Give a little more

As I noted in an earlier post, there are a lot of pattern dancers out there – people who know the beginning, middle, and end of what’s next before it even begins. They don’t necessarily connect with the music or adapt their patterns to fit what they’re hearing.

This is where pattern extensions come in. A pattern extension is when a dancer adds an even number of beats to a movement to either delay its conclusion or delay the start of the next movement. They generally fall into three buckets or types:

  • Repeated movements, where the partners’ positions relative to one another are kept the same but they keep moving;
  • Stopping, where the partners hold still for a period of time; and
  • Continuous movement, where the partners add movements in a fluid way to keep moving and delay the end of the pattern.

Aside from executing them clearly and comfortably, the trick, of course, is to use these pattern extensions where the music calls for them. Repeated movements (e.g. continuous whip, walks, side-to-side grooving, etc.) are best applied where – you guessed it – the music repeats, either lyrically or rhythmically. They are also useful where the music slows down and you want to slow down your dance as well. Stopping is most appropriate when the music stops or drops off in a significant way, either during breaks or as a transition to a lower energy part of the song. And continuous movement is useful to lengthen patterns where the song builds up, so that you keep moving and building while the song does the same. And I often use repeated movements and continuous movements for phrasing, particularly to extend a pattern to end on 1 of a new phrase, rather than ending during the build up to a phrase change.

We often learn pattern extensions by learning patterns or amalgamations that have extensions in them, but learning to view these tools separately and apply them where relevant is a valuable skill to have – for both leaders and followers. Leaders can use them to adjust their patterns to the music, while followers can use them to appropriately interrupt patterns to fit them to the music.

How have you learned pattern extensions? How do you think about them and use them? Teachers, do you teach your students about pattern extensions, and if so, how?

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