Dancing vs Clapping: It’s Better to Look Like an Idiot Than to Sound Like One


Thank Rocky Jones for this delightful cartoon.  And I also thank my friend and fellow dancer Shala Marie for bringing it to my attention.

This is the best explanation of clapping on the 2 and 4 I’ve ever seen.

The info about the snare drum was news to me.  Dancers for the most part clap on the 2 and 4 because, well, it just feels right.  And as Duke Ellington so eloquently put it, it’s hip to do so.  Until now, however, I never really understood why.

In a recent dance blog, I not too long ago wrote about this very subject, so if you haven’t had enough of this topic yet, watch this charming explanation!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Rhythm, Dance, and a Neurological Disorder

a complex musican score

Finding the beat can be daunting for many a would-be dancer.

Can’t find the beat?

I’ve written before about people who can’t find the beat to dance to, and I’ve given my best guesses as to the cause.  But today I heard about a new study of a rare neurological disorder that actually causes White Man’s Clapping Syndrome.  The disorder was discovered so recently that it’s only just now being talked about.  Hundreds of people, apparently, lined up to be tested.  They all were sure they were victims of this malady.  Only one of them actually qualified.

So common is this inability to find the beat in music that people who have it think they were born with something missing.  If you’ve read my previous posts on the subject, you know that I believe they were born with their sense of rhythm intact.  They lost it somewhere along the way.

Clapping offbeat in Germany

What I thought was so interesting about this interview, which I heard on public radio, with the scientist who found the disorder, was that they spoke about it as the inability to clap to music.  Jon Carroll coined the phrase “White Man’s Clapping Syndrome” and I fell in love with it and have been using it ever since although I try to remember to give him credit when I do.  A musician on the show pointed out that clapping offbeat can be cultural, using Austrians an example. At a concert in Austria he noticed (how could he not) that the entire audience was clapping on the wrong beat.  The scientist clarified that while they were on the wrong beat, they were at least on a consistent beat in the music, hence not suffering from her new found malady.

I’ve never danced in Austria, but I certainly have noticed that Germans, as a society as a whole, do clap on the downbeat to jazz, to which everyone else claps on the upbeat.  I used to spend the month of July at a four week  international dance camp in Sweden where about fifty different countries were represented and you couldn’t miss that interesting cultural difference.

But the scientist is right.  If you can clap on the downbeat you can hear the beat in music even if it feels “wrong” to the ears of others.  It’s a totally different issue than that of not being able to find a consistent beat at all.

If this topic interests you, check out my previous posts on the subject:

Can You Dance with White Man’s Clapping Syndrome?

Deaf Dancers: Can You Dance if You Can’t Hear the Music?

Rhythm and Dance in Nature

Is Rhythm Innate?

Rhythm: Our Birthright

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Deaf Dancers: Can You Dance if You Can’t Hear the Music?

Before I was a dance teacher, I taufht self-defense to people with physical disabilities.   I was inspired to study American Sign Language when I had a deaf student in one of my classes and a deaf friend in my Jujitsu dojo.  I hung out with the deaf community (who thought I had recently lost my hearing because I signed so poorly) so that I could practice.  I was surprised to find that not only were there deaf dance parties, but that they were so loud I couldn’t bear to be in the room even with ear plugs.  My friends explained that they feel the rhythm through the reverberation in the floor when the music is turned up high enough.  Don’t try this at home if you don’t want to lose your hearing, too.

Obviously I knew there were deaf dancers, but I hadn’t thought about deaf professional dancers in a hearing world.  Anyone can have a passion for dance, with or without hearing, and there are many approaches to keeping rhythm in your body when you can’t hear the music.  I’m featuring two dancers in this post.  One is a young hip hop dancer who is striving to make dance his profession.  The other is a classical/modern dancer who dances professionally but supplements her dance career with her day job as a chemist.

The young man feels the bass through the floor like my partying friends, but has studied the nuances of what the bass is doing so that he can interpret the music and dance to it.  The classical dancer learns choreography and takes her cues from the other dancers and the director as well as her interpreter.  Both dancers rely a lot on their internal sense of rhythm to carry them through the dance when the cues are not there.  They seem to agree with my premise (see previous post Is Rhythm Innate?) that rhythm is innate in humans.  Clearly, the ability to dance, even if you use my definition of dance as making a musical instrument of your body and jamming with the band, comes from deep within the soul and is not connected to any one sense.  Not even the ability to hear the music.

In this clip, the aspiring dancer auditions for “So You Think You Can Dance”.  He’s not quite good enough to make the cut, but he wows the judges anyway.  Let him explain in his own words how he does it, any why.

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In this clip, the professional dancer talks about the challenge of competing with the hearing dancers, the prejudice she experiences when trying out, and the ways she has found for solving the problem of dead on timing without the advantage of hearing the music.   Deaf dancers must learn the timing to perfection.  They can do it with or without the music.  Listen to her explain it in her own words.

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Is Rhythm Innate?

dancing with cats

Dancer demonstrating the question of innate rhythm in humans









Dancing in infancy, these babies demonstrate human rhythm as nature intended.

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I’ve blogged in the past about animals, like cockatoos, that have a real sense of rhythm, and inherent in that concept is the supposition that it is also innate in humans.  When I work with students who have problems finding the beat, some of them are convinced that some people are just born without it.

It is my belief that everyone is born with a sense of rhythm.  I acknowledge that there may be unusual cases of people for whom that is not true, just like some people are born without arms or legs, but barring such anomalies, I believe most people who lack rhythm did have it at one time but lost it along the way.  That’s why I’m able to help those students find it again.  It’s still in there somewhere.

