6-count or 8-count? It’s 42.

In classes, I often get asked “Is that a six-count move or an eight-count move?” Of course, the answer to all such mysteries of life is 42. When you’re first learning, you need something to hang your hat on, some structure to help you hold all of this crazy dancing together. Six-count and eight-count provide that structure, but there comes a time when every dancer has to let go of the six and eight count training wheels.

At its core, all of swing dancing breaks down into two counts. Two counts are like the atoms of swing dancing, the most basic unit of dance matter. Within any two counts you either have an odd weight-change or an even-weight change. An odd weight change means your weight will shift from one foot to the other over the course of two beats. A single step is an odd weight change. So is a triple step. An even weight change means your weight will end up on the same foot you started on. “Rock-step” and “walk-walk” are good examples for even weight changes.

Breaking down a basic six-count, you have and even weight change (rock-step) followed by two odd weight changes (triple-step, triple-step). A basic eight count alters between even and odd weight changes. Those are your two basic structures, but the dance is not confined to those patterns. You can link together a string of even weight changes or a string of odd weight changes. Odd and even weight changes are there for the mixing and the matching.

What’s more, understanding the two-count/weight changes that underpin the dance opens up the rabbit hole of footwork variations. A rock step makes for an even weight change. If I put a little kick on at the beginning, suddenly, I have kick-ball-change. This is still an even weight change. As long as I have an articulate rhythm and clear weight changes, I can explore all kinds of patterns with my feet. I find that solo jazz and charleston steps are often a great source of inspiration for what’s possible, and I usually try to dissect the weight changes and the rhythm to see what makes it tick and where I might incorporate it into my dancing.

One last thought about moves, counts, weight changes, and footwork variations: There is no substitute for practice. Just because I understand something intellectually doesn’t mean my body will be able to execute it on command. Lots of repetition with attention to detail is the hard work that links theory with practice.



Filed under Blues, lindy hop, Technique, Theory

6 responses to “6-count or 8-count? It’s 42.

  1. AG

    Wow. That was quite a Wikipedia Rabbit Hole you just sent me down, reading all about the number 42.

    Anyway… I found reading about even and odd weight changes really interesting. The more I read this blog the more I’m impressed with how much you two know about dance, and how clearly you share that knowledge in your writing. Keep it up!

    • Confession: I had no idea about the 42 thing. Craig had to explain it to me. My nerd cred only goes so far. Thank you for the complement about our writing and dance knowledge. Anytime you want to give it a whirl, let us know.

  2. Knowing the concept of odd and even weight changes is invaluable for following! You broke this down so well and we just do hear it enough, especially in its very awesome, technical value for following.

    Follows sometimes have to do a little bit of guesswork on the social floor, committing to a rhythm to follow along. Follows know, generally, that sometimes you’ve got to ‘fudge’ to get back to where you need to be. If you know your Sets of Twos, and know them well, you can get back on the correct foot on the fly, and look like you planned the whole thing!

    Erp! I needa my right foot free for one on that swing out! Erp! Throw in a kick-step and we’re set. I meant to do that! Neat variation, huh?

    Great for leads too, when you’ve got to switch your footwork around to get on the follow’s rock step for some side-by-side pattern.

    • Thank you for the kind words, Sarah. I used to be Queen of the Stutter Steps and I still am to some degree, but working out what Craig describes above as teachers has helped tremendously. But as a follow, I feel like I have to be willing to take risks and engage in some guesswork in order to grow, like you said.

      • On the flip side, one of the ways I think leaders should strive to grow is learning how to remove some of the guesswork. To make the rythms clear and predictable and to clearly indicate things like: these two counts are being set up as a triple step and because of where this is being set up in the music, the next two counts are likely going to be triple steps as well.

        This in turn changes the nature of whatever risks are taken. To continue with the example I gave above, while a triple step may be led with the hint of another triple step to follow, this in no way obligates a follow to trip step and triple step. The follow has the freedom to adopt the rythm they want to use for those 4 beats but is armed with the knowledge that their partner is setting up some odd odd footwork. So if the follow wishes to meet up with their partner at the end of those 4 beats, odd odd or even even footwork would be good choices, while odd even or even odd footwork would be less ideal.

      • craigsparks

        Yes, guys definitely need to be clear in communicating weight changes. Another important aspect is paying attention to where the follow’s weight is so that you can adjust if it isn’t where you’d expect it to be.

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