Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Chance to Breath: Fast Songs

[Article originally published May 2007. It's been tweaked and expanded before the republish.]

Do you sit out the fast songs? Or maybe do the same dance, only faster when the music moves along at faster speeds? Learning to play with "half-time" or occasional "out of time" moments is a huge win for partner dancers. You do have to know the music timing very well, but this skill changes your fast song strategies and make them a joy rather than a workout for your partners.

[Going back to 2007]

A few weeks ago I'm teaching at an all day dance boot camps, and we take a break. We start the music playing so people can practice and have fun until "break-time" is over. The place starts buzzing with ladies trying out their new styling moves, and in a few minutes there are twenty couples laughing and having a good time on the floor.

I run over and turn off as many lights as practical, making it feel more like a club than a training studio. The next song on the play list was a smokin' fast salsa, with a very upbeat, happy feel.

I find this very attractive woman and ask her to dance, and she looks at me and says, "This is way too fast for me." I turn on my best, "It's OK, I'll take care of you" charm and gently guide her to the floor. She clearly wasn't thrilled but she looked resigned to getting through the dance.

After 30 seconds, her face lit up, and she started enjoying herself. Rather than doing a long series of intense moves, I did lots of simple moves, including some fairly complicated moves in slow motion (AKA "half time"; where you take 16 counts to do a move you would normally do in 8 counts). I was going back and forth between normal tempo moves for a few bars, then giving her time to catch her breath with a move that seemed slower too her, but was really just in half time. I watched her reaction and kept adjusting based on her responses.

A few times, I started into a pattern that fit the music, but we got behind the time, so I stretched the move out, ignoring the time for a bar or two, then restarting back in time at the next logical musical phrase. She said, "I always hated fast songs, since I feel like I can't keep up and guys just keep doing patterns and I can't catch my breath. This was more like making love with ebbs and flows..."

There is nothing like hearing a woman say, "great dancing is like making love." Well, it should feel that way...when we're doing it right.

I Didn’t Do Anything Special
I realized I didn’t do anything exceptional, but I approached the song differently than most guys. I established that I knew exactly where the time was, and then ignored it where it made sense. This allowed her to keep up, and when she was struggling I did some moves at half their normal speed. This included some fun, challenging material, along with easy, sexy moves to keep it interesting but also backing off if I saw her getting toward the edge.

With every partner, you should be looking for logical musical points to let them breath. When you are not dancing, listen to the horn soloists in the band, they do that all the time. They blast out a set of notes, making a musical statement, and then they take a breath before starting the next sequence. The make some blasts short and some longer, but obviously they have to breath at some points. The faster the song, the more important it is to break things up. Complex moves and patterns, followed by another complex sequence is like holding your partners head under water for the duration.

Most of us guys want our partners to feel like dancing is like making love; it should move between fun, playful, powerful, restful, and intense with a nice ebb and flow. On a faster tune, be sure to think about letting your partner breath in between your best moves. It'll make you best even better!
Instead of getting married again, I'm going to find a woman I don't like
and give her a house.
-Rod Stewart

Related Article:
Breaking In At A Congress Or Event

Dance Books by Don Baarns:

Suggested Videos:
Music4Dancers: Free YouTube Musicality Series

Donation Page:
This site and the Music4Dancers video series are supported by your donations. No other ads!
All contributions appreciated!

Connect with me: ("Like" the page)
Twitter: @UnlikelySalsero
Google+ (Don Baarns)


  1. I'm surprised there are no comments here. These are great suggestions. I think more leads (and, actually, more follows as well :-) ) should read this article.

  2. Hello, Don. This article answers my question several days ago, and I just shared it with my Salsa FB group in Taiwan. In case some of them would have a hard time reading in English, I just summarized it in Chinese. If you have some future Chinese readers, here is the summary:

    "我向前與一位女士邀舞,她推卻說這首salsa歌有點太快, 她不敢跳; 我向她保証, 我會好好照顧她,
    30秒後, 她的臉亮了起來;
    相反的, 我帶許多簡單的move,
    或是是把通常要在8拍完成的動作, 放慢成16拍來完成;
    並觀察她的反應來調整, 也順便給她一些慢下來休息的機會;

    有時後, 我會轉成正常速度, 以跟上音樂, 但有時後我們還是會跟不上, 這時, 我便把動作放慢, 忽略幾小節的節奏,等待下一個大樂句, 再開始跟上節奏;

    最後, 這位女士告訴我: "我以前一直很討厭跳快歌, 因為都跟不上男士的patterns, 氣都換不過來..但這次不同, 這次像是" making love with ebbs and flows..."

    沒有什麼事兒比聽到女士說"great dancing is like making love."還要更棒的事了; 如果我們把舞跳對, 它就應該是那種感覺才是;

    男士們大多都希望舞伴跟自己dance時, 可以感到有如making love一般愉悅;
    它應包含了趣味, 頑皮, 力道,寧靜,密集, 交互穿插有如潮汐一般;
    如果是在快節奏的曲子裡, 記得要讓你的舞伴有機會喘息一下,

    其實當我們在聽歌曲的時候, 也是一樣, 當樂團裡的小喇叭手在solo時, 他會吹一段樂句, 或長或短, 然後會找時間休息一下, 然後再吹一段; 當音樂越快, 把樂句切成群組就越重要;

    如果一直使用複雜的patterns 一個接一個, 就會有點像把你舞伴的頭, 一直壓在水底下"

  3. Hi Don,

    Do you have any video examples of that dancing in half time to a fast song...? I understand the concept but I really would like to see how it is done in practise...


  4. I like your tips Don, I agreed most of The lead trying to impress but ending to give injury to the person that being lead. Whole dance floor full of peoples trying to impress on how good they can show off some fancy step, worse of all stepping other dancer next to them but they forget how to enjoy the music and dance as couple


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero