Rock is heavily linked to all the big names in the musical industry, like Elvis Presley for example. The King of Rock 'n' Roll quickly rose to fame in the 1950s thanks to his ground-breaking hip moves. So much so, they even earned him the nickname "Elvis the Pelvis".
His swivelling-hips and quick feet didn't just make him a star, they changed the way people danced. Classic for a reason, rock and roll dancing remains extremely popular today. To make an impact on the dance floor, you only need to know how to put a few basic moves together.
Are you itching to shake your tail feather with a few rock and roll dance moves?
If so, just take our tips to make it happen. Whether it's solo, with a partner or as part of a community class, why not give rock and roll dance lessons a try?
Or if you're looking for something a bit different, check out urban dance!
What are the Different Types of Rock n Roll Dancing?
Rock and Roll dancing is not just one set of moves — it includes several styles of modern dances. For example, there's a difference between 4-beat and 6-beat rock, but that's only the start.
Even though rock 'n' roll dance was born in the 50s, some 6-beat rock dances, such as swing (also known in Australia as The Jive and Lindy Hop) and bebop were originally performed to swing music, a more lively branch of jazz, more than 10 years before rock n roll dancing hit our shores.
You can see their influence in a lot of rock dances.
Rock n roll dancing, born out of the musical genre of the same name, is actually four-beat rock — a dance for couples with a 4-beat rhythm.
Traditionally characterised by the sound of the electric guitar, rock has a very fast tempo. It makes sense, then, that rock and roll dancing is fast and requires rhythm.
Rock dances can be categorised into 4 types:
- 4-beat Rock
Also known as 'four on the floor' or 'four to the floor', 4-beat is easier to learn than the 6-beat style, so is perfect for beginners. With simple legwork, you can focus on letting your arms do all the work. Simply tap to the beat with your hands and do arc movements with your arms between two moves. Any kind of rhythmic music works for this dance style which is perfect for fun community events.
- 6-beat Rock
This is the classic style taught in dance schools. Less straightforward, it's a bit trickier for the completely inexperienced beginner. Legwork is very important. Steps are made in a 6-count pattern to 8-beat music. There are plenty of steps involved in rock dancing and you need to know them inside out so you can move smoothly to a very fast-paced rhythm.
- Swing Rock
Swing rock is a variation of 6-beat rock, characterised by its energetic leg kicks. We can say that swing rock jump lies somewhere between 6-beat rock and acrobatic rock.
- Acrobatic Rock
Strongly linked to gymnastics, acrobatic rock is a sport in itself. Partners perform acrobatics, holds, lifts and other technical moves. They are required to relax their hands depending on the move.
Want to try some other movement genres as well? You might be interested in tap dancing!
Rock and Roll Dance Basics
As with any new skill, beginners have to master the basics first. If you've enrolled in rock and roll dance lessons, and have never danced before, don't worry because your teacher will start you at the beginning.
See the different adult dance classes near me here.
As mentioned before, 6-beat rock involves a pattern of 6 steps within 8 beats.
To help you find the right rhythm, you should count like this in your head: one, two, three "AND" four, five "AND" six. (The "AND" allows you to do the 7th and 8th rest beats more easily.) Alternatively, some people may teach the rhythm as: walk, walk, triple step, triple step (where each syllable is a beat).
Another important point is that rock 'n' roll dancing movements are contained within an imaginary line so as not to disturb the other dancers. You must, therefore, bear this in mind and practise dancing in a limited space.
Are you confused?
Let's go back to the most fundamental step:
- During the first 2 beats (the rock step), dancers simultaneously move apart while moving their left foot back (walk, walk).
- They perform a chassé to the left (triple step).
- Then perform one chassé to the right (triple step).
Once you've got the hang of this, you're ready to progress to the next steps which include:
- more complex moves
- how to turn your dance partner
- adding your own style to the dance, by replacing set moves with your own improvised footwork.
In 4-beat rock, one of the pair (traditionally the 'man') leads the other (traditionally the 'woman'). However, 6-beat rock requires perfect cohesion between both so it's important to practise together as regularly as possible because both partners must know the steps and instinctively know how to move together.
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What is the Best Dancing Music?
The best dancers seem wild, untamed; flinging limbs about as though independent of their body and smiling all the while.
Experienced dancers make each move look natural and easy. However, clever choreography guides every tuck, slide and roll which, put together, take oodles of time to practise and master.
While knowledge of technique and regular practice is a must, one must also have a sense of rhythm to be able to execute all those intricate steps to the music’s fast tempo.
Listening to music is the best way to find your rhythm but obviously, it needs to be the right music for either the 6-beat or 4-beat dances.
