5,6,7,8! Counting in Dance Class


Counting in Dance Class

By Lynn Bobzin

Dance teachers use music to support a variety of exercises in class. Whether it is during warm-up, center, across the floor, or the final dance combination, music plays a vital role in dance class! Dance and music share a close relationship with one another since both art forms can express emotion, evoke a certain mood, and inherently use devices like rhythm, tempo, duration and dynamics. Oftentimes, dance teachers will use numbers to count the movements and require you to dance these movements on their exact counts. However, if you have not had experience learning how to count music in a music class or through music lessons, this element of the dance class can become confusing.

Why do we count in dance?

Counts help dancers:

  • Move with correct timing and rhythm to match the music.
  • Execute the same movements at the same time as a group. This is also called unison.
  • Know their stage entrances and exits, and also when to begin or end class exercises and combinations.
  • Rehearse and perform choreography that may use multiple groups, entrances, exits, canons, or other devices. 

Counts in Music and Dance

  • In music there are typically 4 counts, or beats, per measure.
  • In dance, a measure is usually “musically paired” with a second measure. These two measures equal a total of 8 counts, which is why dancers count in sets of 8.
  • 8 counts keep track of the beat and tempo, but break up the song into manageable sections. One set of 8 is like a sentence.
  • After every 8 count, another 8 count begins, then another, and another.
  • Dancers can find the beginning of an 8 count by identifying the downbeat, (the strongest accent of the measure).

Ways to Practice:

  • Find the drum or bass instrument in the music if there is one. It helps creates a pulse that repeats throughout the song. Think of it like a heartbeat.
  • Try clapping at the same time as the steady beat.
  • Listen for the downbeat. Begin counting at 1 on the downbeat.
  • Listen to a wide variety of music when practicing your counting. Classical music can be a great challenge!