Elbows down (video: 1 min., 4 sec.)

In this video Skippy Blair talks about the importance of keeping your elbows down. A lot of stuff in dance is wicked hard to do, this one’s a cinch. Well, it’s easy to do but developing the habit to always do it is a little tougher.

Keeping your elbows down affects your posture and frame. Posture and frame are important because they not only make you look good, they improve the dance connection with your partner. Pressing your elbows down will push your shoulders back and down, which helps to straighten your spine. It will make you feel light to your partner arms. There’s more in Chapter 10, Posture and Frame.

Video courtesy of Skippy Blair (swingworld.com).

Move your center first (video: 1 min., 28 sec.)

In this video Skippy Blair talks about how to move on the dance floor by moving your center first. Your “center,” short for “center point of balance,” is located in your solar plexus. All dance movement should start and project from your center. If you move your center first you will not only look better–like a dancer!–but it will feel better to your partner and make lead and follow much easier.

There’s an old saying in dance, “foot follows frame.” Move your center first—not shoulders, hip or foot. Especially don’t move the foot first, which is the mark of a beginner. There’s more in Chapter 12, Movement and Timing.

Video courtesy of Skippy Blair (swingworld.com).

Count music: sets of 8, heavy measure, light measure (video: 1 min. 15 sec.)

In this video Skippy Blair counts the sets of 8 in a piece of music. The hand motion she uses is a good exercise when you count music to work on timing and training your body to hear the sets of 8.

Listen for the heavy measure, beats 1 to 4, and the light measure, beats 5 to 8. The light measure is the thematic “conclusion” to a set of 8. Listening for the thematic conclusion is a good way to identify a set of 8. All dance music, except the waltz, is structured in sets of 8. The waltz is counted in sets of 6.

From Skippy Blair’s 2006 Summer Intensive, video courtesy of Skippy Blair

Hearing the beat of the music by counting "sets of 8" (audio: 30 sec.)

This is a 30 sec. audio clip of Skippy Blair counting sets of 8. You will never, ever, ever be a good ballroom dancer unless you can “hear”—either count or intuitively feel—the sets of 8 in the music.

Why? Because the ability to count music and hear the sets of 8 keeps you on the beat and it tells you when to start and finish patterns. A set of 8 defines the beat of the music. So, if you can hear the sets of 8, it confirms that you know where the beat is for that piece of music.

I don’t want to scare you so I won’t tell you how long it took me to hear the sets of 8 on my own (87 years! kidding). But it’s an automatic process now and I’m shocked at how connected I am to the sets of 8. Remember, I used to think I was rhythmically challenged.

As you listen to this clip, listen how a set of 8 is like a “sentence” of music. Then notice how four sets of 8 (32 beats), or four “sentences,” come together to create a complete musical thought, which is like a “paragraph” of music. A set of 8 is called a “mini-phrase,” and four sets of 8 is called a “major-phrase.”

Most songs have introductions, which can be any length; this piece has a 16 beat intro. Skippy then counts four 32-beat phrases for a total of 144 beats. The 32-beat major-phrase is the simplest, most common structure in dance music. The beats in this clip are structured like this:

8 8 = 16 beats (the intro)
8 8 8 8 = 32 beats
8 8 8 8 = 32 beats
8 8 8 8 = 32 beats
8 8 8 8 = 32 beats
Total = 144 beats

All ballroom dance music is counted in sets of 8 except waltz, which is counted in sets of 6. There’s more on sets of 8 in my web book, Chapter 4, “Counting Music: Finding the Sets of 8.”

TIP: It’s going to take a while to the hear sets of 8 so practice counting anytime you hear music: the car, a TV show, a movie, an elevator, the gym, a store, you name it. Get confirmation from other dancers to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Now that I’m better connected to music, one of the great benefits of learning to dance is that I get a bigger thrill just listening to any kind of music.

Audio clip courtesy of Skippy Blair (swingworld.com).