Let’s face it, for every person who is gliding and swaying in perfect time on the ballroom dance floor, there are many of us who are just “rhythmically challenged.” If you have tried to learn to ballroom dance and find it awkward to move your body to the beat of the music, you are not alone.
But guess what? The good news is that you can learn to dance and improve your rhythm by simply listening to your favorite music and practicing shifting your weight from one foot to another.
Understanding the Structure of Ballroom Dancing Music
So, how do we begin to become more rhythmic? We begin by understanding the song structure. Most standard ballroom dance music, except for the waltz and cha cha which have triplets, is a series of 8 beat patterns. And, if you can count the sets of 8 beats in time to the music, then you have found the beat. The easiest way to learn this is to put on some music and immediately begin counting sets of 8 in time to the music. Make sure to listen to the drums as they will always be on the beat. If you are still having trouble hearing the beat, try either clapping or tapping your foot to the rhythm of the music while you count.
Counting beats to the music can also help you identify the song structure so that you will be able to dance in patterns that will naturally flow with the music. For example, you could plan a dramatic dance pose that is timed to a “break” or peak point of excitement in a musical number.
You will often find that the music structure changes throughout a song as one set of 8’s ends and another begins. If the song changes as the music transitions then you have found the beat. If you feel you are a little bit off in your counting during these transitions then you may be off the beat just a little bit. Always be sure that you are counting “1” at the beginning of each song section or transition.
Feeling a Ballroom Dancing Rhythm
If you truly want to learn to ballroom dance, its important to understand that ballroom dancing is all about weight shifts. In fact, the most important thing to keep in mind when learning to dance is to always know where your weight is. To practice this, start by simply swaying side to side with the music. Each side to side movement should be 2 beats so you would sway to the left on 1 & 2 and then to the right on 3 & 4. You can tap your hands on the side of your hips as you sway to the music to help you keep the beat. Notice that when you are swaying side to side you are shifting your body weight from one foot to another foot. Once you have practiced your swaying enough, believe it or not you now have the feeling of rhythm!
The next step is to expand your swaying into a simple rock step. Start with one foot forward and the other foot back. Now, instead of swaying back and forth, completely shift your weight to one foot so that the other foot has no weight on it. The count for this is a complete weight shift forward on 1 & 2 and a complete weight shift back on 3 & 4. Rocking back and forth is a great way to practice complete weight shifts while maintaining balance.
Finally, you can continue to expanding your weight shifts into simple dance steps and dance patterns. An example of a single rhythm dance step with one weight change in two beats of music would be something like “step touch, step hold”. A double rhythm with two weight changes in a beat of music would be something like “step step” or “quick quick”.
Practice Your Basic Ballroom Dance Steps
Many basic ballroom dance steps are a combination of dance rhythms. Salsa, for example, follows an 8 beat rhythm pattern and is often described as “quick quick slow – quick quick slow”, while the Rumba is “slow, quick, quick – slow, quick, quick”. In these examples the slow step gets 2 beats and each quick step is 1 beat. Remember, ballroom dancers don’t like to be “bouncy” so try to make your weight shifts as smooth and as elegant as possible.
Now that you have better rhythm to the music you just need to practice. The best thing is that you can improve your rhythm while listening to your favorite dance songs in the comfort of your home. Anyone can learn to ballroom dance, so start swaying to the rhythm and get dancing!