. And it is the man’s responsibility to begin with the first step of the dance.

What are the differences between beat, rhythm and tempo?

  • a beat is the basic time unit of a piece of music.
  • the rhythm of a song is made up of a sequence of beats.
  • the tempo is the speed at which the beats occur.

How to find the first beat?

I have learned three ways for picking out the first beat:

  1. Listen for when the singer begins to sing. Singers tend to sing on the first beat of any new sequence of music.
  2. Listen for the beat that has a greater intensity or volume than the others. This is often the first beat.
  3. Listen for the bass line in the drums or bass guitar. The first beat of a bar has slightly more emphasis and can be clearly heard in the bass.

How to master finding the beat?

In the same way as knowing what dance to do to the music, I have found that finding the first beat takes practice. It requires listening to a variety of music regularly and listening for the different intensity of the beats. The first beat may or may not be louder than others, but it does have a presence. I have come to know it when I hear it.

For me it is not easy; it is challenging. But as soon as I am able to consistently pick out the beat of a particular song, I find that my ability to keep time to music improves measurably. Over time and with practice, I have found that I can feel where the first beat is in a favourite piece of ballroom music.

There even comes a point where I don’t have to rely on hearing that first beat to find the beat of a favourite song. I can just feel it as I am dancing the dance steps.

I find that it helps me to learn to dance by using all of my senses in the dance classes and practice sessions.

Finding the beat exercise

Now it is time to put into practice what you have just learned.

1) Watch and listen to this Finding the Salsa Beat video:

2) Now listen for the beat in the youtube video of Norah Jones singing Come Away With Me (listen for ‘1-2-3′ and ‘quick-quick – slow’.

3) Now find the beat in the following video of Sex Bomb by Tom Jones (listen for ‘1-2-3-cha-cha’ and ‘slow – quick-quick – slow':

How to Hear The Music and Know What Dance to Do

Monday, December 14th, 2009

As ballroom dancing comes from music, it is all about recognizing the fundamental elements of timing and rhythm. Each dance, such as the Foxtrot, Waltz and Rumba, expresses the rhythm and timing of the music that the dance was created for.

We dance to the rhythm of the song, not its melody nor the words. This is a skill that can be learned. Being able to recognize the rhythm of a song is the way to hear the music and know what dance to do. The ability to recognize the same musical elements in your favourite dance music (e.g. cha cha cha) is an important learning for beginners to ballroom dancing.

ballroomdancing4

How do we start to recognize these elements?

We listen for the bass line to discern the timing of the music. Play one of your favourites songs to dance to and listen for the consistent beat of the drum, percussion or bass guitar.  Turn up the bass on your stereo and turn down the treble in order to hear the bass line more clearly and aid your ability to clearly hear the rhythm of the music.

The first thing to realize is that it is possible to hear the differences between songs for the different dances. We can hear the difference between a jive, a tango and a rumba. Each dance was developed to match its own music. The more songs we listen to, the more we will be able to identify the music type and what dance to do to it. By listening and dancing to many different songs, we will unconsciously learn the differences between music types.

When beginning, it is helpful to listen and dance to songs that have a strict tempo e.g. the music of Glen Miller. Strict tempo is a consistent and dependable beat – the number of beats and bars remain the same throughout the song. I find that dancing to songs with a dependable beat makes dancing more enjoyable. It is therefore vital that we learn how to find the beat in a song.

For some suggested songs to practice dancing to, read my article on ballroom dancing music.