This is a post explaining the basics of musicality in (social) dance. It can seem like a pretty fuzzy topic so hopefully I am able to make it more clear. Generally speaking, someone who has good musicality pays attention to the music that is playing and dances accordingly. Someone who has “bad” musicality will do whatever dance moves they can recall or want to do and disregard what’s happening in the music. Let’s go into specifics and look at some things that people with good musicality do.
1# Being on Time
The base of musicality is stepping exactly when the beat hits in the song. Not later, not earlier. Same goes for hand and body movements – you match the movements to the beat and sounds of instruments. If you know what you’re doing you can of course play with the timing, but not before you know the basics.
2# Matching the Energy to Music
Songs have calmer and more energetic parts. Typically the energy is lowest at the start of the song and during “bridges”, maybe also at the very end. Verses have medium energy and choruses have high energy. Choruses towards the end of the song will be the most energetic. In order to match your dance to the energy of the song you should do slow, calm and flowy dance moves when the energy is lower and quicker more powerful moves when the song has high energy.
3# Knowing When the Music Changes
When the music changes, you want to adjust something in your dance. Either switch to a new move or do another variation of the same step. The music is usually going to change after every 8, 16 and 32 beats and you can use this knowledge even if you have never heard the song before. Therefore you should not do the same move for more than 8 beats at a time. You are of course welcome to change something after 4, 2 or 1 beats as well. Bringing in new moves more quickly creates higher energy, keeping it same for 8 beats creates calmer energy.
4# Finding the First Beat
Dancers divide music into 8-count blocks (sometimes 6-count or other numbers if the song requires that) and count beats from 1 to 8. You need to know where exactly 1 is, because you will then know when to start dancing or when to change something, also which leg you should be on when doing basics. Look for the moments where music changes and start counting from there. 1 is the first beat after a change.
5# Catching the Drops
“Drops” are big changes in the music, eg the music stops for a moment or goes quiet and then starts playing again louder with higher energy, always on count 1. These are the moments you want to catch, meaning you’ll want to do a dance move on 1 that matches the music. It can be something super extravagant like styling, flipping hair, throwing hands in the air, a jump etc. You can also simply pause and lower the energy on 7 and 8 and then step with more power on 1. Whatever you come up with that fits the music. Look for ideas within your dance style from demo videos and see which moves the artists are using to catch the drops.
These points covered some of the basics of musicality. People who master these can move on to the next level and start catching some specific instruments they hear or matching the singer’s voice. Dancing is visualising music with your body and each of us have our own personal way of interpreting music. Going past the basics you are creating art and there really are no right or wrong answers.