Dance is the expression of feelings when listening to music. The music makes you want to dance and move your body to express how the music is making you feel. Without the music we are not dancing, we’re simply moving.
Each piece of music has a beat or pulse. The steady repetitive pattern which gives us the timing of the music. As dancers we either move freestyle, (expressing freedom of movement) or with structure (in a dance routine), or in partnered social dancing we lead and follow (within a framework of figures).
No matter how we move, we are directed by the rhythm and eventually the count of each phrase. Each phrase has an opening and ending place within the pulse and then repeats itself. This is often known as the Dancer’s count, Dancer’s bar or Dancer's measure.
For example: musically, the piece might be written in 4/4 timing (having 4 counts per bar) but as dancers we think of 2 musical bars as 1 phrase, thus having 8 counts to work with.
Some people can naturally and instinctively find the pulse or rhythm in the music, but they don’t always succeed in moving their bodies to this in a structured way.
Others may be blessed with not only hearing the pulse but also being able to move their bodies on demand in time with the pulse.
But what happens if you can’t hear the pulse? You won’t be alone. Learning to find the pulse (steady beat) and then finding where the phrasing is (1 to 4, 1 to 8 etc) is crucial for dancers, and not everyone can do it instinctively. Listening to many types of music, taking some music theory lessons and practising the counting are all exercises for dancers.
There are some excellent guides on Youtube for helping you to understand the music. Especially Don Baarns 'Music4Dancers' here:
Being on time is imperative for the performance of the dance, whether you dance alone or with a partner, but in partner or team dancing it is even more important as you won’t be able to perform your part if you are out of time from the other dancers.
You might have seen many critiques on televised dance shows saying the dancer ‘lost their timing’ which simply means that they were not moving their bodies on the correct beat or pulse of the music that should coincide with the move they were executing.
With social partner dancing especially such as Latin or Ballroom learning to dance on time is imperative. Social partner dancing simply doesn't work when you're not on time. In particularly fast partner dancing such as Salsa it even becomes dangerous to try to execute moves if your partner is not in time with you as you will literally pull there arms out of their sockets. The music is giving us clear instruction as to where the arms and feet should be on each beat of the 1 - 8 phrase so that we move safely through the move.
So, if you want to learn to dance, first you have to listen to the music, learn to find the pulse or rhythm, then to find each phrase and eventually to move your body through the step patterns on the correct beat of each phrase.