It's All About Time
& Dan Finch
1 2 3, Slow Quick Quick, 123&4, 1a2. You should immediately
recognize these as timing for dance rhythms you do. The 1-2-3 of waltz
is easy to recognize—being the only popular rhythm we do in 3/4 timing.
Slow Quick Quick could be lots of rhythms—foxtrot, slow two step,
bolero. 123&4, maybe cha cha, maybe west coast swing. 1a2? Of
We can think of timing in lots of ways in dance. It is the essence of
dance, according to one definition, which says dancing is moving
through time and space to music. As we get older, another concept of
time is one that isn’t always our friend, says Riccardo Cocchi of
Irvine, undefeated world professional Latin champion just retired after
winning the title for the 10th time. “When you are old enough to
understand what to do, you may be too old to do it,” he joked.
Do you think the music is too fast for you to cha cha? Maybe the
timing—as in the speed the music is played—is fine, but your steps are
Mainly, we talk about “being on time” when we dance. Being off time
means you are not staying in sync with the rhythmic feel of the music.
Most dance music is played in “strict tempo,” meaning the metronomic
timing of the beats is consistent throughout. Everyone on the floor
should be doing the same step at the same time. As beginners, you may
struggle to learn to recognize the downbeat—when to start dancing—and
you may be too busy remembering steps to hear the tempo in the music,
but it gets better with practice.
A good dancer has learned the steps and understands being “on time”
with the music. The difference between a good dancer and an excellent
one, though, is like singing the music, according to Riccardo. Instead
of dancing step by step on each beat of music, play with the timing as
a singer does—still working within the measures of music, but
stretching out in one place and speeding up in another.
Some teachers will call this adding light and shade to your dancing;
Riccardo would say it is dancing as your heart feels the music.
You practice to gain skills, he said during a lecture at this year’s
Blackpool Congress in England. With skill comes the ability to not have
to think about what you are doing. He quoted Michael Jackson as saying
“the worst thing a dancer can do is think.”
If you’re thinking too hard, you aren’t enjoying the music. If you
aren’t feeling it, you can’t interpret it. If you are a competition
dancer, the judges for sure won’t mark you for doing it wrong and
probably not for just doing it right either, he said. They want to see
something extra, that you are expressing the music.
As round dancers, we’re not doing this to impress judges, or anyone
else. We are doing it for our own enjoyment. If you have learned the
figures and been taught the dance, why not play with the timing?
Instead of syncopating a chasse 12&3, try 1&23, for a slightly
different feel, especially if the orchestra did it that way too.
If you are dancing to a song that is not in strict tempo, feel how the
orchestra varies the timing. Those who dance Boulavogue, Lamberty’s
phase VI waltz, know there is a retardation in timing towards the end
and it works best if you slow your steps, in any way you feel fits.
Of course, your partner either has to feel the music as you do, or you
have to communicate your feeling to her. This is leading, but it is not
pushing her around, Riccardo said. “You have to encourage her to move.”
If the leader is busy guiding every step the partner does, he is
interfering with her and restricting himself from dancing.
In our activity, the figure to be done is not a mystery for the
follower to have to guess. The cuer tells you. Learn as beginning
dancers that men only need to lead direction and timing. Tell her when
to start and where to go, then let her feel your timing. Remember the
words of Albert Einstein: “Time is an illusion.” Make it yours, as you
Dancer's Gazette, 2020,
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, November 2020. Find a DRDC Finch archive here.