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.