Musicality In Dance: What Is It? Can It Be Taught?

Musicality
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What Is Musicality?

Musicality in dance has two main components. Receptivity and Creativity.

Musical receptivity is ones ability to receive, comprehend, be sensitive to, and have a working knowledge of musical concepts like rhythm, tempo, phrasing, and even mood.

Musical creativity (or musical artistry) is the ability to connect with accompanying music, interpret it, or phrase and add movement dynamics that relate to music even in the absence of accompaniment, in a way that is unique or interesting.

Musicality in dance then might be considered a measure or degree to which a dancer is receptive and creative in his translation or rendering of music through movement. It is a key ingredient in a dancer’s display of artistry (more on developing artistry can be found here).

Can Musicality Be Taught?

In a previous blog post I offered my thoughts on How To Develop Musical Awareness In Dance Students. Within the article I shared some reasons why it is important to help your students improve their musical receptivity and offered a few methods to help bridge the gap in experience and increase students’ sensitivity to music at any age.

In the comments Deb, always a thoughtful reader and responder, pondered if teaching musicality was even possible especially for those don’t seem to be born with a musical gene. I’m sure we’ve all had those students that certainly made us wonder! I had to consider what I’d witnessed, eventually weighing the effects of nature versus nurture in my own experiences. This was my answer:

I think that what we consider “natural” ability is mostly learned in a sense, albeit for some very early in life. My son at 2 already displays a very “natural” sense of rhythm and musical awareness however he also heard and felt music and movement from within my body as I taught classes, we dance around our home, music is often a part of our daily routine… Perhaps it goes back to those synapses that people form very early in life, why its best and easiest to learn languages at a very young age for example. Music is another kind of language and those neural pathways are opened through exposure and experience when we are young [sometimes very, very young]. As we get older it may be harder to carve out those pathways, just as it harder to learn a language as one gets older. But I do think it is possible to develop greater musical awareness and comprehension in students with time and exposure (and a willingness on the part of the student since learning is of course a two-way street). Will those that are not “naturals” ever catch up with those that are? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s worth a try.

Though babies show a preference for moving to a rhythm, even in this recent study [Babies are born to dance to the beat - telegraph.co.uk], it seems individuals display varying degrees of accuracy. In thinking more on this topic, I realized that there will always be degrees of potential and talent, which may be either naturally genetic or nurtured very early. Either way, as teachers we can establish greater receptivity in our students by giving them the opportunity to be receptive. We can provide plenty of practice so that they have the tools to expand their musical creativity.

How would you define musicality?
Can musicality be taught?

More thoughts and tips on teaching musicality:

Musicality in performance7 Secrets of Super Performers

“While counting can be important sometimes for finding moments of precision in a dance, musicality in performance is expressed through more than just counting beats. In fact, while counting, it is easy to forget that a beat includes not only the sharp “tap” of a particular rhythm but also the space between those taps, just as all movements include transitions and shifts of weight between desired “shapes” of the body. Exciting and musical performers fill these spaces in the music and movement, not letting the energy or intent drop between shapes or between counts. Enjoyable performers also utilize dynamics in their performance. Resisting “sameness,” as they dance, they incorporate…”

Musicality in jumpingVertically Challenged: Improving Your Jumps

“Awareness of your breath will improve your height and help release excess tension. Also, listen while you’re jumping to the timing and tempo of the music or rhythm accompanying your movement. Try clapping in time with some music, making circles…”

Musicality in choreographyHow To Make Choreography “Your Own”

Tools for connecting movement effort to dynamics and timeTeaching Dynamics: It’s All In The Effort

Encourage a bit of experimentationSet Your iPod to Shuffle

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Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle Suzanne began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. Nichelle holds a BA in dance and is an instructor with more than 17 years experience. She covers dance performance in the Houston area as a freelance writer and balances daily life as a mom to two young children. In June 2012, Nichelle presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content.
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle (admin)

Comments

  1. As it can be learnt, so it can some musicality be taught, but not in its entirety, as it is the dancer’s journey to musicality – others can help, but the understanding, practise and skill forming is from the student.
    You can teach some aspects of improv for example, but the skill forms through doing, feedback etc.

