Musical Interpretation

Dance involves an interaction between music and movement, and this section discusses some of the ways in which paying more attention to the music can result in better dancing.

The attention of recent beginners is consumed with the problems of keeping the rhythm, remembering the steps and leading and following the moves. As a result, they have little brainpower left to pay attention to the music around them except as a metronomic source of rhythm.

As the moves and movements become second nature, this frees up more of the dancers' concentration. Some this will in turn get used up by shifting to ever more complicated moves and variations, but there is also more attention to spare for the music—which yields dividends in the enjoyment of the dance for both the dancers and the spectators.

Tempo Differences

The first part of matching the dance to the music revolves around the tempo of the music. Dancers quickly figure out on their own that some moves and variations are simply too tricky to be performed at the fastest tempos. Conversely, some moves look and feel stilted when they are danced to the slowest of tempos.

For fast tempo music, Charleston-derived moves come into their own. The kicking style of the moves, combined with the comparatively short distances that the moves travel across the floor, mean that these moves work well at the highest tempos.

This illustrates a general principle for coping with fast tempo music, which is to keep the dancers' movements small and their travel short; the logical evolution of this approach is seen in Balboa. The dancers stay closer together, so there is less distance to travel for a Lindy Turn. Wherever possible, steps are simplified to reduce the overall amount of movement, so a triple step becomes kick-step or step-hold.

At the other end of the tempo scale, Charleston-derived moves don't fit well with slow tempo music—at least in their normal styling. Performing a kicking action in slow motion looks forced; converting the motion to more of a tap or a point of the foot looks and feels better.

This illustrates a key component to dancing with slower tempo music, which is to increase the smoothness of the movements. As the tempo slows, a style where the dancers glide across the floor, using more continuous movements, works well.

Slower music also allows more possibilities for footwork variations; there is enough time to add steps on in-between beats without the steps becoming hasty; the logical evolution of this approach is seen in West Coast Swing.


A large fraction of the moves in Lindy Hop take eight beats to execute; a large number of swing dance tunes use musical phrases that are eight beats long. Taken together, this provides an ideal opportunity for the music to influence the dance—aligning eight-beat moves with eight-beat phrases adds resonance between the two.

Even if the start of an eight-beat move does not align with the start of a musical phrase, it is still possible to improve the correlation with the music by emphasizing the part of the move that falls at the beginning of the musical phrase. For example, if the dancers are repeating Lindy Turns but it happens that beat 1 of a musical phrase falls on count 7 of the move (the second triple step), then the dancers can emphasize that beat by performing a footwork variation that involves big movement on that step.

Lindy Hop does not just include eight beat moves, however. All of the Six-Beat Moves—together with other less common counts (such as the Back Charleston Entry)—will shift the timings of the moves relative to the phrasing of the music. This is a good thing—a correlation between moves and music that is entirely in lockstep throughout becomes predictable and eventually boring.

Song Structure

Lindy Hop dancers need to be aware of the larger-scale structures that are common in swing music. These are not as ubiquitous as the eight-beat phrasing, but there are a couple of song structures that turn up frequently.

Moving up from the eight-beat phrase, the most common structure in original swing structure is an eight bar unit. With four beats to a bar, this equates to 4 eight-beat phrases, or 32 beats. Examples of this structure include "Flying Home" (Lionel Hampton), "Jersey Bounce" (Benny Goodman) and "Take the A Train" (Duke Ellington).

Another common grouping is a twelve bar unit, particularly for tracks that have been influenced by blues music. With four beats to a bar, this equates to 6 eight-beat phrases, or 48 beats. Examples of this structure include "Woodchopper's Ball" (Woody Herman), "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" (The Andrews Sisters) and "Dive Bomber" (Pete Johnson).

Whether built from a eight bar or twelve bar units, the overall structure of a song may also show some regularity. After an intro, these units may repeat or alternate, and if there are vocals on the track then some sort of verse-chorus pattern is common.

All of these signs of regularity in the song structure can be exploited in the choreography of an accompanying dance. This is particularly relevant for performance dancing where the music and choreography is planned, but even in social dancing it is possible to make use of the structure on the fly.

For example, if a song with eight bar units breaks those units down into a eight-beat phrase that repeats three times and then is followed by a different eight-beat phrase (an AAAB pattern, for example as in "Flying Home") then the leader can spot this pattern and arrange (say) to perform three Lindy Turns followed by a Lindy Circle, to line up with the music.

Eight bar unit from "Flying Home"
Eight bar unit from "Flying Home"

Another example is if the leader tries to perform a similar sequence of moves for each chorus of a song that has lyrics, perhaps adding footwork variations into the later iterations.

Both of these examples are tricky to achieve, but even making the attempt will increase the dancers' awareness of the music, which will in turn improve their dancing.