What is dance musicality? Why is it important for dancers?

Dance musicality is how dancers hear, interpret, and dance to music.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned dancer, it never hurts to brush up on your music theory.

So let’s get started!

Annnnnd 5.. 6.., 5, 6, 7, 8!

What is an 8-count?

We use an 8-count to break down the structure of the music.

In dance musicality, the 8-count is sort of like a map to know when you do a certain move.

For example, if a choreographer says that a move executes on “the 5,” you’re going to count into the music: “One, two, three, four, MOVE.

Most dances (except the waltz) are counted and danced to an 8-count measure.

(*We’re gonna focus on songs on standard 4/4 time, which means there are 4 beats/counts in every bar, or every measure. Note that not all songs follow this signature! There’s 3/4, 4/8, 7/8, 11/16… but let’s start with 4/4, which is the most common.)


Try this out:

Listen to a song, any song, and try counting in your head – “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”

Match your counts to the rhythm – this is what you’d naturally bob your head to.

Got comfortable with counting your 8-count? Great!

Now, clap on the even counts: “One, clap, three, clap, five, clap, seven, clap

Think of a choir swaying from side to side and clapping their hands while they sing.

dance musicality

This is the start of creating the skeleton for your dance musicality!


16 counts: The “And”

You can break down the structure even more – let’s divide that 8 count in half.

By inserting an “and” in between each count – “One (and), two (and), three (and), four…” You’re splitting up the 8 count into 16ths.

dance musicalityPractice locating those “and” counts by snapping on those.

The tempo of this exercise (the speed at which you’re clapping/snapping) will change according to the tempo of the song.

(*Popular music tempo is usually 120BPM, but changes depending on the song/genre.)

Try these practices out with different songs of different genres.

Count in your head every time you hear a song, so that it becomes second nature to not only pinpoint those 8 counts / 16 counts, but to move to them react to them without having to think about it.

You can go from clapping and snapping, to bobbing your head or bouncing.

Whatever way your body reacts to those counts, use that to mark that 8 (or 16!)


Challenge yourself:

While you’re doing these clapping/snapping exercises, you may notice that there is a pattern in the noises you hear, according to the beats you’re marking.

Take note of these! There may be a lot of other things going on in the song, but there are usually anchors in the music that you can use to help mark those counts.

For example, a snare on every 4th count, or a bass on every even count.

“Wait, what? (again)..”

Maybe you know, by ear, what these sounds are – but let’s define them to better understand.


Different musical elements of a song

All right, so we got the gist of the timing.

Now, what’s going on in those counts? Let’s give those “sounds” a name.

(*We’re not going into every single sound found in the history of music! Just the basics, so as not to overwhelm or overcomplicate.)

    • Lyrics
      • The words that the singer is singing to, also referred to as “the melody”
      • The lyrics are probably the easiest to distinguish, but hardest to count / dance to, since vocals don’t always match the strict structure of 8-counts
      • Sometimes, choreographers will make moves that correlate with the lyrics, like miming actions or using certain body parts
    • Bass
      • The bass is the lowest of the standard four voice ranges (bass, tenor, alto, soprano), or, the lowest melodic line in a musical composition, that supports the harmony
      • Different instruments can produce a bass sound (drums, guitar..)
      • Dancers often use the onomatopoeia “boom” to describe a bass drum
    • Snare
      • It’s the sharp, staccato sound you hear, like the sound you make when you snap a rubber band
      • Dancers often describe as snare as “ka!”
    • Hi-Hat
      • A hi-hat is produced by a hi- hat cymbal
      • Dancers often describe this sound as “tss tss
    • Synth
      • A sound synthesizer produces electric signals converted to sound through amps and loudspeakers
      • A common reference to a synth is the synth piano, which may sound like a long, slow bass, “wobba wobba”
    • Strings
      • Guitar strums and melodies are also useful to take note of, for more instrumental / acoustic songs
    • Keyboard/Piano
      • The piano sounds will also accent, or set the melody/harmony of the song.

You’ll discover different combinations of different sounds in layers and layers of any song.

Get used to listening and dissecting music so that you can name which sounds are what.

dance musicality

Try this out:

With more practice in listening and counting to music, you’ll start to see patterns.

Maybe there’s a bass drum on each 1st and 5th count, or a snare on every even count.

As you’re clapping or bouncing or whatever you’re doing to mark the beats in the music, take notice of the sound patterns that exist within it.

It’ll cue you in to the concept of dance musicality.


What is dance musicality?

Musicality, for dancers, refers to the matching of movement to the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music.

Dance musicality is demonstrated in several ways, depending on the dancer’s style, the song, and countless other elements.

Check out these 2 pieces to the same song, that are completely different in both style of dance and musicality choice.

See if you can hear the difference in dance musicality choices made by the choreographers.

Superstar (Aluna George) – Charles Nguyen


Superstar (Aluna George) – Chris Martin

The cool thing is that everyone listens to music differently, as you can probably tell from these two pieces.

Choreographers utilize different textures to portray how they hear the song.

Read this: What Are Textures In Dancing?

Great choreographers have unique ways of moving to music that bring out sounds you might not have heard when you’re just listening to the song. Now you know what it means when someone says. “UGHHH, their musicality is so sick!”

By being more familiar with the different sounds that make up a song and their relationship to the flow of it, you’ll have a better understanding of how to execute moves to embody those sounds more closely.

We hope that this will help set a good foundation for the movements you will be applying to them.


Practice the recommended exercises any time you hear a song, and we guarantee you’ll go from claps to choreo in no time!

Besides music and dynamics, what else would you like to learn about? Comment below and share with us!


This article was originally published on January 31, 2016