    • Almost every dance skill comes from doing, feedback, etc… not just musicality. So in that respect, almost nothing in dance can be taught in it’s entirety. That said, the teacher can still be instrumental in speeding up the learning process in many different aspects of dance including musicality.

      Those who say “musicality” can’t be taught probably just mean that they don’t know how to teach it or they haven’t seen anyone successfully teach it. If that is the case, they are missing out on some fantastic teachers and classes that could probably improve their dancing. Yes, I believe even championship level dancers/instructors can still improve.

      I think part of the problem stems from having the concept that some people “are musical” and some people “are not musical”. I think this is an incorrect statement. I don’t believe it is possible for someone to “not be musical” (or, “to be musical”, for that matter).

      Instead, I believe

      1. there are varying degrees of musicality (albeit the measuring of someone’s musical ability is subjective to some degree)
      2. this is an important clarification in vocabulary to understand & make in order to improve your musicality at all experience levels
      3. there are varying layers of musicality (the more layers you understand, the more opportunities you have to improve)

      I wrote an entire article about this which explains each of these three beliefs in detail and then talks about how you can use this information to improve your dancing.

      It is too long to post but you can check out the article here:
      https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L1rLZpVt19aMFlIRkjbkgfrAQ2BpimfQczUOe2oXbuI/edit

  2. I think that for some students learning musicality is impossible. That said, I don’t think that it should keep them from dancing if they want to do it. I think there are varying degrees of musicality, but I’m not sure if I believe it is learned or innate. Most likely a combination of both.

    Interesting post!

  3. I did a presentation in school on music through the lifespan. Very cool stuff! Here’s a link to the visual aids from the presentation if you’re interested. If nothing else, you can see the list of references for some great research articles:
    http://web.mac.com/lauren.warnecke/Music_through_the_lifespan/Introduction.html

    Your point about your son goes back to the most widely debated question in philosophy, psychology, biology, etc, etc, etc…..Some people believe that experiences in utero are still influenced by the mother, and therefore fall under the “nurture” category. Since we aren’t genetic researchers, it’s really hard to determine the true role of nature. There is some evidence though that genes can play a role in artistic and creative ability (see Bachner-Melman et. al, 2005)

    In my opinion, any one can learn anything with a good teacher and enough practice. People with “music genes” might be more predisposed to learning musicality more easily or more quickly, but even qualitative things like musicality are just a matter of forming a particular loop in the brain through practice. By saying that it’s impossible to learn musicality, are we also saying that it’s impossible to learn how to find breath in your movement, connection with the audience, or any other qualitative aspect of dance? For me, those things are easy and pirouettes are impossible–but I believe with the right teacher and enough practice I could get better at them. Another point I’d like to make is that learning music makes you better at learning music. You see improvement exponentially once you have some degree of musical “intelligence”. So if we as teachers disregard the students who aren’t as musically inclined because we think it’s impossible, then I guess it probably is. I might recommend to that student that they take up an instrument or music appreciation class and then once they have a foundation make strides to teach them musicality. (Sorry, Catherine, but I have to disagree with you on this one!!!)

  4. We can agree to disagree on this one. :) (But for the record, I never said we should disregard those students or that they should not try to improve.) I think that truly non-musical people are quite rare and that most students can improve with a caring, patient teacher and hard work. But…I will say that in over 22 years of teaching dance, I have seen a handful that just couldn’t do it. And not for lack of trying….

  5. Well, I can’t resist weighing in on this subject (again). And thanks for your kind words, Nichelle. When I was up at the ABT/NTC teacher training last summer, I asked our instructor (and coauthor of the curriculum) Raymond Lukens for his earnest opinion whether musicality can be taught. He paused, and then said, somewhat apologetically, No. But I believe (without putting words into his mouth, of course) that he would encourage even a child who is not especially musical to continue to try to learn, within that child’s own parameters. And the NTC (National Training Curriculum, pioneered at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT) in fact addresses musicality with specific exercises designed to develop it in young children–whose neurons have not yet been pruned away.

