DANCE TIPS FOR DANCE STEPS
How to hear ballroom dancing music II: Counting
Each ballroom dance has its own "rhythm" within the musical timing. In order to marry this dance rhythm to the music, we typically count our steps in "Slows" (S) and "Quicks" (Q), where slow is worth 2 beats and quick is worth just 1 beat. Different dances are counted differently:
Tango -- SSQQS
Theoretically, because it has 2 beats per bar, Tango should be counted 2 beats at a time. This can be confusing however, and it is far more practical to count a phrase of 4 or even 8 beats of music at a time. All of our steps are 8 counts long, and so we will always count in groups of 8. The basic rhythm we use, which applies to almost all of our steps is: SSQQS.
Fox Trot -- SSQQ
Although Foxtrot music has 4 beats per bar, the basic dance rhythm is 6 counts long: SSQQ. This means that a basic step takes 1½ bars of music (just like Swing). You can see below that although the beginning and end of the steps don't always match the beginning and end of the bars, they do match up every 3 bars. More experienced Foxtrot dancers often use steps with alternative rhythms like the box step and chasses, to match the dancing to the music when it feels good to do so.
Waltz -- 123
Waltz is not difficult to count to because both the steps and the music are grouped in even counts of three. Remember though, that because there are an odd number of counts, you will start dancing each new bar on a different foot. Because of this, it is sometimes helpful to count two bars at a time (123 - 456), to give a sense of completion to each step.
Rumba -- SQQ
Rumba feels great to dance to because, like the Waltz, the timed dance steps fit evenly into 4 beat bars of music. A full Rumba basic takes 2 bars of music. It is sometimes helpful to count 12345678.
Cha Cha -- 1234&
Cha Cha music can feel fast because there are 5 steps to make in 4 beats of music. The extra step happens on the 4th beat, which means that the 4th beat is split in 2. We count "&" on this ½ beat. A full basic step takes place over 8 beats.
Swing -- SSQQ
Swing music has 4 beats per bar, but the basic dance rhythm is 6 counts long: SSQQ. This means that a basic step takes 1½ bars of music (just like Foxtrot). Again, the beginning and end of the steps don't always match the beginning and end of the bars.
Swing can also be danced with a triple rhythm that has 8 steps in the basic pattern. The triple rhythm is counted: Q&Q Q&Q QQ.
Triple rhythm Swing will often feel more comfortable for Swing music that is slower, while single rhythm works better for faster songs.
Salsa -- QQS
There are a few different ways of using the 4 beats of Salsa music to make a dance rhythm. And while some people have very strong convictions about the 'rightness' of their way of counting, the bottom line is that you can have a great time dancing either rhythm. In our syllabus we count QQS and dance the first Quick on the 1st beat of music. This is probably the easier rhythm to dance, because it starts on the '1' beat of the music, which is natural for most people. Alternatively, some dancers hold the first beat of music and start dancing 'on 2'. Dancing this count, you start on the 2nd beat and count 2 3 4 hold. (Notice that this is just QQS starting on the 2nd beat). This is often thought of as Mambo rhythm, but it can be danced to any Salsa music.
Dancing For Dessert offers online dance instructions for all ballroom dance styles. Learn dance steps for salsa, swing, foxtrot, waltz, tango, rumba, cha cha, and wedding dances. Our online dance lessons will have you dancing with confidence and ease.