Rhythm in Dance

A good sense of rhythm is important in dance. The beat in dance music is usually produced by the bass drum. It is very important that steps are taken on the correct beat. To help developing timing, try tapping your foot to the beat of a drum or stepping to the beat.

Musical Structure

Meter is probably the most important musical element for the dancer, even though tempo is the speed that a measure of music is played. This is because rhythm is determined by the meter, the time value the notes in a measure are played.

Musical time signature is denoted by fractions, such as 4/4, in which the upper number shows how many beats are in a measure and the lower number shows which note gets one count, in this case the quarter note. Examples are the Foxtrot, written in 4/4 time, the Waltz, written in 3/4 time, and the Tango, written in 2/4 time.

Some notes in music are accented, or get a stronger beat with the primary, which gets the strongest beat, denoted by ">" and the secondary, which gets a relatively stronger beat than the others, denoted by a "/". For example, normally in 4/4 time the primary accent is on the first beat and the secondary accent on the third beat.

However, when music is syncopated, the accent of the first beat is shifted to some other count within the measure. Syncopation can also mean the continuing of one note into another, usually accented note. When this happens in dance music, the dancer normally take three steps for two syncopated notes (beat1 "and" beat2). Also, some dancers will not dance to the beat of the music but the "offbeat".

Dance Count and Dance Time

Musical count is the number and sequence of beats in a measure, whereas, dance count describes the sequence of steps and whether it should be for one or two musical beats.

Dance instructors have developed the concept of dance time to help learn partners dancing. Steps are either "quick" or "slow", in which "slow steps" take twice as many beats as "quick" steps. For example, in the Rumba, the music is written in 4/4 time but all step patterns have 6 steps completed in 8 beats or 2 measures. The dance time will be "quick quick slow quick quick slow." Some dances, however, such as the Waltz have steps that are all "quick".

Rhythm Patterns

Using three types of rhythm patterns is how some dance instructors prefer to teach dance. Single Rhythm. This is one step taken for two beats of music. The step is taken on the first beat with an added tap (toe step), brush step, kick or "hold" taken on the second beat. Examples of dances this is used are the Tango and the Fox Trot. Double Rhythm. This is two steps taken on two beats of music, such as in marching. In this rhythm pattern, the dancer starts with one foot and ends with the opposite foot. Examples of usage include the Waltz and most Salsa variations. Triple Rhythm. This is three small steps taken for two syncopated beats. Examples this is used are the Samba and the Cha-Cha.

Above summarized from The Complete Book on Disco and Ballroom Dancing. 1979. Ann T. Kilbride and A. Algoso.


To see what you remember from the above information, why not try the following questions.

    Which musical element is probably the most important for the dancer?
  1. tempo
  2. meter
  3. musical time signature
    How many dance steps is taken in two syncopated beats of music.
  1. one
  2. two
  3. three
    Will dance time be necessary to use with dances such as the Waltz in which all steps are "quick".
  1. yes
  2. no
    Double rhythm is taking how many dance steps to two beats of music?
  1. one
  2. two
  3. three
Following are some webpages on ballroom dancing:

Dancescape home page

Henry's Dance Hotlist

Universal Ballroom Dance music list

Dance quarter index to other websites (some are invalid)

The University of California Ballroom Dancers

Stanford Dance with link to other dance sites

Carnegie Mellon University Ballroom Dance Club demonstrations

Go to Mary's Home Page