    I think musicality, like so many things, can be placed somewhere along a continuum, with those who really struggle hearing the music on one end, and those for whom it comes very naturally on the other (and the rest of us somewhere between those extremes). My students are currently preparing for the ABT/NTC Affiliate exams, where they will be evaluated on (among other things)–you guessed it–musicality. Some of my kids have improved over the course of this academic year, as we have worked on clapping on the downbeat of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures. I have also noted some improvement at times when I merely suggest that they LISTEN–it always surprises me that this comes as an epiphany to some children: the music is not background noise, but is inextricably bound up with the dance.

    The question of whether or how much musicality can be taught is interesting. I currently have two enrollees–sisters–who are hands-down the most musical children in the school; their father happens to be a virtuoso trumpeter and the director of our local jazz orchestra. The children are accomplished at the piano, and the vocabulary of music is simple and natural for them. (Of course, this makes them very easy to teach.) Did they inherit a musical gene? Were they conditioned to be more musical than average in utero? Did they just pick it up from total immersion in it at home? I don’t know. But I do know that they unequivocally hear the phrases and dance with them, where some of their classmates seemingly cannot, or at least cannot with anything approaching the same degree of finesse.

    For fun, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhs2D7JKNdM

    This is a clip of one of the most musical dancers ever (in my humble opinion), Nikolaj Hubbe, dancing a pas de deux with the amazing Wendy Whelan.

    Another provocative post, Nichelle!

    Deb Young

  6. http://joy-in-motion.com/index.php/articles/C12/P1/

    Connected Movement: An Interview with Alex Krebs

    Alex Krebs – an Argentine tango instructor with an emphasis on musicality. Seems like he learnt some of that…

    Some musicality can be taught to anyone. For some, it’ll be harder going learning more, as they’re behind on the learning, understanding, practise that others have had. In the end, for some, it’s too much time to get depp into it. Others, with more practise at an earlier age, can relish in getting their musicality better.

    Another interesting angle is Dr Dance’s take – that many do have some musicality, but that it is not known about, repressed/weak – but there for many.

  7. I love the conversation here. You all make wonderful and completely valid points!

    Though I wrote “either naturally genetic or nurtured very early,” I want to acknowledge this poor word choice because I do actually feel that those who display an innate musicality have more accurately a combination of genetic predisposition and early fostering. As Tom mentioned, it seems possible to me that for some, their “musical gene” may lie relatively dormant or unused. For others, intense nurturing many never totally make up for a lack of musical inheritance.

    In my experience and honestly, relying upon my gut feeling about musicality, most of us sit along the scale with influences of both nature and nurture. That’s why (as in my earlier post) I consider the methods I employ in dance classes to be building awareness rather than teaching musicality. Perhaps the difference is only semantic, however all students (no matter where they are musically) can benefit from increased opportunity to focus on and build an awareness of music as it relates to dance. Also you never know what might be the “a-ha” or breakthrough for a particular student (whether we are talking music, or performance, or technique) so I’m also all for discovering and trying new ways to reach students.

  8. An experiment:
    Ambidextrousness. Can it be taught?
    Using your dominant, write your first name, with your index finger, in comfortably big letters in front of you, as if you were writing on a wall inches away from your face.

    Now try and do it with your non-dominant writing hand’s index finger.
    Now put use bring both index fingers up in front of you, so there a couple of inches apart, concentrate on the dominant finger to spell.

    Does one need to comprehend how to play a piano, to play Mozart? Or how to play a guitar, to play guitar?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r76MLCmAHOg
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd3E8zgqJM4

    Do you need to have musicality to perform musicality?
    Do you need to understand musicality, to enjoy musicality?

