Many people "hear" the vocals as just another part of the music. It can be interesting to watch 2 people dance to the same piece - one is hitting all the musical points while the other is following the patterns set out by the vocals. Both are completely legitimate, and can be fun to watch. Yet when you watch the Pros in competition, there is something more (beyond their great technique, shaping, personal style, etc) that draws the crowds to their feet - and that is when they dance to the the lyrics.
When I talk to other dancers about this, I often get the reply "I don't hear the lyrics - I just dance to the music". WOW!!!!!! To me, that is like having Hot Apple Pie without the Ice Cream, a Baked Potato without Butter and Sour Cream, or London Battered Fish without the Tartar Sauce! Yes - you can eat all the above without their companion foods, but together you get a much yummier meal!
I am one of those dancers that hears EVERYTHING - at least as long as it is clear and not overshadowed by the music (which sadly often happens nowadays). Anyone who dances with me knows I lip synch like crazy and I often do things that make my leader look at me as if I have two heads....I know then that I am dancing with someone who doesn't hear the lyrics! I am fortunate - hearing what is being said comes easily to me and I memorize songs pretty quickly after first hearing them.
So - how DOES one start to hear the lyrics if it does not come naturally to you? There are several things you can do to train your ear, or at least to give you more to work with.
- Download and listen to 5-10 of the most popular songs that you are currently dancing to and play them at every opportunity that you can. Your car is a perfect place for this. Start to try to sing along with it....you will probably notice the chorus first. That is the part that repeats several times during the song. Get to know that part first....it's a safe place to start to play. Start with music that is slow and has a gentler groove like California Dreamin and Layla (Links to my top 10 favorites for learning are found in this blog). These two are part of the staple diet of most DJ's and are a safe bet for the beginner.
- Still can't understand what they are saying??? Download the lyrics from the internet. www.lyricsbox.com, www.metrolyrics.com, and www.lyrics.com are just a few of the many sites where you can find all the words to any reasonably popular song.Then, read the lyrics as you play the song a few times. Even though I hear the lyrics, there are many songs where parts are less clear to me - and I will search the lyrics to fill the gaps in the song for me. And beware - you may be surprised and/or shocked at some of the lyrics! Try singing the lyrics with the words in front of you so you really get a feel for where it all fits in.
- This is where it gets fun. Anytime you are listening to the music, start to imagine what you can do to hit different parts of the lyrics. I do this all the time in my car. And yes, I DO get some odd looks sometimes! If you are at home, try "hitting" a certain phrase or pick out some part of the theme of the song and play with that. At first you may feel odd and awkward, but that is the only way to get to become comfortable with anything new. If you are there, then GREAT! You are well on your way to learning something new...'cause you certainly won't learn it by wishful thinking!!!
- If you have a practice partner, get them to do all this too, then meet up and just play with what you each hear. Even with both of you knowing the lyrics, you will likely be drawn to express different parts of the song, or you will interpret the song differently. This is another great tool to your creativity - mimicking what your partner....I don't know how many new moves I have got this way!
- Go to Youtube and watch the Pros dance to a piece of music. If you really like their interpretation, download that song AND the lyrics, then go back and watch it again with the lyrics in front of you. Practice picking out when they are interpreting the lyrics, and when they are following the music.
So many places where they took a piece of the lyrics and had FUN with them! "Watch the Sunrise" ..."Jump outta my seat" , "I'm driving fast now" , and "but I want you so bad". This is one of the main reasons that so many of us are drawn to WCS - because we see the better dancers taking the musical interpretations to places we could never do in any other partnered dance.
When you DO start to hear the lyrics - invite them in to your dance. Play with them. Take risks with them. Have fun with them! After all, isn't that what dancing is all about????
Edit: A few weeks after I wrote this Robert Royston and Jill Demarco showed exactly how it is done at Swing Diego to the song "Stroken by Clarence Carter. Take a look at this, google the lyrics if you need to so that you really get just how well they are playing to the fourth partner, and enjoy!
Thanks to CJ Henry and everyone else who contributed to the content of this blog! And apologies for the randomness of the placement of the song links - I can't seem to get them to just line up :^(