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Understanding an Anacrusis

Many dancers who don’t have much of a musical background may not know what an anacrusis is, or how to dance with it, but, this term is critical in understanding when to start dancing!

First off, what is this anacrusis?

Also known as a “pickup”, it is a note or a couple of notes that start a musical phrase that does not begin on the downbeat, or beat one, of the music.  A lot of slow waltz music incorporates this idea throughout their phrases. Here is an example of a very popular waltz, The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II.  Below is the violin part, which has the melody.   Here, you will be able to see the pickup, which occurs at the end of measures four and eight.

Why is it important for me to listen for them?

Listening for and recognizing an anacrusis will help you find where you start your steps, whether it’s six for waltz, or eight for other dances.  It will sound like the beginning of a musical phrase or idea, but it won’t line up with the bar lines. It will also make you look and feel like a much more seasoned dancer to yourself and others!  

If you start the youtube video provided in the link in the first section at 1:30, you will be able to count along with the music so you have a visual aid while listening for the pickup note.  

This is especially important to leaders since they facilitate when to start moving to the music.  

How do I recognize one?

Take a moment before you start dancing to feel when the emphasis occurs in the music.  Count in your head to see if your counts line up with where the emphasis lies. An anacrusis is usually quieter than where the downbeat occurs.  

One of the most common examples of songs with a pickup is “Happy Birthday”!  As you can see, the word “happy” appears on the third beat of measure one and three, but you know it is the beginning of the musical phrase because it’s also the beginning of the sentence.  And, if you remember from elementary school in music class when your teacher would sit at the piano and accompany the students singing happy birthday, you would know that the teacher would come in on the start of the word “birthday,” AKA the downbeat of the next measure, AKA when you would start dancing!  

When you listen and really understand the music, you will watch your fluency in dancing explode! Stay tuned for more posts about how learning about music will improve your dancing! 

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