Monday, 4 June 2012

Musicality in dance - Syncopation


Syncopation is what makes swing dance, West Coast swing, Lindy and Balboa swing. There is a lot of confusion about what syncopation and 'swing' dance is. Hopefully this piece will clear some of the confusion up.

Dance teachers often misunderstand what is meant by syncopation and confuse it with splitting the beat. The triple step in the cha-cha-cha and in ballroom jive is not syncopated it is merely a splitting of the beat into three steps. In true musical syncopation one step or note "steals time" from the next. One could go into detail explanation of how syncopation is used in swing music and other forms to drive the rhythm forward, but we are not here for lesson on musical theory, we are talking about dance.

All we need to know about musical syncopation is that in 1930s and 1940s swing music syncopation, usually through syncopated triples and syncopation on the eighth note, was used to create a form of music that pulsed or swung between syncopated anchors.

Swing dancers of the period emulated that swinging or pulsing sensation by syncopating or or swinging their dancing. There is often confusion about the relationship between swing music and swing dance. Although it is possible for a dancer to hit the anchors and syncopations in the music (and it looks very good)  that is not the central aim of swing dancing.

The central aim is to generate a swinging or pulsed dance. This is achieved by dancing slightly off tempo. The dancer starts off slightly behind the beat, catches up by speeding up the next step, possibly getting faster on the third, then slowing down at the anchor at the end of the pattern or slot to get back time with the music. They then swing into the next pattern or figure.

Imagine a swing. The dancer starts off slowly speeds up, swings to the centre of the pattern and then falls away to stop and triple step on the anchor. This is swing dancing.

It sounds much more complicated than it  is. The swing or syncopation is instantly recognisable when it is done properly.

Here are two dancers, one is a highly talented dancer who is new to swing and the other is a very experienced swing dancer.

This is a new dancer trying to do West Coast swing without syncopations and without swing. They are dancing on the beat. Although physically technically challenging the dancing appears flat and I interesting.

Contrast with the second video. Ruth Cnaay is a very experienced swing dancer. You can see her hang at the end slot, syncopating on the triple, that is holding it longer than it should, then swinging forward into the pattern before slowing to a stop at the next triple.

The dance swings or pulses.

MJ and Salsa dancers new to West Coast swing Lindy Hop invariably step off the triple on beat. The result is a flat uninteresting dance. West Coast swing becomes slotted modern jive. Without the syncopation it doesn't swing.

So if you want to make your swing dancing look good and not like a slotted form of MJ land syncopated as you travel through the pattern.

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