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How to Dance to Rock’n’Roll Music

By Sarah, published on 11/03/2019 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Dance > A Guide to Rock and Roll Dancing

Rock is heavily linked to all the big names in music, like Elvis Presley for example. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll quickly rose to fame in the 1950s thanks to his ground-breaking hip moves. So much so, they even earned him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis”.

His swiveling-hips and quick feet didn’t just make him a star, but even changed the way people danced. A classic for a reason, rock dancing is still one of the most popular forms of dance today. Knowing how to put some basic steps together always makes an impact on the dance floor!

Are you itching to move your feet and finally learn how to dance to rock ‘n’ roll?

If so, here are our tips to make this happen. Whether it’s solo, with your partner or as part of a dance class, why not give rock dance a go?

Or if you’re looking for another rebellious dance form, check out urban dance!

What Are the Different Types of Rock Dance?

Before we begin, it is important to clarify what we’re talking about. Rock actually includes several types of modern dances. Firstly, there’s a difference between 4-beat and 6-beat rock. However, these are not the only variants.

Even though rock ‘n’ roll was born in the 50s, some rock-style dances (6-beat) had existed before. An example of which is swing dancing (called the Jive in England and Lindy Hop in the United States), bebop and 6-beat swing. They were originally danced to swing music, a more lively branch of jazz music.

You can see their influence in a lot of rock dances.

Rock dancing, born out of the music genre of the same name, is actually four-beat rock. It’s actually the first dance for two with a 4-beat rhythm.

Either way, rock is a fast dance that requires rhythm. Rock music, traditionally characterised by the sound of the electric guitar, has a very fast tempo.

Today, there are essentially 4 types of rock dances:

  • 4-beat Rock: Also known as four on the floor or four to the floor, this style is easier to learn than 6-beat rock. To dance it, you essentially have to let the arms do all the work. The legwork is relatively simple. You can tap to the beat with your hands and do arcs movements with your arms between two moves. 4-beat rock can be performed to any kind of rhythmic music.
  • 6-beat Rock: This is the classic style of rock dance that is taught in dance schools. Learning this dance, however, is less straightforward. Legwork is very important. Dance steps are made by counting 6 beats but doing 8 rests. There are plenty of steps involved in rock dancing. It’s a pretty technical dance where you need to know the steps inside out so you can dance smoothly to very fast-paced music.
  • Swing Rock: Swing rock is a variation of 6-beat rock. What characterises it is its energetic leg kicks. We can say that swing rock jump lies somewhere between 6-beat rock and acrobatic rock.
  • Acrobatic Rock: Unlike the other, less lively, types of rock, acrobatic rock is a sport in itself, strongly linked to gymnastics. Dance partners perform acrobatics, holds, lifts, etc. They are required to relax their hands depending on the move.

If you like to be percussive in your dancing, you might also be interested in tap dancing!

The Basics of Rock ‘n’ Roll Dance

To learn 6-beat rock, currently the most widely practised, you will have to master the basic steps. This is where you will start at your first rock dance lesson.

Find rock dancing classes for beginners online. Get ready to be swept off your feet ! Source: Visual Hunt

As mentioned before, rock is about dancing to a 6-beat rhythm, but dancers count 8 rests during these 6 beats.

To help you find the right rhythm, you should count like this in your head (one, two, three “AND” four, five “AND” six). The “AND” lets you to do the 7th and 8th rests more easily.

Another important point is that rock ‘n’ roll dancers dance within an imaginary line so as not to disturb the other dancers. You must, therefore, bear this in mind and practice dancing in a limited space.

Let’s go back to the most fundamental step:

  • During the first 2 beats, dancers simultaneously move apart while moving their left foot back. (this is the rock step),
  • During the 2 following beats, they perform a chassé to the left (taking 3 rests),
  • During the last two beats, they perform one chassé to the right (with also 3 rests).

Once you’ve got the hang of this, you’re on the right track and can progress to the next step:

  • Learn the more complex moves,
  • Learn how to turn your dance partner,
  • Replace steps with your own footwork to add your own style to the dance,
  • And much, much more…

Rock requires perfect cohesion between the two partners. It is therefore essential to train as a two as regularly as possible to dance to rock ‘n’ roll properly. Unlike 4-beat rock where the man leads his partner, to dance 6-beat rock, both partners must know the steps and know how to move together.

What Music to Dance To?

The best dancers seem wild, untamed; flinging limbs about as though independent of their body and smiling all the while.

Behind that seemingly carefree display, there is a crafty choreography guiding every tuck, slide and roll that takes tons of time and practice to master.

Dance technique is all good and well, but one must have an innate sense of rhythm if there is to be any hope at all of becoming proficient at executing these intricate steps to the music’s fast tempo.

The best way to find one’s rhythm is by listening to music but, with all of the selections out there, which would be the best to listen to for either the 6-beat or 4-beat dances?

Songs for 6-Beat Dancing

In the Mood: as its name implies, Glen Miller’s famous tune will put you in the proper mood for dancing – its opening bars feel like a call to get on the dance floor. Do you dare to keep still while it plays?