Check for dance classes Melbourne on Superprof.
Songs for 6-Beat Dancing
In the Mood: as its name implies, Glenn Miller’s famous tune will put you in the proper mood for dancing. The opening bars are a call to get on the dance floor and we dare anyone to try to keep still while it plays.
Watch a video on YouTube. The musicians can't help but move; even Glenn Miller himself frantically taps his foot as he plays his slide trombone. You might think the people on the dance floor don't look so energetic but bear in mind the crowded dance floor and the restrictive clothing.
Yes, clothing plays a part in your ability to dance and the spectacle you create; we’ll talk about that a bit further on in this article.
Sing, Sing, Sing: by Benny Goodman, this song is of a similar vein to In the Mood with a long intro prior to the whole orchestra joining in. Again, we dare you to stop yourself from moving along, driven by the energy of this ditty.
Over time, musical influences started to meld and dancers became more and more inventive, energetic and daring with their moves.
Artists responsible for creating some of the most popular 6-beat dancing music include:
- Danny and the Juniors inviting you to dance At The Hop
- The Everly Brothers trying to Wake Up Little Susie
- Little Richard enticing us with Tutti Frutti
- Bill Haley and the Comets challenging us to Rock Around the Clock as well as getting on our Shake, Rattle and Roll
As mentioned before, Elvis Presley produced a trove of music to dance to.
Jailhouse Rock never fails to cause people to pogo their way to the dance floor at any event ... for a good reason!
It’s not just the visual of The King swinging his pelvis around in time to the beat that spurs us on; the song itself has proven, over time, to be simply irresistible!
In fact, the song is unusual in that the lyrics determine the 6/6 beat rather than the drums. Instead of listening for each downbeat, it is better to focus on Elvis’ rising and falling tones while he sings to get your timing right.
Another great Elvis song to dance to is All Shook Up. Again, the lyrics are easier to follow than the beat ... possibly because of the greater emphasis given to them than the backing music.
Depending on the version you listen to, Hound Dog, our third Elvis pick, could be a bit slower-paced but it is still one of the best tunes to dance to, especially for beginners who are just starting to learn.
Check for dance classes near me on Superprof.
Awesome Tunes for 4-Beat Dancing
The disco era was short-lived; some say mercifully so. Nevertheless, that brief span turned out some of the best 4-beat dance music ever recorded.
Some might say that the very voice of the era was projected by the Brothers Gibb, better known as the BeeGees.
Saturday Night Fever, on the surface a film about the liberating nature of dance, is filled with 4/4 beat BeeGee tracks — perfect for practising with.
Stayin’ Alive is not only is it the anthem of the disco era but it often referred to by people teaching first aid and CPR. Why? Because it maintains a perfect tempo and beat!
Other BeeGee tunes on the movie soundtrack include Night Fever and Jive Talking.
Interesting movie trivia: John Travolta and Karen Gorney rehearsed one of their dance scenes to a different song altogether but the producers could not afford to buy the rights from the original singer so they dubbed in a BeeGees song that had approximately the same tempo.
The Gibbs brothers rocketed to worldwide fame while the original song’s performer to this day remains relatively unknown outside of America.
One feature common to all of these songs is something called ‘the money beat’: a dum-DUM, dum-DUM drum score that Michael Jackson was particularly adept at dancing to.
In fact, Jackson's song, Billie Jean, epitomises the 4/4 beat along with the upper body movement and minimal footwork that characterises this type of rock dancing.
But all of those songs are decades-old!
For a slightly more modern but hugely fun song with a 4/4 beat to dance to, you might try Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake.
Like other songs already mentioned, you will hear a drum intro that acts as a call to the dance floor. The music video features minimal footwork and lots of upper body movement – in fact, some of the dancers’ feet aren’t even shown! Everyone dances solo until the end when they all get together for a synchronised dance under the bridge.
By contrast, Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon is shown danced by a couple. It still embodies the same characteristics though — mellow song intro, minimal footwork, lots of upper body moves and the 'money beat', albeit accelerated.
When you're ready to try moving a bit faster, this is a great song to do it to.
Any movie soundtrack or music video featuring the type of dance where your footwork is less important than your display – a factor essential to 4-beat dancing — could easily be used to practice your moves.
Obviously, there’s lots of music out there you can use to learn rock and roll dancing; your dance teacher will most likely introduce you to more great selections!
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Master all the Moves by Taking Rock and Roll Dance Lessons
If you want to learn correct moves and technique, it is best to enlist the help of a dance teacher.
