52nd Street Jump (Caron and Steve Mason) © 2020
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We are often asked whether the six-count moves we teach are really part of Lindy Hop. Often, this is because the person asking the question has heard something along the lines of ‘Lindy Hop is an eight-count dance’. This causes some confusion as our students then begin to ask whether the six-count moves they’ve learnt are from a different dance style altogether.
In attempting to clear up the confusion, I will first draw a deep breath as this can be a somewhat confusing territory. In addition, there is much disagreement about this subject and so what is presented here is our understanding. It’s certainly a good starting point, but you will find other viewpoints expressed and we encourage you to see what makes sense to you.
For those who want a quick and simple answer, Lindy Hop isn’t just eight-count patterns. It includes a range of footwork patterns including many 6-count moves. Don’t know what I mean by counts? Then read on…
Counts: 6, 8 and …
In our beginner’s classes we start by teaching 6-count footwork (what we call 6-count basic) which we call side, side, back-step. Each set of footwork takes 6 beats of the music to complete. We also teach a 6-count footwork which includes triple steps. We teach a range of moves using these footwork patterns and, to begin with at least, many dancers will use this footwork pattern much of the time. This is most often the case when dancing to faster music where 6-count basic is easier than footwork patterns using triple steps.
Later on in our beginner’s classes, you learn 8-count footwork patterns. These include Charleston (back-step, kick-down, double kick-down) and 8-count (back-step, triple-step, step, step, triple-step). Both of these patterns last for 8 beats of the music.
As these are the footwork patterns taught in our beginner’s classes, it is easy to get into the mindset of thinking that’s all there is. But there are more possibilities present within Lindy Hop. There are many opportunities for variation within the established patterns such as replacing back-steps with swivels in Lindy turns and circles. Certain moves involve breaking out of the established and known footwork counts altogether. These variations are frequently led and could be as simple as the rock back and forward of a fencing push. As dancers become more advanced, improvised patterns become a communication between lead and follow and the opportunities are endless.
Isn’t 6-Count dancing called East Coast Swing/ Jive etc. ?
One of the causes of confusion is that other dance styles share the 6-count patterns we teach as part of Lindy Hop. This means that dancers often think that when they use this footwork they aren’t really dancing Lindy Hop at all. You may well come across basic 6-count footwork being taught as part of East Coast Swing, Jitterbug, Jive, Boogie Woogie, Swing-Jive or Rock and Roll dance classes. Usually this is taught without triples, but these are sometimes taught too. All these styles can make use of this footwork, but may have their own variations too. Jive classes don’t always focus on a repeating footwork pattern at all. We’ve known some great Jive dancers who seem to be constantly improvising and changing their footwork. What makes each style unique is often hard to pin down, and I am not going to attempt to do so here. Our beginner Lindy Hoppers will frequently use only 6-count footwork while dancing and personally I feel this should still be described as Lindy Hop. They’re learning in a Lindy Hop class and I don’t believe that they are suddenly dancing Jive or East Coast Swing just because they didn’t include some 8-count moves in that dance.
But Lindy Hop shouldn’t really include any 6-count, should it?
We have met many dancers who have been taught that Lindy Hoppers should only ever dance using 8-count footwork patterns. Sometimes this isn’t taught as an absolute fact, but the use of 6-count is frowned upon or described as a bit ‘Jivey’. In some cases, we’ve heard dancers say that 6-count triples are okay but basic footwork is not. I’m in no real position to state that what they have learnt is wrong even with considerable dancing and teaching experience. Lindy Hop is a varied dance with no single agreed teaching syllabus (which is part of the attraction for me). Just looking at a few videos on YouTube shows that there was no single agreed style even during the 30s and 40s. All I can offer is my own opinion and our rationale for believing that Lindy Hop is a dance of mainly 6-, and 8-count patterns with room for many other variations. As always if this makes sense to you, that’s great.
Firstly, it is clear that improvisation and development of new patterns is fundamental to Lindy Hop. This alone makes it seem strange to choose certain moves and say they aren’t part of Lindy Hop. If we can accept some variations, why not others?
Secondly, there is the practical issue of being able to dance to the music. Many years ago, we met some Lindy Hop dancers who had been taught that they could only use 8-count or triple steps. They were really struggling to dance to anything except slow music. Although they used Charleston footwork to help them cope with faster tempos, they didn’t have enough variations to use this alone. This meant using triples which gave them a great work-out but left them feeling too tired to enjoy a whole evening of dancing. When dancing to faster music, 6-count basic footwork combines perfectly with Charleston moves, leaving triples and 8-count moves to be used sparingly as energy allows.
Thirdly, the use of 6- and 8-count footwork adds excitement. As a leader, you have a much wider choice of moves and you can choose to vary footwork choice according to your own mood. This adds complexity and interest for the follower too, as they need to be aware of footwork changes and adjust accordingly.
The most convincing argument for mixing 8- and 6-count footwork seems to be that it allows the dancer to interact with the music. Whilst you can choose moves to suit the mood, keeping one footwork pattern imposes certain limitations and prevents some of the most exciting opportunities for responding to the music.
Dancing within (and outside) the musical phrases
Much of the music we enjoy dancing to as Lindy Hoppers is based on musical phrases which last 8 beats. If you start dancing a series of 8-count moves in time with the phrasing, you will stay in time. This can be very useful as you can match your moves to the music with accuracy. This is not the case where 6-count is used as the phrases last longer than a set of footwork. You can dance in time with the music but can’t match the phrasing. This is often used as an argument for sticking with 8-count footwork.
Dancing consistently within the phrases is predictable but mixing 6- and 8-count footwork creates an exciting effect because you spend some of the time dancing within the phrasing but not all the time. The lead can choose when to move from 6- to 8-count footwork in order to emphasise certain phrases of the music. If the lead moves from 6-count to 8- just as the music peaks, this creates an exciting emphasis. This is where music and dance join together. Certain pieces of music lend themselves to this particularly well. In Count Basie’s song, Splanky, there is a particularly exciting chance to move from dancing outside the phrases to matching them. And if you can time your Lindy turn just right… Well it’s just perfect.
So where does that leave ME?
If you’re at the beginning of your Lindy Hop journey you might just want to be aware that Lindy Hop is exciting because we mix 6- and 8-count footwork. This might be your motivation to become a little more confident with 8-count, rather than relying on 6-count which is a bit more comfortable. Don’t play it so safe and you’ll find things get a bit more exciting.
If you’re ready to start responding to the music a little more, then start working on your musicality. Try and use 6- and 8-count in different ways to pick out the phrasing. When you hit the move just right, you can enjoy the wonderful feeling and then see if you can work out what made it so good.
Either way, don’t count while dancing. Listen to the music instead and let your feet let you know what feels good.