    Maybe it’s in part how it’s taught? If a teacher has got a negative mindset of
    “you won’t be able to do it”
    “it’s too hard for mere beginners to pick up on their own”
    “you’re just not good enough”
    “You’re too old”
    “You don’t have the genes for it”
    “Well, you can’t do it now, so you obviously won’t be able to learn how”

    then that’s going to pass to the students.
    Who is to pass judgement on who might or might not be able to learn. To say who can pass through the elite gates of musicality, through divine posession of “the gift”? I think saying a prediction of level of musicality is one thing, but to say someone can’t learn at all is another.

    (ok, i’m being slightly devil’s advocate/stirring the debate here!)

    For me, a title like “Musicality in dance… can it be taught?” sounds a little like linkbait, as the simple answer is yes. You show one case of musicality being taught, and you disprove an argument that it can’t be taught (at all). Then you’re on to shades/standards of musicality.

    Can cooking be taught? Can movement, e.g. walking be taught, learnt, re-learnt? Do I have to have the skill to make a full 5 course meal for 6 before I can cook? It’s a continuum, not a binary have/have not skill. Surely musicality is this too?

    My feeling is that you could teach musicality much faster, to lots of people, if you got the teaching and interaction during teaching, and the practise improved.

    Can you teach musical concepts like rhythm, tempo, phrasing and mood?
    Yes, yes, yes and yes.
    Can you teach interpretation of music, in progressive steps? Yes.

    Maybe some will have a less developed palette of musicality – but there is in the area of dance i’m thinking of, a hell of a lot of benefit from simple musicality understanding, knowledge, and skill.

    Is musicality being taught, or being taught well, or the best it could be?
    Different discussion!

    I think it’d be very interesting to get people involved in accelerated teaching/coaching, to look at the area.

    • Tom, I think the distinction with teaching musicality over teaching something like using your non-dominant hand, walking or any other motor skill is that it is a qualitative skill. Unlike learning a motor skill (where you either do it or you don’t) musicality is a skill that is executed on a sliding scale in combination with a whole bunch of other skills being performed at the same time. But that’s not to say that I don’t agree with you!

      I really believe that musicality can be taught, and similiarly to Nichelle’s theory I think there is a continuum of musicality–how far the dancer can move up on that continuum depends on how much experience and practice the dancer has, how the instructor teaches and how they utilize feedback, genetic predispostions, and the role of the environment (i.e. musical family members, exposure, extracurricular activities, etc.).

      I love how deep this has gotten!

      By the way, concerning ambidextrous-ness, I heard a story on public radio about a guitarist/song writer who developed dystonia and re-taught herself the guitar with her non-dominant hand!

      • Liona Boyd? I just googled it – never heard of the condition before – sounds awful – no real known cause of teh neurological conditions – and so debilitating to person using their hands for their craft.

        Simple heartfelt musicality can be a pretty great thing to have. I have yet to get it myself, but enjoy seeing other dancers with it – and interested in seeing what ways there are to teach and learn it. I’m coming from a beginner salsa dancer position – Maybe in different dance fields musicality is taught in different ways/different ideas on it, and that others from different dance fields would have input on the wider discussion on teaching musicality effectively

  9. Andrew Stone says:

    Musicality can be taught, and its taught in the same way the physical movements of dance are taught.

    The dancer is taught different repeating rhythm structures, Samba, Salsa, Cha-Cha, Waltz, etc.

    Then they are taught non-repeating rhythm structures, a good question is why does Lindy Hop look so different from the Quickstep, but the music is the asme.

    What is syncopation, and how does the Swing dancer use it?

    Then you move onto polyrhythm – why does the Argentine Tango look so very different from Ballroom Tango?

    And so on. . . . .

