Teaching Rhythm in Dance: Ideas and Exercises
Growing up, I trained in all styles of dance and played a musical instrument, the piano. I could easily and proficiently count music, read music, and identify an upbeat or downbeat. Now, as a teacher, I notice that many students, across varying ages and skill levels, struggle with the musical components of dance instruction. Phrasing, tempo, and rhythm are concepts that require detailed explanation and practice in execution and understanding in all styles of dance. Here are a couple of exercises I have integrated into my classes to work on teaching rhythm and helping our understanding of music:
Finding the 8-Count:
There are so many times that I’ve asked a student to find an 8 count. And, they struggled. The understanding of musicality and musical phrasing is an essential part of being a successful dancer, teacher, and educator. In dance, counts are the road map to success. Musicality strengthens a performance into an experience.
Take the time to review rhythm. Explain the different possibilities for timing and counting. This will make your students more adaptable as they work with other teachers and instructors.
Exercise: Round Robin Counts
We will open a class with round robin style counting exercises. Students will take turns finding an 8-count of phrasing in the music, and they will “pass” the phrase onto another dancer who will work to continue the phrasing and counting of the particular music. To notate the phrases, we clap or march and say the counts out loud. For this exercise, we vary types and tempos of music used.
Occasionally, I will stop the lesson of regular classes to “find the 8 count!” Students learn to be ready for it- which means they are diligently counting in warm-up, across the floor progressions, and in combinations. This skills transfers to shows, dance teams, and auditions. It is a valuable part of their dance education experience!
Activity: Teaching 8-Count in other Languages
Here’s a fun Classroom Activity- teaching your students to count to 8 in different languages!
SPANISH: Uno / Dos / Tres / Cuatro / Cinco / Seis / Siete / Ocho
FRENCH: Un / Deux / Trois / Quatre / Cinq / Six / Sept / Huit
ITALIAN: Uno / De / Tre / Quattro / Cinque / Sei / Sette / Otto
This is a fun, educational (and applicable!) activity for all ages/levels.
Teaching With Counts
When I teach choreography with counts, I like to have the students repeat the counting to reiterate the importance of phrasing and timing. I tell them we are using the counts as our road map, and to stay on the same journey, we must use the same map.
Phrasing, Tempo, & Rhythm
I will teach a brief segment of choreography (8 or 16 counts), and we will practice executing it at different speeds:
- Double time
- Half time
- Triple time
It is important that students understand the process of counts and the ability to manipulate speed and tempo.
With time and repetition, these exercises strengthen the dancers’ understanding of rhythm, musicality, and phrasing, improving their overall performance and understanding of dance.