Rhythm is undoubtedly one of the most important elements in music and dance. So I decided to compile a list of 10 tips and ideas that anyone can use. Trust me, it will most likely have a powerful positive impact on your dancing.
These tips and ideas will show you paths to solve some of the most frequently asked questions, such as:
How do I identify the rhythm in a song?
How to improve my sense of rhythm when I dance forro?
How do I synchronize my body and movements to the beats of a piece of music?
How do I dance in a musical way?
What do I do when we are dancing out of time?
1 - Listen before you dance.
Many people think about everything else but the music before they start dancing:
"What move I will do first?"
"Am I smelling good?"
"This floor is kind of sticky..."
"Should I try to do that cool turn I learned last class?"
Focus on the music first!
Once you embrace your partner you have a few seconds to synchronize to the song and start dancing, use this time to focus on the music. Or even better, as soon as a new song starts to play, focus on it, so when you embrace your partner to start dancing you already have the rhythm in the back of your head.
2 - Look for rhythm cues in the music.
Find elements in the music that are somehow constant and can help you find the beat. It might be the triangle, zabumba, or even the constant strumming of a guitar. You need to find references for you to connect with the music and internalize the tempo.
3 - Feel the rhythm in your body.
Once you identify the beat, connect your body to it. Feel the beats. You can just groove in place, nod your head lightly or transfer your weight from one side to the other of your body in sync with the music.
4 - Start easy.
Start moving your body to the beats in a simple and precise manner. Do your most basic steps. The goal here is to synchronize your movements with the sounds. Less is more!
5 - Connect rhythmically with your partner.
Forró is (for the most part) a partner dance. We need to be in sync with our partner for the dance to flow. Also, we can help one another when we dance. Maybe you have a partner with great rhythm, use this to your advantage!
6 - Understand the relationship between your movements and the beats.
This is a little more complex and requires a little more "homework". Try to understand your movements and how you can play with it in terms of time. This will make you more conscious about your movements and potentially more precise. It will also allow you to be more creative in the long run.
Side note: this is an important thing for musicians who are starting to dance. Many people get surprised to notice that some musicians have a hard time dancing on the beat. The reason for that is that a rational understanding of the music doesn't translate directly to a bodily understanding of the music. Like anybody else, musicians need to learn how to represent the rhythm with their full bodies and develop the motor coordination to do so.
7 - Practice new movements to a beat.
Learning new moves is a great thing, but it’s essential to do them in time to the music! Condition your body to execute movements in a rhythmic way. When practicing, you can do it very slowly if you want until you develop proper technique, but while dancing, avoid practicing new movements if you can’t do them in time.
8 - Be confident.
Once you are connected to the beat, do your movements in a confident way. Hesitation can lead to imprecision, which we should avoid.
Side note: don't misinterpret being confident with being rude or disregarding the way your partner is moving. You should be assertive, but always consider the reaction of your partner.
9 - Explore various rhythm elements in a piece of music.
This tip is for more experienced dancers. If you already have a good rhythm and technique, it is time for you to get deeper into musicality and explore - in your body - nuances of music performances and arrangements. Different instruments/musicians can play differently and influence your movements in various ways. Explore it!
10 - Rhythm is king! (or queen!)
What do you do when your dance starts to get out of sync (either with the music, your partner, or both)?
Even the most experienced and musical dancers will be occasionally out of sync at some point. It might be because they were trying to do something more challenging, or just because the band decided to change the song. It doesn't matter the reason and the level of experience you have. This eventually happens to everybody. And when it happens, what do you do? Go back to tip number 1: listen and then synchronize.
Rhythm can be a deal maker/breaker in most dance floors. We need to understand that forró dance is usually a relationship between 3 "characters": the music and two dancers. The most satisfying dances tend to be the ones when these 3 "characters" are connected in an organic way. Needless to say - but always good to reinforce - rhythm is likely to be the most important factor for this to happen. Use it to your advantage!
I hope these 10 tips were useful for you!
Keep practicing and internalize all tips as much as you can. Experienced dancers with a good sense of rhythm can do all this in a matter of seconds. This should be everybody's goal!
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about musicality. As someone who has been teaching music for more than 15 years, I consider rhythm to be a core element in my dance, classes, and workshops. It is so important that I decided to create a series of online classes focused specifically on this subject. In case you want to learn more, this is the link: https://www.forronewyork.com/musicality-online-course
About the author
Rafael Piccolotto de Lima is an experienced teacher. He is passionate about arts, a doctor of musical arts, and a Latin Grammy nominee as a composer. For him, all forms of expression are somehow related. Based on that premise, his interest and work have a wide spectrum: from a tail tux at a concert hall to the dance shoes at a worn-out dance floor. Born in Campinas, São Paulo - Brazil, now he lives at the Hudson waterfront, looking at the south of Manhattan.
YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/rafaelpdelima
English revision: Cindy Phillips.