  10. Hi I am studying my Dipolma at college and I have to cover this subject as part of my final written assignment, I did not know how deep this subject is

  11. Albanaich says:

    If you want a example of musicality in dance check out any Youtube video’s of Melissa Rutz (trained to concert level as a ballet dancer) or Ben Morris

    Here’s an astonishing, informal, improvised piece of dance from Melissa Rutz

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk_17vLycV8

    This is a couple of ex concert ballet dancers doing ballet in a Swing environment

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDtypBWJeUA

    Delicous choreography

  12. Thanks for the article, Nichelle. I think musicality is one of the harder parts of dance for some people. I was talking with a friend last night who has been dancing for a while now and still feels he has not learned that much musicality. I thought this was a shame and I sensed that was his position too.

    I am sure that there is some natural ability in some, which if nurtured somehow from early on, becomes a significant advantage.

    However, I have seen many people go from practically zero to a respectable level. I still consider musicality my biggest weakness in dance, but I know it has improved a lot – the only way was up anyway. Therefore, I know it can be taught, you just need to know how to teach it and how different people might lean it.

    Anyone looking to help people who have no musicality (like I did) improve it, might like to watch a video that I made showing some methods that I used – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dakhS5XaCnU

    It’s good for people who are more visual or tactile than auditory. People like me.

  13. Pierre Henry says:

    Personally I think that although a good teacher can explain and demonstrate the fundamental principals of timing and musicality, the students will ultimately have to learn these skills for themselves through constant, applied practice.

    When teaching group dance classes, where the focus is on teaching a particular style of dance, it is often not feasible to teach these esoteric skills due to the variation in individual skill levels and the depth of the subject matter.

  14. The tragedy is that many dancers think ‘timing’ is musicality. I’ve been in the embarrasing position of explaining to performance dancers about syncopation and polyrhtym – essentially, if you dance straight on beat you will always be offtime.

    This should be one of the first things you learn in dance – not an esoteric concept you encounter late in your development as a dancer

    • Pierre Henry says:

      Andrew, timing is indeed the most fundamental aspect of music and dance.

      However, if somebody taking up dance has no sense of timing, it is not realistic to expect the teacher to be able to correct that in a group setting. They need to seek out specialist tuition and make a conscious effort to learn it.

  15. What exactly do you mean by ‘timing’? I am talking about the ability to identify syncopation and polyrhtym and alter your steps accordingly.

    • Pierre Henry says:

      Hi Andrew, by “timing” I mean the ability to identify certain counts, beats or pulses in the music. This could be at a macro-level (eg identifying the first beat in each bar) or a micro-level (eg identifying syncopations and polyrythms as you describe).

      This differs from “musicality”, in my opinion, which is the ability to interpret the phrasing, intent, and feeling of the music.

  16. I don’t know how you can separate them. . . . . i

    I’m interested in this because if you can’t identify music with is syncopated or pulsed (‘swings) or which contains polyrhythm – well you simply can’t dance to it. If the music swings you are required to dance ‘off beat’ (which is not the same as ‘off tempo’ . In polyrhtymic music you have to be aware of the change of emphasis in the polyrhythm.

    In both cases you can’t ‘dance on beat’ or if you do you miss the entire point of the music. Here’s a classic example of what I mean in two video’s.

    Dancing with syncopation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Pf96sp74a0

    Expert dancing – but no syncopation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwvyNyOu7oM

    I’ve done tests online and have discovered – to my horror – that something like 80% or more of dancers can identify ‘musicality’ or ‘timing’ in dance. They can ‘hit the beat’ but that’s all, they have little awareness of phrasing or musical structure.

    • I am surprised that you were surprised/horrified by your findings, Andrew. Few dance schools teach musicality. And when they do, they only teach it intuitively. That’s been my experience anyway.

      If you’re never taught, then how can you ever possibly know?

      I guess when it comes down to it, most students do not really want to learn proper musicality so the schools do not teach it.

  17. Or, here are some video’s of dancing – different styles, different levels of ability, different forms.

    One is markedly, black and white, different from the others. To the musically aware it is obvious, to the unaware – there is just bafflement and confusion. If you have to think about an answer – you need musical training. The video’s are chosen pretty much at random. Except for one :-)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wztriiNWEHE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ3cZsvdrnw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGnUTXAx33E

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcVAKUNrKzE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO7taxUAFCg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lop_xhuEVZ4

    • Hmmm… I probably need more musical training, but I’ll guess you’re referring to the “Discofox WCC Velbert 2001″ clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO7taxUAFCg)

      I’ve seen better musicality examples, but at least they pay attention to the music. Let me know if I’m close, I’m always learning.