If you watch the video, you’ll note that none of the musicians can help but move; even Mr Miller himself frantically taps his foot as he plays his slide trombone.

By contrast, the dancers themselves seem rather tame but then, with the floor so crowded and their clothing so restrictive, who would chance to execute any energetic moves?

Yes, clothing plays a part in your ability to dance and the spectacle you create; we’ll talk about that a bit further on in this article.

Sing, Sing, Sing by Benny Goodman is of a similar vein; it provides a long intro prior to the whole orchestra joining in. Here again, physical restraints may be necessary to keep yourself from moving along, driven by the energy of this ditty.

Note: nice drum solos throughout the tune provides dancers ample opportunity to showcase their special moves individually before joining up again.

Moving ahead a few years, to a time when musical influences were melding and dancers were getting more inventive, more energetic and more daring with their moves.

In solidarity with them, you might find that:

  • Danny and the Juniors is inviting you to dance At The Hop; their frenzied beat provides an excellent backdrop to showcase dancing talent.
  • The Everly Brothers tried to Wake Up Little Susie
  • Little Richard enticed us with Tutti Fruitti
  • Bill Haley and his Comets challenged us to Rock Around the Clock
    • They also intoned what could have been an advert for a jalopy: Shake, Rattle and Roll

As mentioned before, Elvis Presley produced a trove of music to dance to.

Jailhouse Rock never fails to cause dancing pairs to pogo their way to the dance floor, flared skirts and beribboned hair flying… for a good reason!

It’s not just the visual of The King swinging his pelvis around in time to the beat that spurs dancers on; the whole song is simply irresistible!

In fact, this song is unusual in that the lyrics determine the 6/6 beat rather than the drums so, instead of listening for each downbeat, you should focus on Elvis’ rising and falling tones while he sings to get your timing down.

Another great Elvis song to dance to is All Shook Up. Here again, the lyrics are easier to follow than the beat… possibly because of the greater emphasis given to them than the backing music.

Hound Dog, our third Elvis pick could be a bit slower paced, depending on which version you listen to but it is still a great tune to dance to, especially if you’re just starting to learn how  to dance to rock music.

The gentleman is dance-ready but the lady needs to change her shoes! Although the lady’s shoes are not ideal, the skirt is perfect for dancing! Source: Pixabay Credit: Scott Webb

Tunes to Practice 4-Beat Dancing

The disco era was short-lived; some say mercifully so. Nevertheless, that brief span turned out some of the best 4-beat dance music ever recorded.

Prime among them, some might say that the very voice of the era was projected by the Brothers Gibb, better known as the BeeGees.

Saturday Night Fever, superficially a film about how liberating dancing can be is filled with 4/4 beat BeeGee tracks you could learn how to dance and practice your moves to.

Stayin’ Alive is a great song for more reasons than one: not only is it the anthem of the disco era but it maintains the perfect tempo and beat to perform CPR to!

Other BeeGee tunes on that soundtrack include Night Fever and Jive Talking.

That soundtrack being the backdrop to a movie about dance, the type of dance where your footwork is less important than your display – a factor essential to 4-beat dancing, you could practice your moves to just about any cut that record offers.

Interesting movie trivia: John Travolta and his dance partner rehearsed one of their dance scenes to a different song altogether but the movie producers could not afford to buy the rights from the original singer so they dubbed in a BeeGees song that had approximately the same tempo.

The Gibbs brothers rocketed to worldwide fame while the original song’s performer to this day remains relatively unknown outside of America.

Boz Scaggs lost potentially millions of dollars in royalties by not licensing the use of his song, Lowdown, in the film. On the other hand, you could benefit from his artistry by working your groove to his music!

One feature common to all of these songs is what is called ‘the money beat’: a dumDUM,dumDUM drum score that Michael Jackson was particularly adept at dancing to.

In fact, his song Billie Jean epitomises that 4/4 beat as well as the upper body movement with minimal footwork that characterises this type of rock dancing.

“But all of those songs are decades-old!”, you cry.

For more modern and massively fun – songs with a 4/4 beat to dance to, you might try Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling.

If you watch the video to Justin’s song, you will hear a drum intro that acts as a call to the dance floor. You’ll see minimal footwork and lots of upper body movement – in fact, some of the dancers’ feet aren’t even shown! Everyone dances solo until the end, when they all get together for a synchronised dance under the bridge.

By contrast, Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is shown danced by a couple. Still, it embodies the same characteristics – mellow song intro, minimal footwork, lots of upper body moves and the ‘money beat’, albeit accelerated.

If you were ready to try moving a bit faster, this would be a great song to do it to!

Obviously, there’s lots of music out there you can learn rock dancing to; your dance teacher will most likely introduce you to more great selections!

Learn Rock Moves by Taking Classes

To learn to dance quickly, the best way is to enlist the help of a dance teacher. You can do an intensive rock dancing course to learn the basics or take dance classes over a long period of time. Regular practice at a specialised dance school will allow you to improve quickly. Moreover, you will avoid common pitfalls with the guidance of your dance instructor. A professional dancer will guide you in your learning, whatever your level. But where do you find a suitable class? Try searching the web for ‘dance classes near me‘. Or if ‘dance classes near me‘ doesn’t work for you and want to search for a particular location, then why not try ‘dance classes glasgow‘, for example. Failing that, if you want to search for a style of dance like Rock and Roll or pole dancing classes, then give one of them a search on your computer.

