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In music, syncopation is the stressing of normally unstressed beat in a bar. For example, in 4/4 time, the first and third beats are normally stressed; if instead the second and fourth beats are stressed and the first and third unstressed, the rhythm is syncopated.

The stress can also shift by less than a whole beat so it falls on an off-beat, as in the following example where the stress in the first bar is shifted by a quaver (or eighth-note):

Syncopation is used on occasion in many music styles, including classical music, but is is a fundamental constant presence in such styles as ragtime and jazz. In the form of a backbeat, syncopation is used in virtually all contemporary popular music.

Syncopation in dancing has two meanings.
  1. The first one matches the musical one: stepping on (or otherwise emphacizing) an unstressed beat. For example, ballroom Cha cha is a syncopated dance in this sense, because the basic step "breaks on two
  2. The other meaning is improvised or rehearsed execution of step patterns that have more rhythmical nuances than "standard" step patterns. It takes advanced dancing skill to dance syncopations in this sense. Advanced dancing of West Coast Swing makes heavy use of syncopations.

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