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why count eight beats when only four are needed?
Posted by mayagsd
6/2/2012  7:52:00 AM
no one (for example the istd) teaches cha cha or rumba, which are symmetrical 4 beat dances like salsa, by counting to 8. no one (in general) even teaches mambo counting to 8...it's always 2,3,4,1..2,3,4,1. so why does everyone think you have to count to 8 to dance salsa?
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
6/2/2012  9:06:00 PM
Dancers of almost all styles have a peculiar habit of counting to 8, but it's really just one of many possible methods of counting. This particular method promotes awareness of the strong/weak relationship between 2-measure pairs.

When you count to 4, there is likely no difference in your mind between count 1 in any measure from count 1 in any other. However, the 1 count in an odd measure is actually stronger than the 1 in the even measure that follows. If that sounds confusing, perhaps it would be easier to understand if it were explained to you this way: 1 is stronger than 5. As you can see, counting to 8 makes it the 2-measure relationship easier to understand, and easier to feel.

Now clearly, phrasing can easily extend beyond 2 measures. So if 8 is better than 4, one might imagine then that it would be better still to count to 16 or even 32. But where simplicity is concerned, there is a point of diminishing returns, and most teachers would agree that 16 is well past that point. 8, as it turns out, is the sweet spot for dancers. This probably has to do with the fact that the typical dance phrase consists of 2 measures, or some multiple thereof. Think, for example, of the Cha Cha, Rumba, Mambo and Salsa basic step -- all are 2 measures. Here, counting to 8 encourages you to dance the first part of the basic on the first measure and the second on the second, which is considered more musical from a phrasing standpoint.

Counting to 8 does have its shortcomings, and musicians tend to cringe at the very idea. Music, after all, is rarely actually written in 8/4 time. But it has nonetheless served dancers very well, especially in the teaching realm.

If you prefer to count "properly" to the time signature, you can still count the phrases by using the "beats and bars" method of counting, whereby you replace beat 1 of each measure with the measure number (e.g. "1234, 2234, 3234, 4234", etc). This is a very elegant method, but does require more skill, which is why many still prefer the simplicity of 8 -- Anyone can do it.

As to why Mambo in particular *doesn't* usually go to 8, again it comes down to a matter of simplicity. If you're going to skip the number 1, as many Mambo counters do, then " -, 2, 3, 4" is complex enough, without having to worry about phrasing on top of that. However, those that do count Mambo by including the number 1 -- not by taking an extra step, but merely in the act of saying it as they count -- will often either count to 8, or count beats and bars.

Another interesting question is why many Mambo and Salsa dancers frequently omit the held beat from their counting. It's not technically incorrect to do so, but I would argue that it's inferior at least from a teaching standpoint; Speaking the held beat encourages the student to hold for the full value of the slow step, while failure to do so tends to result in a rushed slow, or in the worst cases, no slow at all. Moreover, in Mambo, omitting the number 1 has a nasty way of tricking the brain. So even though you may be saying the words "2, 3, 4", you're actually dancing on "1, 2, 3". This is more common than you might think. Including the 1 in your Mambo counting, while not a guarantee, will at least add to the probability that your brain will interpret the 2 as an actual 2.

Jonathan Atkinson
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by JonHamilton
6/4/2012  10:34:00 PM
It has been my experience as a teacher that 1) speaking of musicality, that music is conversational so where 1,2,3,4 might act like a statement, whereas 5,6,7,8 takes the place of a response! This would and could act as a musical phrase! This would be in regards to all 4/4 time signitures. And on another note 5,6,7,8 could be compared to 2,2,3,4, and 2) This idea of seperating 1-4 from 5-8 helps to create a number association with the step or foot that is used. For example, and in specific regards to Salsa, the 1-4 Man's part begins with his left foot dancing left, right, left on 1,2,3 and stays on the left foot through beat 4, sometimes kicking the right foot on "4", followed by 5-8 continuing with the man's right foot, dancing right, left, right, on 5,6,7, and stays on right foot through 8, sometimes kicking the left foot during "8".
This concept truly proves helpful to associate one number with one foot while associating a different number with the other foot. As in the example above, beat 1 danced with the man's left foot where a "5" beat would be danced with the right foot!
As far as Mambo is concerned...since the accented beat to step on is "2" of the 2,3,4 and..."6" of the 6,7,8 then beats 1 & 5 can be used to offer a primary hip action to physically note the beats held and not stepped on! For example, Hip,2,3,4, Hip,6,7,8

Waltz for example proves helpful to dance 1,2,3, 4,5,6 for a L,R,L R,L,R as opposed to 1,2,3, 1,2,3 to eliminate confusion! Of course all these ways are acceptable, however, some seem to prove more helpful than others, of course always depending upon the learning style of the individual student, which we all are!

