8.1 Hearing the Beat

Not everyone can hear the beat. The problem is very seldom a rhythmic thing. There is a psychological thing called entrainment that is innate in all normal humans and enables them to naturally fall in sync with repetitive musical patterns. It doesn't work well when you don't listen carefully because you're focusing on other things like dancing properly. It also won't work if you listen to the wrong things, like the cymbal instead of the instruments that are holding the beat your feet are supposed to be moving to. You don't have great rhythmic sense in order to dance. All you have to do is learn the leads and footwork well enough so that you can listen to the music while you dance. Turning up the bass and turning down the treble is a good training tool. This helps them to learn just what they should be listening to. There is so much going on in that set of drums, that some people just aren't aware of what we are dancing to. Try clapping it out along with the student. Use straight 4's first, not quicks and slows. If he can't keep the beat, let him practice by himself for a few days until he can. Some people are more tactile than auditory, and for those you may find it helpful to tap their body or shoulder in time to the music, and let them tap feet or clap hands or tap on a table. This gets them started with an extra physical cue reinforcing the auditory cue. I ask folks to listen to the radio as much as possible, and to routinely tap the beat with their feet, or tap on the steering wheel, or clap the beat, or whatever... to try to practice hearing the beat. 15 minutes alone can often be equivalent to an hour while being watched. When they can hear the beat, then have them tap out the dance rhythm (quick-quick-slow-slow, etc.) Once he can clap quicks and slows consistently, let him try walking it. Walk it continuously, the living room will be too small, have him try it outside on his daily stroll (don't laugh, this is how I learned three against two, other people might laugh, but if your determined enough...) Then you can move to the living room, don't worry about the space. Go in circles, back and forth, in place, and combinations of all of them. You might want to replace the words quick-quick-slow-slow with quick-quick-slow-lead occasionally, have him do the arm movements as best as possible at the same time. In class, the best way to get students to dance on time is to count the rhythm properly while the music is playing. The overwhelming majority of beginners, in my experience, want desperately to dance on the instructor's count. When practicing, 1) KISS! If the newbie is a follower, be restrained in what you lead. And if the newbie is a leader, accept that you will be following a very simple dance. Dancing very simple basic patterns is much more enjoyable than struggling with complicated wraps, ducks, and whips when one partner can hardly hear the beat. 2) Select slower music to dance to. It may not be as exciting, but it will be far more comfortable for your newbie partner, and they will be far more likely to develop good dancing habits.

Some followers have trouble with timing in C/W Two-step, especially when doing the basic step, even though they have no trouble with waltz, cha cha and west coast swing. Here is some insight as to why.

In Waltz you can hear when you should be stepping with your lead foot because it is a 6 count basic over 6 count phrases.

Two-step is a 6 count basic over 8 count phrases, so you can't tell what foot you should be stepping on by listening.

Cha-Cha you can tell whether it's a front break or back break by the direction he's moving.

In Two-step, he's always moving the same direction.

In WCS you can always use the anchor-in-place as a reference point to which foot you need to step with next.

In Two-step you generally have no reference point. This is why I like doing a lot of Texas whip patterns and variations of it; changing tracks every 6 counts provides a good reference point. Keeping turning while you're in closed provides a good reference point too.

Just in case any Followers wondered why, sometimes we Leaders get off the beat to save you from some hazard of which you're unaware. Sometimes such actions cause a slight loss of balance. The combination of getting off the beat and balance can make us seem like clods for a bar or two 'til we get it back together. We Leaders very much appreciate the skill of you Followers who will follow our momentary clodishnesses without backleading or complaint. Things happen. Worse things could happen.

I will always be grateful for the men that have asked me to dance. They lead to the best of their abilities. I follow to the best of my abilities. I realize that the ultimate, perfect follower should be able to follow ANYTHING he leads... even if it's off-time, but I must admit, I'm not that good. If he's off, and the music is screaming cha-cha-cha at me (for example) I purposely fumble, apologize, and expect him to smooth things over. I laughingly accept the blame, and then make sure he starts up again on time. Sort of a subservient maneuver but polite. Evil? Maybe. But I freely admit I'm not good enough to follow off-time indefinitely anyway. I'm sure to mess up, so why not get back on track as soon as possible and go back to concentrating on having fun and doing everything as well as I can. I can appreciate that some men seem to get stuck in warp patterns. The only way that these men seem to accept that change is needed is in self discovery. Sometimes you need to just keep following until he realizes something is not right. After all, he has the lead.

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This file is part of the lead/follow FAQ list. These are articles compiled from the newsgroup rec.arts.dance by Mark Balzer. Html-isation by Victor Eijkhout, victor at eijkhout dot net. See also the Rec Arts Dance FAQ list Copyright 1996/7/8/9 lies with the compiler, the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.

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