Rolling Count by Skippy Blair

© Skippy Blair – 2000 – Rev. 4/11/03

Level One – Learn to count to 8 – and be able to identify the Downbeats from the Upbeats. The Downbeats are: 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 . The Upbeats are 2 – 4 – 6 – 8. Each individual Dance Rhythm is composed of one Downbeat and one Upbeat. The Downbeat always comes FIRST .For many years, most dances were danced to “Straight Count” – with the exception of West Coast Swing and Samba. These two dances have been danced to a “Rolling Count” since 1958. (Samba even earlier than ’58)

Sometime around 1993, we discovered that using Rolling Count raised the level of every Social Dance that we tried. Prior to that time, we had only used Rolling Count for Samba and West Coast Swing. To date, every dance we have tested is performed at a higher level when using “Rolling Count” – No exceptions. Could there BE an exception? Of course! There usually is an exception – if not today – tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is here.

After a gradual development of “Hip Hop” style West Coast Swing – one crucial discovery is the fact that “Straight Count” fits this dance very well.
A staccato “3&4” looks and feels comfortable – and compatible – with the music. The interesting part is that dancers who are accustomed to a rolling count – still use that count – because the music “allows” it. However, Hip Hop music does not encourage Rolling Count. The difference is that upper level dancers are able to move the upper body with a rolling count and still dance straight count with the feet.

In an “8 Beat” Mini-phrase, the Rolling Count is “&a1 &a2 – &a3 &a4” – “&a5 &a6 – “&a7 &a8”. The dancer is the VISUAL part of the Music. Each “Dance Rhythm” starts on the “&a” before the Downbeat – and ends precisely on the Upbeat. This count is crucial to developing “Critical Timing”.

In “Classic” West Coast Swing, “Critical Timing” and Rolling Count create the MAGIC that separates the Amateur from the Professional. It is this MAGIC that thrills an audience and excites a Performer. Many performers are unaware of what creates their own magic. Those who aspire to make a little magic of their own – are delighted to hear that this “magic” can be learned.

Whether we use “Straight Count” or “Rolling Count” – the separation of Dance Rhythms into “2 -Beat” increments – allows the dancer to feel the “Connection” to the Heart beat of the music.

The study of the “2 -Beat Rhythms” allows for greater understanding of musical interpretation. In “Partner Dancing” the “lead” starts with movement on the “&a” prior to the beat. In “Solo” dancing, movement of the body also starts on the “&a”. Movement of the Center starts on the “&a” to gain more fluid movement prior to stepping on the beat of the music.

SINGLE RHYTHM: One step to 2 beats of music. Single Rhythm steps ONLY on the Downbeat (Count “1”) and does something else (brush, touch, hold, freeze etc.) on the Upbeat, (Count “2”). Call: “Step &a Touch”

SYNCOPATED SINGLE: Steps ONE time, on the “a” count before count “1” OR on the “a” count before count “2”. (Still only 1 step to 2 Beats of music) Call: “&a Kick & Step Point” OR ” & Step Kick &a Point”

IMPORTANT NOTE: Without the “& Count” – the “a Count” is impossible to place. There is no “Time Slot” for an “a” count unless you include the “&” before the “a”.

In order to count “seconds” we say “One, one thousand, Two, one thousand etc.”. By saying “one thousand” between each count we set up a Rhythm that occupies a time slot. It is necessary to “feel” that rhythm in order to use the time slot to your advantage. Practice counting without dancing. Count: “&a1 &a2 &a3 &a4” – emphasizing the 2 and the 4. When that comes free and easy – TRY each of the following SYNCOPATIONS:

“Syncopated Single Rhythm”:

A. Straight Count: Step on the “&” count before the “1”, Kick on count “1” . Kick again on “2”. Count “&1 & 2” Call: “Step Kick & Kick”

B. Rolling Count: Lift the knee slightly on the “&” count. Step on the “a” count and Kick on count “1”. Retract the kick on the “&” count – and Kick again on count “2” . The “a” count adds fluidity. Same Step – Different feeling Count: &a1 & a 2. Call: & Step Kick &a Kick
Try this experiment:

First do “Out-out – In-in”, while Counting – out loud: “& 1 & 2”.
The FEELING is very deliberate and very “Straight” Count.

NOW – Do the same “Out Out In In” with a Rolling Count:
Lift the knee on “&”, step on “a” and step on “1”. Repeat for “In In” There are really 2 levels of performance here. The first example works for Hip Hop WCS and for certain Line Dances. The 2nd one is the Rolling Count – great for Classic WCS and other specific Rhythm Dances. Count: “&a1 &a2″ Call: ” & Step-Step, & Step-Step”

Two examples of TRIPLES in West Coast Swing
A. SYNCOPATED TRIPLE: Step on the “a” count before the “1” – Step on count “1” – and step again on count “2” Count: “&a1 &a2”
The Call: “& Step-Step &a Step”

B. ROLLING COUNT STANDARD TRIPLE: Step on count “1” – Hold the “&” – Step on the “a” – and step again on the “2”.
Count: “&a1 &a2” The Call: “&a Step & Step-Step”

NOTE: More and more MUSICIANS – particularly those who TEACH, are discovering the use of “Rolling Count” in teaching budding performers how to FEEL the music – when to lift the hands for piano – when to take a breath before making the sound on a wind instrument. The discovery of the Rolling Count is playing an important role in the development of both music and dance artists.

The Piano Player’s sheet music is far different from that of the drummer – and many times neither can read the sheet music of the other. However -they play the same piece of music at the same time. The DANCER has sheet music that allows him to either match or counter the rhythms of the other players in the band – but always be in time with the music. It is fascinating to watch a dancer who has mastered the art of being the LEAD instrument in the band – while maintaining a solid beat to the music – and a good connection to a partner.

“Please don’t tell me how LONG to hold the beat.
Tell me what the COUNT is, so I can place my feet”

Recently, I have made such a habit of continually updating my articles – that I have coined the phrase “Living Articles” – That means – they are never quite finished. The same article keeps growing as people send questions – and as I unearth new bits of information.  If someone’s question was not answered in the article – then I feel that I should add that information to the document.   Right?  Communication between dancers – spawns discovery.  If you have topics that you would like to see in this spot –   Please let us know. Thank you for participating in our “process”.

Yours for better dancing through better education.
Skippy Blair

Email:  or – Phone: 562-869-8949