You can enrol in an intensive course of rock and roll dance lessons to pick up the basics or take classes over a long period of time. Regular practice at a specialised dance school is required to improve quickly. Moreover, common pitfalls and incorrect technique can be avoided with the guidance of your instructor.
Where can you find a suitable class?
Try searching the web for 'dance classes near me'. You can also search for a specific location, or specify 'online' if you want to narrow the selection down quickly. Failing that, if you want to search for a particular style, like rock n roll dancing or cha cha classes, then add them to your internet search.
Here's a few places to help you start your search:
- All About Swing — based in Sydney, this company offers classes in rockabilly, cha cha, swing, Lindy Hop and, of course, rock'n'roll. Pay casually, or get a discount with a class pass, and you can also book in for wedding dance lessons.
- Vic Rock — check their website for a huge list of rock dance classes and schools in Victoria, from Geelong Jukebox Rockers to the Bendigo Rockin' 50s Club, as well as a number of private tutors.
- Jitterbugz Dance Academy — found in Adelaide and Hobart, they specialise in swing and rock.
- Southside Rock'n'Roll Club — based in Canberra, they have been operating since 1990 and hold regular weekend events as well as a range of classes.
Don't forget to check platforms like MeetUp, Gumtree and, of course, Superprof to find dance groups, online workshops and teachers in your local area.
Having a solid foundation beforehand is essential for rock dancing and helps you advance from beginners level to intermediate quickly. Once you've mastered the basic steps and learned a few simple moves, you'll continue to progress while gradually refining your dance style.
Rock 'n' roll dance has countless variations. There are set sequences but one of the best things, once you know these, is the scope to add your own touch.
To take lessons, check if there are any of the following near you:
- dance schools
- associations offering classes in ballroom dancing or any style you choose
- private dance teachers
Taking classes at a dance school is perfect if you want to learn and make friends at the same time. Many dance schools have been around for years and have excellent reputations but smaller studios can also be a wonderful find. Both options tend to operate on a term by term basis, meaning you purchase sessions in bulk, often for 6-8 week blocks.
Some people might prefer to do a one-off lesson, an intensive but short-term course or individual classes prior to a special event, such as a bachelor party or the first dance at your wedding. It doesn't hurt to contact the school and ask if these kinds of lessons are available, even if they aren't mentioned on the website or advertising material.
For personalised dance training, private tuition another option. With a private teacher, progress happens at your own pace and you learn according to your level.
For example, with Superprof, you can find dance teachers based throughout Australia who offer every style you can imagine.
Hourly rates vary from less than $20 an hour to over $80 an hour and are dependent on the teacher's experience and qualifications, as well as the type of dance offered. Some teachers come to your home while others give classes from their own dance studio, or even online. There is something available to suit every student's needs and budget.
Comfort and Style — What to Wear
Choreography and rhythm are the technical aspects of dancing to rock music — but presentation is everything!
Your clothing choices are probably going to be dictated by the type of dancing you do. If you’re dancing with a partner — your outfits should match, not clash.
If you’re dancing to 6-beat rock, the focus is on your legs and feet.
A close-fitting shirt would be suitable, possibly with flared sleeves, however, they should be cuffed to prevent accidentally missing your partner’s hands or arms, or worse — becoming tangled up inside excess material!
For the more informal 4-beat dances, looser fit tops would work well, perhaps also with flared sleeves to better show off your arm movements.
Here again, inverses hold true. If you’re dancing 6-beat, a knee-length skirt with a bit of a flare would be in order — it should move well and accent your hip and step movements.
For people wearing pants, close-fitting (but not restrictive) attire will show off your intricate footwork.
For 4-beat dancing, what you wear on your bottom half is not as important, provided it is comfortable and breathes well. As long as you won’t overheat, pretty much anything you choose to wear would work.
For any type of partner dancing, it is recommended to coordinate your outfits to give a visually appealing presentation.
It's all about the slip factor.
Acrobatic dancing demands a shoe with a sole that ‘grabs’ the dance floor, whereas, in 6-beat dancing, you need the opposite effect.
Slick-soled shoes are necessary to give the impression of gliding across the dance floor, so you should shop for shoes with leather soles.
When it comes to heels, a low heel or even a no-heel shoe is essential. The important criteria are that your shoes are sturdy enough to withstand vigorous use and will remain securely on your feet during your kicks, flips and twirls.
An ankle strap or something that goes over the bridge of your foot is always a good idea.
Selecting footwear for 4-beat dancing is, of course, easier. As there is little footwork involved in this type of dancing, you won't be out of place even wearing your most comfortable trainers!
No Partner? No Worries
You want to learn rock moves, but you don't have a partner?
Rock and roll dance requires a partner, but just because you don't have one doesn't mean you can't start learning.
