Time Is Of The Essence. Time is Money. Step In Time. It’ll Happen At The Right Time. When The Time Is Right. Time Changes Everything. No Time Like The Present. There’s A Time For Everything.
We’ve all heard these phrases and many more like them right? They are pretty much synonymous with life. We get up at a certain time, go to work at a certain time, take a certain amount of time for breaks and holidays, we eat at a certain time and sleep at a certain time. Being a human is all about time.
So why is it so easy as a dancer to forget about time? All music has a time signature that tells us how many beats in a bar (a segment of music) yet all too often I am still hearing “It doesn’t matter about timing” or even worse “the timing will come when we get the steps right”. I agree that, as you become more familiar with a dance, it is easier to dance to the correct tempo (speed) of the music but the timing should be at the forefront of our thoughts always.
Timing helps us create the character of the dance and helps us produce rhythms and dynamics. After all we can only move our feet in one of eight basic directions, forwards, backwards, left, right, diagonally forwards (left and right) and diagonally backwards (left and right) so it comes as no surprise that one of the key things that separates your cha cha from your jive, your foxtrot from your quickstep is, yes, you guessed it – timing!
This year I will have been a teacher for 21 years and have said the words slow and quick more times than I could ever count. However, more recently I worry that in a society of “quick fixes” more and more of my students are more keen to learn the steps and less keen to learn the nitty gritty of timing. For example, did you know that most “slow” steps should be two counts of music, whilst “quicks” are usually one count. When we say “and” in reference to time it usually means a half count whereas an “a” count is a quarter. The tools are all there for us to take and practice yet ironically to get the information from our head to our feet takes time, and for some dancers, we simply don’t have the time.
Timing literally makes up the music you love. Each verse has a set amount of time as does each chorus. This is known as phrasing and should be echoed in how we dance to help create dynamics. The speed of music is measured in (yes you guessed it) time! We time the speed by literally counting the beats per minute, without which all music would be a scrambled unidentifiable mess!
Some people, annoyingly, can feel the music and rhythm naturally, however for many (including me) it has to be learnt. But the good news is, once you grasp it, much like riding a bike, it’s a skill you have for life. It’s absolutely one of my favourite parts of my job when my students send me messages asking if the song they have heard in the car is a particular dance style. It means they are listening to the timing and character rather than just the melody and the lyrics and that is the biggest hurdle!
Staying in time is the next battle, once you have mastered hearing the required timing or rhythm of a particular piece it’s like setting an internal metronome in your body. That timing will not change for the duration of the dance and should remain unaffected even if you make a mistake – you can’t rewind time after all. I usually say to my students that if you make an error the first thing you should check is the timing, after all you wouldn’t pull off a hard shoulder onto a motorway without checking the traffic. You shouldn’t resume a dance without checking you are in time in much the same way.
Playing with time is the final skill. Once you have mastered the basics you are literally a master of time and can hold a step to the very last millisecond or split the timing of a step (known as syncopation). The timing is yours to be played with but it’s a tough master as even for the most experienced dancer that timing can be played with but never ever changed – that’s the job of the musician and is already set in the music.
So on to my final phrase “time is money” and as a self employed dancer I know the value of this phrase all too well and am grateful to each and every one of my students who give their time to me each week. However, this works the other way too, because every second spent on the dance floor learning new skills is a step nearer to your dancing goals, every class missed is time wasted when you could have been practicing.
Whilst missing class is inevitable, in the winter months when it’s harder to leave the house and get to a dance class, just remember all the classes you’ve already invested in and the time you’ve spent to get to your goals. Don’t waste it – time is money after all!
So, at your next dance class maybe ask your coach or teacher to check your timing, or explain the timing to you. Sometimes it’s as simple as clapping the rhythm with your hands and then echoing it with your feet, other times it may take a little longer to grasp but I absolutely promise you, it will be time well spent.
Time is valuable, in absolutely every sense. Thank you for your time! 😊