Having a solid foundation beforehand is essential for rock dancing and helps you advance from beginner to intermediate level quickly. Once you’ve mastered the basic steps and learned a few simple moves, you will be able to dance with ease and continue to progress while gradually refining your dance style.

Learn rock n roll dance moves at a dance school. Acrobatics are reserved for the accomplished rock ‘n’ roll dancers! Source: Visual Hunt

Rock ‘n’ roll dance has countless moves and variations. Everyone can add their personal touch to the dance.

To take rock lessons, look if there are any of the following near you:

Taking rock lessons at a dance school is perfect if you want to learn and make friends at the same time.

This is a good solution if you want to take classes year round and practice dance regularly.

If you’d prefer to do a one-off dance lesson, opt for an intensive rock ‘n’ roll dance course or individual dance classes to prepare you for a special event such as a bachelor party or the first dance at your wedding. Make sure to ask if this kind of lesson is available.

For personalised dance training, private dance lessons are a great option to take into account. With a private teacher, you will be able to progress at your own pace and learn according to your level.

For example, with Superprof, you can find lots of profiles of dance teachers based throughout the UK.

Rates vary depending on the teacher, but also on the student. There are classes suitable for everyone’s budget.

Hourly rates vary from £15 to £60. Some teachers come to your home while others give classes from their own dance studio.

What to Wear on the Dance Floor

Choreography (or the lack thereof) and rhythm are technical aspects of dancing to rock music but presentation is everything!

Thus your wardrobe choices should be dictated both by the type of dancing you do and if you’re dancing with a partner – your choice of outfit should match, not clash.

Tops

If you’re dancing to 6-beat rock, the focus is less on your upper body than on your legs and feet.

Thus, a close-fitting shirt or blouse would be suitable, possibly with flared sleeves – but they should be cuffed to prevent an accidentally missed grab of your partner’s hands or arms, or worse: getting tangled up inside excess material! This applies to gentlemen as well as ladies.

For the more informal 4-beat dances, looser fit jerseys or cotton garb would work well, perhaps also with flared sleeves to better show off your arm movements.

Below the Waist

Here again, inverses hold true: if you’re dancing 6-beat, a knee-length skirt with a bit of a flare would be in order; one that moves well and accents your hip and step movements.

For the gentlemen, close fitting (but not restricting) slacks would be the order of the day; the better to show off your intricate footwork.

For 4-beat dancing, what you wear on your bottom half is not as important. Provided it is comfortable and breathes well – so that you don’t overheat as you exert yourself, pretty much anything you choose to wear would work.

For any type of partner dancing, it is recommended to coordinate your outfits to give a visually appealing presentation!

Dancing Shoes

Whereas acrobatic dancing fairly demands a shoe whose sole will ‘grab’ the dance floor, in 6-beat dancing, you need the opposite effect.

Slick-soled shoes are necessary to give the impression of gliding across the dance floor, so you should shop for a leather-soled shoe.

Ladies, you would need a low heel or even a no-heel shoe – certainly a lower heel than for ballroom dancing! The important criteria is that your shoes are sturdy enough to withstand vigorous use and will remain securely on your feet during your kicks, flips and twirls.

That is why so many women’s dance shoes have an ankle strap or one that goes over the bridge of your foot!

Selecting footwear for 4-beat dancing is, of course, easier. As there is little footwork involved in this type of dancing, male and female dancers may even wear their most comfortable trainers!

Make friends and have fun with rock dancing. Be careful not to step on your partner’s feet at the start. Source: Visual Hunt.

Learn to Dance to Rock ‘n’ Roll Solo

You want to learn rock moves, but it’s just you?

It is, in fact, possible to learn to dance without taking online Zumba classes. For this, you have a number of options, which can also help you in your approach:

  • Asking your friends and family: think carefully, you’re bound to have know someone who can dance to rock ‘n’ roll well? Start by asking them if they would showing you a thing or two,
  • Learning to dance at home has never been easier with online videos and websites. On the internet, it’s now so easy to find step-by-step tutorials to learn rock dances. They are available for all levels: beginner, intermediate and expert. You can find free online lessons on websites such as Learn To Dance,
  • Attending your local rock night: remember, to learn to dance, you have to dance. Imagine going to a dance party or nightclub and showing off your rock and roll dance moves. You will actually be able to put the steps you’ve learned from online videos into practice. If you have a good dance partner, you’ll not only improve but you’ll enjoy yourself,
  • Downloading mobile apps will also allow you to practice your steps at home or away or, with Map Dance, for example, you can easily find places to go dancing wherever you may be.

To learn rock dancing, any of the above methods will be helpful. From London Salsa classes to learn the basics of ballroom dancing, the most important thing is to have fun.

Your passion for dance may potentially lead you to try a new style such as the Argentine tango, Zumba, the waltz or even hip-hop!

Or, are you now too tempted by acrobatic rock?

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