      • Correct. You are in the top 5 – 10% of dancers musically. And if that comes as a surprise, well it came as a surprise to me too. 9 out of 10 dancers (and that includes most teachers) can’t distinquish between dancing to the music and not dancing to the music.

        Bear in mind the people in the video’s have clearly recieved significant amounts of dance training. No one noticed that they were completely unaware of the music,

        It’s a big problem – teachers often ‘weed out’ musically aware dance students because they instinctively try to move to the music – which is often going in quite a different direction to the beat/tempo.

      • Most dancers (and that includes teachers) don’t actually know what musicality is. Let alone teach it. They can’t see it even when it is obvious. There is something seriously wrong with the way dance is taught (and this applies to all forms) and it should be corrected, or at least discussed. It’s very much ‘the elephant in the room’ that no one wants to talk about. It takes a brave teacher to say ‘I can’t see why the Velbert’ video is different.

        • Most dance teachers learn about music by listening to a reasonable amount of it, but many haven’t made a study of it (unlike the movement aspects.) They pick things up from immersion, but that is difficult to teach. (“Just Feel It” doesn’t mean much to most young dancers.)

          I’ve done plenty of confidential private lessons with brand name dancers, who won’t attend my musicality classes. Some simply don’t want others to know they have a minor blind spot.

          I do see more and more instructors educating themselves, and different dance styles emphasis it more or less. The West Coast Swing crowd is much more open to musicality discussions compared to many ballroom or what I call foundational dances (ballet & jazz.)

          Social dancers are mixed, but many less technical styles get into the music earlier.

          A jazz, ballet or ballroom style dancer can take 100 classes over a year, with only passing references to the music. There is so much to learn about the techniques, and the focus often stays there as that’s easier to teach for most instructors.

          • Absolutely! The more technical the style – the less the musical awareness. Ballroom and ballet particularly so. The problem with good musical interpretation is that you have to ‘fudge’ technique, by that I mean ‘shape’ the technique to fit the music. The technique is a means to an end, not an end in itself (which is to a large extent what has happened in ballroom and ballet.)

            I think this a marvellous example of what dancing should be. It can be faulted on technique – but the interpretation – words and music – is faultless.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDtypBWJeUA

            • Nice clip, thanks for sharing. BTW – I do think choreographed routines have zero excuses for not being musical (but so many are less musical.)

              Let me know what you think of this one. (Tango Nuevo)
              NOT choreographed. They get it:
              http://youtu.be/eJzNzTln8Tg

              (I have another example of them doing this on another day and you can see they create a different dance.)

              I have a great salsa example too. I’ll find it and post.

              • Brilliant dancing. . . the sad bit is of course is that most people won’t see what makes it brilliant.

                Incidentally, I choose my examples for variety. I’m trying to show its either there or not there. It about educating people from all forms of dance.

              • This will amuse. Love to know your interpretation of what’s going on here :-).

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK8oJs36raU

                • Excellent clip. Love how they change feels and reflect the difference between the swing feel (Blues in this case) vs. the straight eights (second song.)

                  Little footwork things in the second song would not fit the Blues tune.

                  They play with the music, reflect the words/feel, find moves that fit the moment. Very well done.

                  You might enjoy this one too:
                  http://youtu.be/NkP6d0csYfM

                  • What I meant was ‘who is leading?’

                    Liked the Salsa – which is my least favourite dance – so it must be good.

                    • WCS has a stronger tradition where the follow can hijack more than some other partner dances. He’s smart enough to go with her when she adds her musical interpretations along with his. I don’t see her leading much, but I do see the points where he suggests something, she embellishes it and he respects that and waits (or reflects her back…)

                      In my mind that is exactly what great partner dancing should be: Lead and follow is a conversation, where each influences the other, and the music is the connector between the two. They do it really well! (I’m going to reshare this on my FB page.)

