Dance Musicality

I admire those people who do ballroom competitions and so accurately portray the character of the dance, and song. Their technical ability to match their emotional connection to that of the song, no matter what is going on personally in their lives, is great. We often say they exhibit great musicality, yet I still find something is missing. There seems something robotic, artificial about this.

Well, wikipedia defines musicality as “fitting a dance to the music being played, with the goal of relating the dance to the music’s rhythm, melody, and mood. Dancers usually step on the beats of the music, and may vary the size of their movements with the volume of the music. This is especially true in choreography, where dancers plan a routine of dance moves, sometimes with a specific song in mind. This is also a key characteristic of improvised…dancing.”

We can then look at Jack and Jill competitions in West Coast swing where two people are randomly paired up and dance to a song that is chosen for them. Or on the social dance floor a great technical dancer with a good repertoire of moves who can use this to improvise to a song he/she has not heard before. Great musicality, with improvisation, yet I submit still something missing.

What I have been describing previously is “technical musicality”. The missing element can easily be seen by observing those who do not know how to dance technically, yet appeal to your eye as you watch them dancing. They have that something extra: personal emotional interpretation.

In an earlier post “FUN-KEY or FUNKY! What is your dance style?I briefly touched upon musicality. I talked of developing one’s own dance style through hearing something in the song (instrument sound, singer’s voice…) and playing with it. In following an instrument, for instance, one is matching the rhythmic structure of the song – technical musicality. Still, by letting one’s personal emotional interpretation – what is inside – determine what elements of rhythm to play with and how to play with the elements, one is superimposing the personal/inner on the technical/outer, fusing the two – alpha and the omega. There may be an evening when I am ecstatic, life is great. Here all dances will be tinged with something from that joyful element. Another night I might be unhappy/sad and again the same will apply. I think that is what makes social dancing so great.

Note the emphasis on “personal” emotional interpretation in dance musicality, and not just emotional connection. One can say that bachata is romantic and the song is sad and so one’s emotional connection should match that. That is not driven by you, but dictated by the dance style and song. To be personally involved requires that the sad song for romantic bachata sparks something in you that you use in your dancing – not necessarily sad feelings. And it works! In doing so one finds a flow to the music to follow.

This past Friday I was watching a couple do swing at the jazz night at the Oasis dance club. I enjoyed seeing them move, yet they were not following musical structure technically as others were. I asked Phil, and he said, “The music is too fast for me, and so I listen to the music until I find something that matches me. I find it and follow.” Here dance musicality, my definition of musicality, is “that personal emotional interpretation of the music to some type of flow.”

Two definitions of dance musicality – which one will you follow?


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