Universal Unit System & Tips on Energy

What is the Universal Unit System
and how does it apply to dance?

Universal Unit System

Universal Unit System

The UUS teaches you how to break patterns down into two beats of music.

All dances consist of rhythms.
There are three basic rhythms in dance:

Single  ~  Double ~ Triple

When you take 1 step in two beats of music this is known as a Single Rhythm Dance.
When you take 2 steps in two beats of music this is known as a Double Rhythm Dance.
When you take 3 steps in two beats of music this is known as a Triple Rhythm Dance.

The & a represents the space between the down beat and the upbeat.
All dances are broken down in to units.
Each unit consist of two beats of music.
A slash represent no weight change.
A dot represents a weight change.
When you break all your steps down to 2 beats of music learning to dance is simplified. When learning a new dance or pattern just ask yourself how many step you are taking in every 2 beats of music.
Now you have also discovered the rhythm in that unit.

A 2-beat Unit is indicated with a rectangular box.
Blank Unit – Example: We use this Blank unit in beats 7, 8 of a basic Tango pattern or a hold or break in West Coast Swing.
Single Rhythm – AKA a Slow. In Country Two Step the / represents flight of the unweighted foot and in Rumba, Salsa or Tango it represents a hold demonstrating staccato.
Delayed Single Rhythm – is used when the foot is in flight during the first beat of the unit like in Foxtrot. Note where the / is located on the two examples of single rhythms.
Double Rhythm – AKA 1-2 or Quick-Quick.
Triple Rhythm – AKA 1 a 2, Triple Step, or Take 3 Steps.
You can use quick and slow language or use word recognition to learn how to dance.
However until you relate numbers to music students will never totally understand musicality.
Learn how to identify what rhythm is in each dance.
Examples for dancing to 4/4 timing music:
Nightclub Two Step is a Triple rhythm dance. 4 beats of music.
Cha-cha is a Double/Triple rhythm dance. 8 beats of music.
Country Two Step is a Double/Single rhythm dance. 6 beats of music.
Salsa is a Double/Single rhythm dance. 8 beats of music.
Foxtrot is a Single/Double rhythm dance. 6 beats of music in basic and 8 in box timing.
Rumba is a Single/Double rhythm dance. 8 beats of music.
Tango is a Single/Double rhythm dance and also uses a blank unit for the last two beats. 8 beats of music.
East Coast Swing is a Triple/Double rhythm dance. 6 beats of music in basic and 8 in Lindy.
West Coast Swing in its fundamental stages is a Double/Triple rhythm dance. 6 beats of music in basic and 8 in whips. However once you have mastered your fundamentals in West Coast Swing you will begin to see that you have the ability to use all rhythms including up to six weight changes in two beats of music. This is known as an extended syncopation.
Waltz is different in the fact that we dance to 3/4 timing music. The dancer steps on every beat of music counting to six and then starts over again.

* Nightclub Two Step * does not consist of double and single rhythms as some people think because of taking lessons from teachers who count using double and single rhythm language. I have no problem teaching and counting with quicks and slows in double and single rhythm dances. However when it comes to triple rhythm dances I count 1 a 2 – 3 a 4,  triple step – triple step, or take three steps – take three steps. All of these methods have three syllabuses indicating three weight changes. We teach our students that there are two beats of music in a slow and one beat in a quick while teaching them country two step, Foxtrot, Rumba, Tango, Salsa, etc. That is because they are double and single rhythm dances. Four Quicks and two Slows equal 8. You do the math. Quick=1 Quick=1 Slow=2 – Quick=1 Quick=1 Slow=2, equals 8 beats of music.  There are only 4 beats in a Nightclub Two Step. Numbers are universal. I refuse to teach my students that there are 2 beats of music in a slow but then tell them it doesn’t hold true in Nightclub Two Step. Running the Ballroom program at PLU many of my students there play, read, and write music. That would never fly with them.

How is energy applied to dance?

Skippy Blair & April Morrow Golden State Dance Teacher Association

Skippy Blair & April Morrow
Golden State Dance Teacher Association

The law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be changed into different forms. Kinetic energy is energy possessed by a body by virtue of its movementPotential energy is the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position or state. Each dancer in the partnership contains its own ability of potential energy or kinetic energy. If you are stepping on beat 1 and then stopping and then stepping on beat 2 and then stopping you are using potential energy. It looks and feels very choppy, requires more work and will leave you feeling tired quickly. Depending on your level of dance you may have not yet come to recognize kinetic energy (constant flow). I teach my students using the Universal Unit System designed by Skippy Blair. This system teaches dancers to use kinetic energy by having a constant flow of movement utilizing the space between the down beats and the up beats. Kinetic energy is when there exist a constant flow in your movement. The space between the notes are known as (& a). Energy is transferred between objects, bodies, and matter. Ever wonder why it is so cold when you first enter the studio and then within just a few minutes of dancing the room has heated up? Our movement creates motion in molecules in the air and causes them to heat up, known as thermal energy.

The common problems in partner dancing can be avoided or resolved by better understanding and becoming in tune with the flow of energy between partners. Here are some example to help leads and follows understand their roles better:

  • When one or the other partner stops kinetic energy, this causes extra work or energy to be generated. Not only do you have to restart the energy but also the two bodies have to come to figure out how that new energy will be initiated.  Even When deliberately stopping to hit a break in the music each partner is responsible to maintain the flow of energy. The “stop” is just an illusion.
  • If there is an unequal balance of energy between partners, this results in one or the other to arrive in an unintended position, such as unbalanced, over extended, too close, off set too much, etc.
  • Leaders often “over-lead”, because they don’t realize that the other half of the partnership has an equal responsibility and ability to resolve, maintain, and even initiate energy or because they are dancing with a follow that doesn’t realize their own responsibility and or ability in the dance.
  • Followers often under participate, because they don’t realize their personal responsibility in the partnership or the energy required by the leader to request, guide, and create figures and patterns. I hear ladies all the time say they don’t need dance lessons. They can dance just fine as long as they have a strong lead. I will boldly and candidly state that ladies with this thought process DO NOT understand dance! Trained follows DO NOT require a strong lead nor do they enjoy strong leads.
  • Dancers often expend too much energy and tire quickly when not focusing on the minimum energy required by using the space between the notes (i.e. & a) and keeping the flow of energy through out the partnership.
  • Many struggles between dance partners are also related to having differing opinions about what “lead” and “follow” roles are and what those terms mean within the dance. Next article I will focus more regarding the responsibilities for leads and follows as individual dancers enabling a stronger partnership. For now try to stay focused on the responsibility of your own role as this will change each partnership for the best.

A Tribute to Skippy Blair

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