                    • My take on it is that they are both unfamilar with the first track – but in the second she knows the music but he doesn’t.

                      He’s smart enough to realise this, she not exactly ‘leading’ but she is indicating to him the lead she wants so she can do her stuff,

                      Melissa Rutz is one of the finest muscial improvisers in dance. I guess Rob Royston is her male equivalent,

                • If they don’t know the first song, they certainly know enough about music, since he picks up the harmonica player is trading with the vocals (normal for that style, but he makes the most of it…) Plus the free spin he gives her on the words “go around the corner” fits, and “come back soon” as he does the appropriate CBL reflects the music at that point. (See her laugh and the reaction from the seated dancers, since they see that sequence fit…)

                  With your knowledge, I hope you check out my “Musicality Defined” project and contribute:
                  (all others welcomed too!)
                  http://www.unlikelysalsero.com/2013/01/musicality-defined-project.html

        • I just had a thought – a lot of those dances were likely put together by a choreographer for the music. Based on the contact that I could pick up in the videos. Especially the ones that were clearly for TV.

          When dancing in competition (typically) one is to have a routine set and then dance it to whatever music is played on the day – along with all the other couples who have their own routines too. Given that a couple is expected to prepare while unaware of the music that will be used, the system implicitly discourages anything more than keeping in time. I think if we want to see a change in dance so that the kind of musicality that you’re interested in is encouraged, Andrew, then a type of competition that encourages musicality needs to be developed and promoted.

          This kind of top down motivation might encourage the bottom up approach to musicality that I think you want to see. I had not given this (How competition might affect the teaching of musicality) much though before. I have because of this conversation. Thanks everyone.

          • It’s called a ‘Jack and Jill’ competion and is the most demanding dance form there is. The partners and the music are chosen at random and you are scored on musical improvisation.

            Swing dances do it all the time.

            This improvised with an random partner. I’ve had very experienced non swing dancers unable to believe it is improvised.

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqVYEiRpYRE

            • As long as one is judged by musicality, then I can see how such a competition would develop it. I am not a big fan of lyrical dance myself – I find it a bit twee, but the concept could be applied to any dance style. I like it. I originally thought of such an event to test lead and follow, but it clearly has other benefits too. Thanks for sharing.

              I guess it also shows that musicality can be learned.

              • It works as a ‘knockout’ competion, with, depending on the competion, the couples changing partner at each level. Tremendous emphasis on making your partner look good :-). You are certain to be missmatched in ability. You’ve got a full 20 seconds to asses your partners strenghts and weakness’s and play to them.

              • If you understand the ‘Jack and Jill’ as central to the ‘lyrical’ dances (Swing, Argentine Tango), you understand why they approach dance in a completely different way to other forms.

                They have no way of predicting what is going to happen – either with the music or their partner. There can be no fixed routine or techique – everything has to be adapted to the circumstances – as you are dancing.

                So they start with ‘connection’ – understanding how your partner is moving and ‘musicality’ – what is going to happen with the music. Of course there has to be technique, but its used to follow movement rather than ‘force’ it. Steps follow movement, which in turns follows the music – not the other way round.

            • Great cut, thanks for sharing. And they get it. You see them listening to the lyrics, adopting the feel.

              They have heard the song before, I love how he does “lots of stuff” as the lyrics are saying “I don’t know how to go slow…” (~2:30) Great reflection of the music.

      • And you don’t need music lessons Don :-)

        • I’m still a student too. I take as many classes that other instructors call “Musicality” as possible. Alternately I’m watching everything I can find on the subject on YouTube or reading others blogs.

          I always learn something. Sometimes a different way to express a thought, sometimes I reinforce a “don’t teach that way” idea I have. Often I see they have a great idea, but the expression can be refined or combined with something I already have.