Try asking your friends and family. These days, the traditional 'one man and one woman' partnership is not even a thing. In your family and friendship groups, there is bound to be someone who'd love to learn as much as you.
Practise the basics at home and then venture out. If you're too shy to enrol in a class by yourself, build up your confidence first with online classes and websites. It's now so easy to find step-by-step tutorials to learn rock dances. They are available for all levels: beginners, intermediate and expert. If you're on a tight budget, YouTube is a brilliant option to start with.
Attend community and social dance events. Remember, to learn to dance, you have to dance. Grab some willing friends and go along and just have fun. Many of these events have representatives from community dance associations or schools in attendance. It's the perfect way to meet like-minded people and find out more about different options.
Downloading mobile apps allows you to practise your steps at home or away. Have a look at sites like Meetup as well, as they often put up posts advertising social dance events and regular community gatherings and classes.
To learn rock dancing, any of the above methods will be helpful. From salsa classes to learning the basics of ballroom dancing, the most important thing is to have fun.
Everything Rock 'n' Roll — Festivals
It may well be that your passion for the dance moves has spurred a fascination for everything else associated with the rock 'n' roll era. Or perhaps it was your love of 'the 50s' that piqued your interest in the music and dance of that era. Either way, if you can't get enough of 'old-time rock 'n' roll', Australia is the place to be because it seems many people don't want to let go of this era.
While 2020 has been labelled by some people as the year of the cancelled rock and roll festival, events planners have already been busy reimagining and planning more for 2021 and the years to follow.
Wherever you are in Australia, at different times of the year, you are going to find 'rockabilly' style festivals that fulfil your desire for nostalgia. There will be a mix of music, cars, dancing and fashion — something for everyone.
Ballarat Rockabilly Festival
This 3-day event in February is all about nostalgia. You can drool over vintage cars, browse and buy vintage and retro clothing and wares, sit back and listen to bands or get up and dance the night away at a street party.
The historic town of Ballarat is the ideal location to take yourself and your family back in time for a weekend away.
Cooly Rocks On
Claiming to be one of the biggest 50s and 60s nostalgia festivals in Australia, Cooly Rocks On spreads out over 2 kilometres through the Queensland–New South Wales border towns of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads.
Lining the beachfront streets you'll find over 1000 vintage and classic cars, hundreds of retro clothing and craft stalls and 50s and 60s vintage-style food to tempt every tastebud. And, of course, there is plenty of music and dancing to be had.
You can attend the 2-week long outside festival itself for free, but inside displays and showcase events are ticketed and an event pass, giving you access to all the shows throughout the 3-day inside event, will cost you $125.
Kurri Kurri Nostalgia Festival
Held in a small township in the middle of New South Wales wine country (Hunter Valley), this annual festival draws crowds from all over Australia. With bucketloads of free 50s and 60s inspired entertainment, you can sit back and chill or dance your socks off. In between songs, there are vintage and hot rod cars to admire, stalls to drool over and buy from, and even a retro-style sideshow alley!
Watch the dance demonstrations, try your hand at some impromptu classes or even enter a fun talent quest or a 'best dressed' competition.
Held in March, most of the shows are free, but some inside events are ticketed.
Boogie Down South
If you fancy a trip to the gorgeous Margaret River region in Western Australia, make sure you go during September so you don't miss this wonderful dance festival. Four days of non-stop social dancing events, with live bands, classes and workshops for all levels from beginners to experienced dancers.
Get right into the mood the minute you walk into the beautifully restored Cowaramup Hall, originally built in the 1930s.
Victor Harbor Rock'n'Roll Festival
An alternative for September, on the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, Victor Harbor hosts a weekend of live music, two dance floors, memorabilia, vehicle displays and market stalls. Something for everyone in the family.
If you're looking to escape the creeping chill down south, head up to the far north in April for Townsville's Swing and Rock'n'Roll Dance Festival. They feature Lindy Hop and other workshops with professional teachers and an aerial and acrobatic rock workshop for beginners. There's a costume party with a 'prom' theme and plenty of social and community fun jive and swing opportunities.
A ticketed event, you can purchase individual class tickets for $10 each, or get a weekend full-festival pass for $125.
Victorian Rock'n'Roll Dance State Championships
Not a festival as such, this event still draws a crowd to witness the very best dancing Victoria has. As a bonus, in between competition events, there is live music and social dancing for everyone.
Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.
~ Elvis Presley ~
A passion for dance may potentially lead you to learn about different styles popular throughout the years in Australia, and even enrol in classes for Argentine tango, Zumba, the waltz or even hip-hop!