My theory is that as we go through life encountering various traumas, we instinctively shut down various natural inclinations because it felt like the safest solution at the time.  We may have forgotten all about it, or we may remember.  It may make logical sense or it may be the seemingly irrational conclusion of a very young child.  In any case, it’s loss is wired up with a sense of safety and it’s hard to get at now.

Any time we unlock something we locked up for self preservation, we experience freedom beyond the gift of the thing itself.  I hear all the time from extremely left brained women who learned the right brained skill of following that it opened up all kinds of unexpected shifts.  I’d love to hear from people who were reunited with their sense of rhythm about how it affected the rest of their lives.  Please comment if you can relate to this one!

Didn’t you just love that video?  Just for fun, here’s the same twins still dancing a year later!

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By LaurieAnn Lepoff

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What Constitutes Bad Dancing?

Elaine from Seinfeild

The Famous Elaine Dance: Epitome of Bad Dancing

I teach a lot of freestyle dance because it’s the one kind of dancing you need as a basic social skill.  It will never go out of fashion because it requires no skill except the very rare and useful attribute of not caring what other people think of the way you dance.  The people who come to me are worried that they’ll embarrass themselves on the dance floor.  Sometimes all they need is my professional opinion after watching them dance.  “Yep.  That’s dancing.  That’ll be $100.”

The truth is that the vast majority of freestyle dancers are doing some very basic repetitive move that expresses what they feel in the music and doesn’t look stupid.  Freestyle dance in its most common form is very much like moving in your seat to the beat at a concert, only standing up. So what is bad dancing?  In this classic clip from Seinfeld of the famous Elaine dance episode, everyone agrees that she is dancing badly enough to be an object of ridicule. [embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=5xi4O1yi6b0&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8517″ /] So what is it about her dance that is so bad?  She’s on beat and she’s even expressing the basic feel of the music.  What’s funny is that she’s totally lacking in grace.  Her movements are jerky and over the top.  Basically, if you’re going to dance in a way that calls attention to yourself you want to be really good.  Otherwise, you’ll be the opposite.

In this clip of the dance scene from Hitch, the dancing is comical because it’s so over the top.  [embedplusvideo height=”507″ width=”640″ editlink=”” standard=”″ vars=”ytid=2bH0OXsmsbQ&width=640&height=507&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep1908″ /]Same idea, though.  Very attention attracting and even though you have to be a dancer to pull this off (see Dancers Make the Best Pratfalls), one crazy step after another lacks finesse and is just too much.  Ironically, the way Hitch is trying to teach his client to dance (made to look very boring in the film) is very much what I teach students who want to blend into the crowd and not call attention to themselves.  The character who is dancing in the Hitch scene has no self-consciousness. He’s having fun.  His partner is having fun.  I wouldn’t touch it.  Fun is what freestyle dance is all about.  It’s not a performance. And it’s not my job to judge it (unless they ask me to!)        

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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Choosing a First Dance Song


footprint pattern

Your “first dance” music will become “your song”!

Blogs by Djs and other wedding professionals often suggest first dance songs for couples who haven’t come up with their own and need ideas. As a dance teacher, I have a somewhat different perspective. A recent post in wine country wedding magazine lists five songs that are their top picks. Their first pick, At Last by Etta James, is also the first pick for many of my students. If they have a particular relationship with the song, if they picked it because of it’s special meaning for them, I can make it work. But if they picked it because they saw it on a blog like this one, or just thought it was a good choice because it’s slow and romantic, I’ll steer them away from it.

It’s part of my job to educate my students about what makes a good dance song. At Last, and in fact the number two song on wine country’s list, Elvis Presley’s Cant Help Falling In Love, are both ballads. Ballads are great if you don’t know how to dance and want to spend your first dance rocking back and forth in a clench like you did in high school.

When people come to me, however, they want to learn how to do a real dance and for that you need something with a beat. The beat in a ballad is so slow that by the time your get to the end of a measure you can’t remember when it started. For all intents and purposes, it has no beat. A perfect song for a real dance, a waltz, foxtrot, or nightclub two-step, say, has a clear easy to find beat.

A good dance song has clear measures and an easy beat. You can tell if it’s in 3/4 time (a waltz) or 4/4 time (practically everything else). The beginning of each measure is clear and didn’t happen so long ago that you’ve lost track by the time you get to the next one.

Many people who go to wedding blogs for song ideas are not dancers and are not taking lessons. A ballad is ideal for these people. A song with a beat is hard to dance to if you just want to sway to a romantic mood. The confusion is when they come to a dance lesson with song in hand, and it’s a ballad. If you are learning to dance for you wedding, get your ideas from your teacher, not your DJ.

I encourage my students to come with as many different songs as possible if they are considering more than one. That gives me an opportunity to help them select one with a good dance beat. If, however, they want “At Last” and only At Last will do, the way to work around it is to forget about the measures and dance to it as it it’s just a series of slow beats, like a techno song. Then I teach them waltz steps so they can step on every beat. It’s too slow for a combination of slow and quick steps, and no one will notice that it’s not a waltz because they don’t notice the measures anyway.

If they have time for a more challenging dance, Blues Dancing can be done to a ballad as well because it can be adapted to the mood, rather than the beat, of the music. It’s a much more challenging dance to learn to lead, however, so they can choose, dependent on their time and budget.  The bottom line is, any song can work, but if you’re a beginner, make it easy on yourself. Pick an easy song if you have a choice!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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