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Differences In Rhythms

© by Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid

One of the ways that rhythms differ from each other is where the main accent is and where the secondary accent (or upbeat) is. Another way that rhythms distinguish themselves is through the "atmosphere" or "mood" of the music. 

But why is this important? Music has always been a mood-maker. It is used in almost every gathering, whether a political gathering, a social gathering, or even if you just have a few people over at home. This knowledge is something that we can use as we organize a dance.

It is also important to realize that our bodies react, sometimes automatically, to different rhythms and beats. If we want to create the desired effect, we need to use dances that use the correct music for the rhythms they are written for. For instance a Cha-Cha-Cha written to a Samba can give your dancers a rushed feeling and the dance will probably be done with a lot of up-and-down movements. If you dance a Bolero that has been written to Slow Two Step music you miss the Latin atmosphere. And because of the upbeat in American Waltz, you usually will feel rushed doing International Waltz figures, even if the music is slowed down. 

SLOW TWO STEP—In Slow Two Step there is more accent on the 2nd step (3rd beat in 4/4 time), which gives your body the "up" feeling (just like the "a" in Samba). 

FOXTROT—In Foxtrot all the beats are accented the same. This does not mean they are all the same length—there are of course slows and quicks. But with no extra accent your body keeps down and moving forward at an even tempo. 

RUMBA—While Slow Two Step music is "romantic", Rumba is more sensuous; in a way, maybe even more playful, some "give & take" and story-like. Rumba will usually have more Latin flavor. In Slow Two Step you are romanticizing together, while in Rumba the girl is often playing "hard to get". But how do we get that feel in the music? Rumba music has the "extra accent" on the 4th beat, so the "hold" during the slow count. This gives you the opportunity to hold the count even longer. You can even syncopate the dance a little yourself (your interpretation of the music)—you can "play a little" with the music. (In reality this should be felt on the 1 beat for international, but the 4th beat can be used—most people find it difficult to do "nothing" on the 1st beat. Of course in reality you are doing the most important part—the hip action). 

BOLERO—Like Rumba, Bolero has a more Latin flavor than Slow Two Step. The first step is slow (so the 2nd beat of music has no accent). The 1st quick has the extra accent, but this does come a little late giving you time to rise and draw out the slow. Since the quicks are quicker you don't come up any further than you do at the end of the first slow. 

SAMBA—Samba accents the "up" beat in the music; that is the "a" — 1a2, 3a4. This gives your body the up and down feeling that is typical of Samba. While you can dance a Cha to this music, you will get dancers doing a "jumpy" or "bouncy" Cha. 

CHA CHA—In Cha Cha, beats 1 and 2 are more equal, with an accent again on beat 4. 

WEST COAST SWING—West Coast Swing is a more lazy, blues type of music. This makes you want to stay low in the floor. There is not a heavy accent on the other notes, but you can often draw out the 2nd slow thus accenting the "movingness" of the first quick. 

JIVE—In Jive the first two beats are more even, with an accent again on the 1st beat of each triple. The first beat of the second triple can fall on the first beat of the next measure, which is the normal "1" beat (which is always accented), and that is why it is easier to fall out of sequence with Jive. 

TANGO—Tango (like Foxtrot) has all even accents — not all even beats. But that is why you feel like staying low and you have more lateral movement (like Foxtrot) instead of up and down movement. 

VIENNESE WALTZ—The tempo is faster — official tempo is 56 bars (measures) per minute (168 beats). The dance hold is also slightly less compact — the man's left arm is slightly lower and wider — but we're not talking about dance holds, etc. now, only music. There is a heavy 1st beat accent so that you hold it slightly longer making the dance a little syncopated. 

AMERICAN WALTZ—The tempo is slower than Viennese (for example, Mexicali Rose is 36 bars per minute). The accent is on beat 1, but in American Waltz there is a definite up beat on 2 & 3. 

ENGLISH (or slow or international) WALTZ—English waltz tempo is 31 bars or 93 beats per minute. While you "feel" beat 1 — or at least can usually find it — all the beats are even; there is no extra accent. This creates a more even, flowing dance and gives you the time (and timing) to slowly rise (coming to it's fullest near the end of beat 2), and then lower again before starting beat 3 (while in American Waltz because of the upbeat you will usually reach the highest point of the rise earlier). If anything you "accent" beat 2 by drawing it out a bit.

This article was originally written with cuers and teachers in mind. It was reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, November 2009 and 2016.

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