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Vitality in your performance

Accents in music and dance

What would you do first when your dancing feels monotone, inaccurate or boring? You will probably try to create changes that are more dynamic, but with conscious application of movement accents you can really invigorate your movements and make your dance performance more vital. 

Yes, to accent means to emphasise, but the ways to emphasise certain beats in the bar in music can be very different. From dynamic accents (also called metric, rhythmical or percussive) which we perceive as louder to agogic accents which attract your attention because the sound duration is longer. And there are also tonic accents which you can acknowledge because the pitch of the sound is higher. 

All those different accents in music can inspire you to treat your movements with more obvious changes in time, muscle toning and flow. Changes of the speed of your movement result in different movement accents (impulse, impact, rebound, swing, percussive, constant, vibration and suspension). Similar to punctuation in verbal language or accents in music, accents in movement organise the energy and make the articulation clearer and therefore easier to understand.

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Movement accents

You create a movement accent by deciding where you put the speed and how you regulate it. 

Impulse has the greatest speed (accent) at the beginning of the movement and then it decelerates over time. It feels somehow close to the body. For example, you can dance Botafogo with inserting an impulse accent on the part weight (second step on quarter beat). You can then use the part of the whole beat which follows to create deceleration. Impulse is sudden like shooting stars. 

Impact is the opposite of impulse. The greatest speed is achieved at the end of the movement. The movement speed accelerates throughout its duration. Similar to the punch of a boxer you can conclude some movements with maximal speed at the end of the movement.

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Rebound is an impact followed by an impulse and so merged into one movement. Imagine playing with a yoyo when you were a kid or admiring raindrops rebounding from the pavement. You can try dancing your kicks in Jive with this accent. You can also create a beautiful rebound from your partner using Guapacha timing in Cha Cha Cha or rocks in Samba. 

Swing is an accent that is centrally placed, meaning that the speed or the movement is the highest in the centre of the swing action. The beginning and the ending of a swinging movement are suspended. The dropping of the body weight occurs in the middle of the movement. Swing falls into gravity. You can visualise a club swing of a golfer, or yourself being on the swing as a child, being the happiest at the highest point. Suspension is wondering. 

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Percussive movement accent puts emphasis on every movement, and thus creates a clear rhythmic structure. Like a good drummer you can dance many movements with percussive accents, authentic Samba no pé for example. You can express percussive accents with many body parts: feet, hips, shoulders, torso... 

Vibration is a movement accent with an irregular speed, like trembling, shaking actions. Belly dancers express these movement accents beautifully. Vibration is very present in religious African dances, like the dance of the goddess Yemaya, portraying the trembling of the sea. 

Suspension is a very powerful accent as it affects the attention of the onlooker. Because the movement decelerates in speed, nearly stops, there is a zone of expectation, wonder… until the next movement inevitably results from it. Promenade or Hover are perfect figures to apply this accent, as is any movement that slows down with the purpose to stop, postpone or withhold attention. 

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Many movements are constant and do not have accents or changes of any kind. They are controlled throughout their duration and flow, like raindrops sliding down the window. In music that would correspond to term legato – smooth and continuous. 

Mind you create a relationship of speed changes. Be aware how one accent relates to another in order that your movement phrase feels as an organic unit. 

The following video is a clear example of how movement accents spice up the articulation. Demonstrated by Klemen Prasnikar and Sasha Averkieva.

Accents in music

Listening to various genres of music can inspire your movement articulation. Great percussionists like Tito Puente or masters on piano like Chopin can open new perceptions for you. 

Accents in music are all about which beats are important and which are not. The important ones get stressed, emphasised and therefore they feel stronger and louder. This is how you perceive the bar duration and the number of beats in the bar. The so-called dynamic accents help you with your orientation in time, you can feel the beginning and the ending of the musical bar.

In Western music in 4/4 time signature (bar with four beats) the strong accent normally occurs on beat one and the medium accent is on beat three. In Swing music the dynamic accents (also called percussive) occur on the second and fourth beats in the bar and this kind of placement of accents already creates a different groove. 

But there are also other kind of accents which help musicians to articulate in a unique way. Tonic accent is an emphasis on notes which are higher in pitch as opposed to being higher in volume. Sounds of percussive instruments are full of contrasts in pitch and colour. Listen to the Cha Cha Cha conga pattern, the slash on the 2nd beat is higher than open tones on 4+ or 3+ which are lower in pitch and longer in duration.

Percussionist Michael de Miranda - You can discover more about percussive instruments, their rhythms and accents in a course 'Authentic Latin Percussion'  (SnappDance app - iOS:

Agogic accent is produced by slight durational extensions of beats. In movement, you can portray this with suspension.

Agogic accent also involves acceleration, deceleration, delaying, tempo rubato, practically everything that opposes the rigid basic meter and tempo. For dancers this is the most inspirational musical accent as it can be portrayed in movement through numerous regulations of time stretching and compressing.

Accents in music are guides towards how a particular note should be approached. Musician use Italian expressions: staccatto (short, detached), marcato (to be played louder), tenuto (pressed, lengthened), legato (smooth, connected). 

Now imagine how you would do that in your movement. A musician would play a staccato note short or detached. You can react to that kind of sound with sudden actions, like your feet are on fire. When musicians play tenuto, they hold and lean to a note for its full value, kind of milking the entire value. You can dance to legato music with a sense of holding the energy in the body and lengthening the movement duration to the maximum. Legato notes are played smoothly, with no gaps between the notes that are tied up, connected. For a dancer legato means to really connect the movements between one another. 

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Sometimes dancers and teachers confuse dynamic accents in music with accents in movement, they even try to mimic the stress given to the sound (loudness in music) with stronger, more impacted movements on accented beats.

Trust movement accents as they belong to the world of dance and they result from changes you make in time. Take Jive for instance. You know that in Jive music the dynamic accents are on beats two and four. If you dance Chasse over the beats one and two (1a2), the movement accent called swing will happen between beats one and two, there the speed will be the highest. Most of beat two as the ending of the swing movement accent will therefore be a suspension, deceleration of the speed. 

A conscious application of movement accents can contribute significantly to the articulation of your movement phrases. They will help you create excitement, wonder, effects, illusions, surprise... You will spice up your performance your way, giving it your touch and signature. 

Source of inspiration

Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994