Dance musicality tips - What about dance
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Dance musicality in modern jive

Modern jive is often looked down on by dancers from other genres.  Or that’s the feeling you can sometimes get. I have to be honest, I’ve personally not had anyone say anything derogatory towards modern jive itself, more about the lack of dance technique that many modern jivers have unless they’ve done a lot of dance before, or have taken classes in a lot of other dance styles as well.  But online, the talk is often down on modern jive (in particular Ceroc).

Much of the challenge seems to be about dance musicality or lack of it.  The type of music being bland. Or dancers not wanting to better their dancing to other music, just to learn moves.  Quite often people saying this have been a modern jiver in the past, haven’t found they’ve learnt as much as they wanted and have moved to other more complex dances.

I myself have done salsa prior to modern jive, and now do west coast swing to get the more technical side of dance and learn new things I can bring to my modern jive.  But I don’t think I’d ever see modern jive as not being challenging. Ok, so the moves might be generally easy (for social dancing), and I don’t need to learn more complex moves such as would be required for competitions or showcases.  But there’s always something I can learn and challenge myself to do.

Just watching and dancing with advanced dancers provides inspiration  and can give me ideas on what I can learn and take from that dance. Is there styling I can look to try out?  Can I push myself to be a better follower?

Dance musicality tips - What about dance

But mostly it’s about pushing myself to dance to more unusual music, with new partners, to try and get the connection and dream dance.  And to be the dream dancer that others want to dance with and enjoy dancing with.

Expression in dance and musicality is one way to do this, and it’s not always natural for everyone.  It’s one of the reasons I don’t care to freestyle as a leader.  As a leader I have to concentrate too hard on other things – moves, lead, my partner, to worry about what moves can fit best to music and what the music is telling me. I can lead moves well, but musicality doesn’t exist much in my leading, apart from hitting the occasional break

I’ve always enjoyed music and find it easy to hear the different phrases and beats.  I’ve played instruments for most of my childhood until post uni, solo and in orchestras and swing bands.  I have a fairly eclectic music taste so I’ve heard the different ways songs can be built up and danced to.

As a child doing ballet lessons (or even the few street dance classes I tried as an adult) my worst nightmare was the improvisation time.  A piece of music was put on and you were told to just dance to it.  I was shy, and hated not having been given the moves and structure to do.  If you’re happy dancing alone to any piece of music and just moving to what you hear, dancing expressively is going to be easier for you.  Although you do need in modern jive, to be able to move with your partner to what they’re also hearing.

There’s a comfort zone in modern jive.  Not everyone will break out of it, but if you go to a mix of classes and venues, you’ll find it easier to expand the music you dance to. And therefore get used to dancing in different ways but still within the modern jive structure.  Some people are happy dancing to the same music day in day out, but unless they’re using dancing for their social life, then there can be a tendency to get bored.

If you want to have more musicality in your dancing it takes practice.  Some people think it can’t be taught, that people are either musical or they’re not.  But everyone can learn to listen to music, and learn to reflect some of what they hear in their dancing.

Spectrum of learning dance musicality


  • Hear the beat
  • Dance on the beat
  • Learn to dance to different speeds of music


  • More comfortable with different tempos and different genres
  • Either just dance moves or start to dance with the music more


  • Either stuck in a rut – same moves, same music, likes their comfort zone.
  • Unlikely to progress their dancing but happy in their space


  • Enjoy different music genres, might be progressing to blues or other dance styles to support and grow their MJ enjoyment
  • Looking to other venues and freestyles


  • More technical ability, like the same type of music, tend to dance with the same safe people (or friends)


  • Want to absorb as much as possible dance.
  • Learning new styles, reduced the technical and flashy moves in their repertoire and concentrate on the feel and connection of the music.
  • Seek out alternative freestyles and new dance partners who like similar challenging music.

If you want to learn more about musicality in dance there’s plenty of articles out there.  It’s hard for anyone else to teach because musicality is what you hear and reflect in your dancing.  In partner dancing, the trick is to be able to hear and reflect the same musicality as your partner while you dance.

If you’re someone who struggles to hear the music there are things you can do to help:

  • Listen to a lot of music. Start with music with a strong beat, with mid speed/tempo
  • Tap out the beat, stress the 1st beat of a bar (most music used in modern jive is a 4/4 or 1,2,3,4 beat, so 4 beats to a bar, and most music (pop and blues at least) is based around 4 bars of 4 for each phrase).
  • Walk to the beat
  • Vary the speed and genre of music you’re listening to
  • Listen out for different parts of the music, changes in speed, pauses. See if you can recognise when these are coming up (clue, usually at the end of a 16 beat phrase)
  • Practice listening for another beat in the bar
  • Move around to music making shapes (think like a child, they just move freely without inhibitions, although not often to the music) according to what you hear.
  • Imagine the types of moves that might fit into certain places of tracks. So building up to a pause, leading a partner in a spin then into a lean or drop. Change or break in rhythm, you might do some solo footwork or let your partner do their own thing
  • Dance to the beat keeping the moves simple.  Be willing to finish a move (or let your partner finish), rather than rushing on to the next.
  • Practice dancing with people you think have great rhythm and musicality

So much of musicality is knowing the music or being able to hear and feel the structure of the music. And letting yourself go and not feeling stupid.

If you’re just learning to express the music more, don’t chuck every move you know into it.  Work on making more of simple moves and doing them well, and with the music and your partner.  This is why blues is satisfying when it goes well and partners feel the same.  You rarely see flashy moves in blues, it’s more subtle and with the music, but the musical connection can be stronger.

Is dance musicality something you’re worried about or would like to improve on? How have you progressed to more expressive dance?

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