Why do modern dance schools sometimes count in eighths, as in 5 6 7 8 ?

My question is really whether they are translating 4/4 into 8/8?

Can a time signature be written
8 /8 ?

          1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ||

It seems easier to count in eighths, because there is less 'translation' of the eighth as '&' such as :


          1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  ||

I would anticipate the real answer would be 'it's a music tradition'.

  • Generally, dance counting is quite different from musician counting, because it serves very different purposes. – Todd Wilcox May 23 at 17:54
  • Well then, may I ask what your answer would be yo my question, if I had omitted my opening question, and had only referred to pisno? – Miguel May 23 at 17:59
  • Counting in 8 means it's easier to determine which count something happens on. Clearer to say ' 6' than 'the and of 3' – Tim May 23 at 18:04

In my experience working with dancers, they usually count quarter notes, so it would be more like 8/4 than 8/8.

But the choreographer determines the counting themselves - they aren't referring to the score, so they will choose whichever pulse they feel regardless of what is notated.

Lastly, the reason that they count in groups of eight is because most choreography is designed in eight count groupings, and the reason for this is two-fold: (1) musical phrases are often 2 or 4 measures long (which is 8 or 16 counts) and (2) tradition (as you guessed).

One clarification from your original question: this tendency pre-dates modern dance and is also observed in ballet.

  • I find dancers tend to count steps and don't count when they are not stepping. So if they have an 8 step pattern done over one 4/4 measure, they will often count to 8. For instance, counting the cha-cha might be done 1 2 3 & 4 or even worse 1 2 cha cha cha by dancers. – Todd Wilcox May 23 at 18:04
  • Interesting Todd, so could piano music actually be written as 8/4, such as : 12345678, where each number = 1/4 note value? Very interesting, because fir me, looking at pulse, 8/4 could translate into 123 456 78 ||. Nice. – Miguel May 23 at 18:07
  • 1
    That's usually 2,3,cha-cha,Cha! (In 4/4 the final Cha! in on the One-count. Still in foxtrot the count is either slow-slow-quick-quick repeated or interspersed with slow-quick-quick or quick-quick-quick-quick and a few others. Note that in foxtrot (and in swing) the dance steps do not match bar-lines. The 8-beat count usually cover two 4/4 measures (unless one is playing from a 1920s score in which case it's one measure written in eighth notes and notated in 4/4.) – ttw May 23 at 18:25

8/8 and 4/4 are two different time signatures and would normally be played with two different feels. 4/4 has a repeating four beat pattern where the beats are stressed in a certain way. 8/8 would have a different stress pattern.

The point of counting that way in 4/4 time is not to be a clever way to count out 8 points in time, it's to make it so you can count a wide range of points in time. If you need to count 16th notes in 4/4 time you can count

1 ee & uh 2 ee & uh 3 ee & uh 4 ee & uh

Which is a lot easier than counting

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

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