          In my mind the best instructors are also students and it never stops.

  18. I’m not so much horrified that it is not taught, but rather that many dancers and teachers don’t know what it looks like!!!

    Hence my examples. . . . . .

    Anothoer thing that fascinates me is that with the exception of Argentine Tango all forms of partner dance (and that includes pas de deux work in ballet,) is taught backwards.

    The student is taught the steps and movement – but not the requirement to understand you partners ‘wieght changes’ . I recently had an experience with a very experienced ballet teacher where the concept of ‘shared balance’ was something of a surprising novelty. If you are an experienced dancer used to doing choreography the requirement is less obvious than if you are total beginner, but never the less essential if you are to move fluidly.

    • Might be a group class personal class thing too.

      I do agree that different styles focus on different things. I have found blues really focuses on the feel of the music and how to express that. I do wonder if it is also a cultural thing. Blues has such western music that people in such a country really ‘get it’, but we might not ‘get’ say salsa music or waltz. Reminds me of an article by Don Baarns on teaching musicality – http://www.unlikelysalsero.com/2013/02/learning-from-music-you-love.html

  19. Thanks all for your contributions… there are some very interesting insights in this discussion and it is interesting to read/view your examples as a concert dancer rather than one versed in social or ballroom dances. If there’s to be truly cross-genre discussion, I thought I’d better add a few examples from “my world” :) I would be interested to know your thoughts regarding the musicality of the dancers/choreography in these.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOTafdjzzbQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hk9-qH5fyTU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXhfVMGdkHY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSncGXS-rbA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ2OnCrwTtI
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZumgHLSW10
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-HDIMF344Y

    • The essential difficulty is that there is no ‘connection’ between the dancers and no freedom of interpretion. The dancers are communicating with the audience – not with each other.

    • I will watch and comment.

      Before I see them I’ll set the following framework.

      I hold choreographed routines to a different musicality standard of connection to the music than a social dance or a Jack & Jill. As a rule it should be better (but often is not), since the choreographer starts with a strong grounding in the music, then the dancers rehearse X times, get to watch themselves in mirrors or via video, and they can/should listen to the music off the floor too. They have almost unlimited time to study the music (an exaggeration, but weeks or months before most performances.) On the flip side, the dancers may be bound by a choreographer who has something in their head, and/or the ensemble format may discourage some musical expression.

      To be fair, at the pro level those Jack and Jill dancers have heard the songs 100 times or more, but still they deal with more variables as each partner creates a different dynamic. They also adjust/change some moves based on the real time reaction of their partners AND the music, so it’s a different vehicle.

      All that said, I’ll give you my opinions over the next week or so. (You’re almost mean giving us 7 videos at once, but we’ll do it anyway! ;) )

    • Is the question are you asking whether the choreography is musical or whether the dancing is musical? This is the main difficulty with assesing whether a dancer is ‘musical’. A highly skilled dancer (like a concert musician) can execute choreography with little or no creative musical skills.

      It’s the point we were making about great physical technical skill masking poor musical interpretative skill. I’ve known superb, far better than me, dancers collapse completely when asked to improvise. The same happens with musicians.

      Obviously a musical dancer in any form will dance better than a non musical dancer, but what exactly is it we are looking for?

      One of the reasons for choosing dancers of mediocre ability in my (test) examples is that its more obvious when there is less technical skill. Increased skill allows to the dancer to mask poor musical awareness.

      It’s difficult to identify poor musical skills when a highly trained dancer is following choreography. The real test is when you ask them to improvise or create their own choreography at short notice – then is becomes clear cut.

  20. Fabulous stuff. . . . . .but its very difficult to make comparions. It’s sort of like trying to compare a concert orchestra and concert musicans with a jazz or blues soloist groups.

    None of it is unmusical – though some are better than others. One could write pages on each video. It’s easy to get mesmerised by the ability of the dancers, and there are certainly occasions when technique is displayed when it is not there, or not needed by the music.

    I’ll need to think and study. . . . . .

    Andrew

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