I am a firm believer that pulse is one of the core elements to all social dancing. I can’t claim to have an expert opinion on the matter because I lack knowledge in ballroom/latin/tango. . .basically, anything that isn’t swing. From what I’ve seen though, every dance has its own means of pulse. When we are teaching, Susanne and I emphasize that the pulse is the primary means of communicating rhythm with your partner.
That pulse is most apparent in Charleston, where there’s a pulse downward on every beat. I like starting beginners off with Charleston for just this reason. They can focus on getting pulse into their bodies, and feeling and communicating rhythms. Then, we can build up by adding weight changes moving forward and backward.
Lindy hop has more variety in how people approach pulse, but I think that underlying the dance is that same solid pulse on every beat. When you watch Dean Collins and his crew from the 1940’s, you can see that strong pulse in their dancing. Whitey’s crew tends to smooth out that pulse into the horizontal stretch, but you can still see them pulsing, especially in the group choreography at the end of their routines.
Then we get to blues. . .so many people struggle with pulse in blues, and its taken me a while to figure out why. I find that in blues dancing, the pulse as a default is UP on the beat, and down on the offbeats, inverse to all the other swing dances. Musically, it makes a lot of sense to me. Blues music tends to emphasize the offbeat even more so than jazz. At slower tempos, it helps to fill the space. That kind of down on the offbeat pushing up on the beat creates the look of really dancing into the floor.
I haven’t taken classes or workshops in blues in years, and feel very disconnected from current trends in blues. So I’m interested in hearing from some other people about their take on pulse within blues and how it differs from our other swing community dances.