When competing or performing it proves particularly useful when trying to maintain the focus of audiences and judges, all humans alike to dance "to the music" as opposed to dancing "only during the music" [sarcastic yet realistic], making specific physical changes when the music shares its changes! Phrasing! So you can make your changes every four beats or every eight! Either way, it becomes difficult to look elsewhere, when what you're doing is matching what is being heard, so that the audio and visuals aline! Especially when competing, your dance should look like it was choreographed to match specifically to the song that is being played!

Just sharing some ideas! Hope they prove helpful!
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by terence2
6/7/2012  2:43:00 AM

lets me clarify a few points..

IN salsa.. it depends upon the style one is teaching/dancing, WHERE the emphasis lies.

In " Son " rhythm, the accent is on a stressed 4, but, breaking on 2( which is clave on the 2nd bar ).

As to the " kick ", more reminiscient of mambo, whereas in salsa, many use a tap on the 1st and or 2nd beat ( PR dance frequently breaking on 3 )and most,add nothing.

The next consideration is the commencing direction; current vogue is to have the 1st bar break fwd , and in old school mambo ,it was/is always taught commencing back wards .If we also consider Eddie Torres'method, we can add 2 other styles of commencement.

The " call and Response " theory in salsa is more in keeping with a clave based rhythm ( it hits on 6, or, 2 of the 2nd bar ).

If one also takes into account the many styles of salsa being taught and danced today, there are many different approaches to the accents.. from Cali style to NY, PR,LA , and several in between .

The reason for this is primarily the style of music that is played/ orchestrated ,in different Latin countries ( NY style , heavy jazz influence.. Colombian salsa,, Cumbia influenced )

The 1 thru 8 count, is common to the theatrical profession ( thats how they count " in " the dancers, and it, I guess, seemed more appropriate ,to the non trained dancer when teaching (?).

Add to the mix, counting in S and Q, this way defining time allocation .

For those that may be new to the genre, it may seem confusing.. reason ? there is little or no standardisation in Salsa.. it has a firm grip on a more "street " style approach , and with such diverse music to dance to, no wonder !.. From Charanga based rhythms to pure Son .
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by mayagsd
6/6/2012  9:34:00 AM
agree, the commencing direction would seem to be a factor in that the "first half" would be different depending on which way the leader broke first. I note that the mambo basic depicted on this site has the man breaking forward on 2. I agree that that is the norm. It is the same way the cha cha and rumba commence (at least according to this site and the ISTD). But doesn't this underscore the superficiality of counting 8 beats. Unless everyone starts at the same time, i.e. the same measure of music, and breaks in the same direction, the counting to 8 rationale, re the 1 being stronger in the odd measures than the even measures, while perhaps true in some cases, loses all meaning vis a vis the dance.

In the end it seems a personal preference, i.e. whatever works best for you. It just seemed curious to me, since the other closely related latin dances, i.e. cha cha and rumba, aren't taught that way...at least in my experience. Also agree that the rather complete lack of standardization in salsa, i.e. how it's danced and how it is taught, may explain why it tends to be taught differently.
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by terence2
6/7/2012  2:40:00 AM

Attempting to equate BR style latin and " street " style is like akin to comparing apples to elephants.

The rigidity of BR ( and I was raised in the genre, and do teach it ), does not provide for the changes that are often demanded by the music being played.

A classic e.g. is Guajira ( A cuban style dance and music ) is often mistaken as Cha Cha..I could list other styles, but I think you get my point ?
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by Guest
6/7/2012  7:16:00 PM
What is the correct name for thoes two pieces of wood. Ebony black in colour, hand held ,that a true latin band use
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by terence2
6/9/2012  6:44:00 AM

Clave.. they set the "style " and are the Soul / Heartbeat ,of latin rhythms ..

.. Rumba Clave is 3/2

Son Clave is 2/3

2 more which are used

Guaracha in 2/3 ( lots of old time Mambo ) and...

Guaguanco 2/3... popular in many NY style songs.

Guajira, a dance similar to Cha Cha in sound, and is a Son based rhythm , uses the 5 "clicks " within the same single bar ( 2/3 clave ).

Salsa varies, depending upon who's writing the music; it(clave ) can be all in one bar, and sometimes crosses over into the 2nd bar ( usually when/where, on "2" may be danced ).
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by booji
12/29/2012  4:45:00 PM
No disrespect to the above but I was of the same opinion as the poster even after hearing all of the above. None of the explinations of Clave rhythms give a reason why you should be on 1 and not 5. What changed for me was that I realized that if I don't dance to 8 beats then I can't match my dancing to the energy changes in the music. I'd be hearing the tension build and know the high energy part was coming but it would start early for me, I'd have to dance four beats before I could change.
Re: why count eight beats when only four are neede
Posted by rgswoohoo
12/29/2012  5:43:00 PM
with my studio they teach us the 6 count Salsa so that we can go out to the clubs and somewhat fit in. If you try to take ballroom slasa to the Salsa clubs, they just laugh at you and ask you, "What is that?"

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