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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FUN-KEY or FUNKY! What is your dance style?

“You put your nose in,
You put your nose out;
You put your nose in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey-Pokey,
And you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!”

The hokey-pokey tune aka chicken dance

Yesterday evening Eva told me, “I like your FUNKY style! I need to dance with you lots more, I need to learn.” Fun-key – the key is attitude – fun with a little extra added on the end, fun with an accent. That is why I started out with the chicken dance. There is a time and place to be serious, such as when taking a test or following someone teaching a dance move, but never forget to make space for fun. If I was given the opportunity to share one thing about dance it would be having fun. When you have fun you switch off that analytical, intellectualizing, logical brain and open yourself to the emotional, the creative, the inspirational – all those endorphins, those feel good hormones.

It is through having fun that I organically developed my “funky” dance style and you can do the same too. Though yours does not have to be funky if you don’t wish it to. I remember as a beginner knowing a few moves and the basic and feeling that there was so much more in the music. One easy thing I had fun doing to express the music was to play with my feet. While going back and forth in the linear style salsa dance slot I let my legs/feet follow one instrument and then another superimposed on the basic footwork. First the drums, then the cowbell. The trumpet, and in some songs the flute. Once my lower body got moving the upper wanted to follow, and it progressed from there. I first learnt how to do this before I knew many moves. Note that what you are doing can be felt by your partner, so you are sharing how you are feeling the music, your musicality. Don’t worry about what I just said. If you are having fun it is hard for your partner to have a bad time.

Naturally I have given a simplified explanation. When I was having fun as a dance newbie I did not have a clue which instrument I was following in a song. I just picked a particular sound that I liked and followed it for as long as I was enjoying it. If I got bored switched to another, or if I couldn’t find any sound that I wanted to play with I just stuck to doing only the basic footwork. Don’t make having fun a chore. The point is pick something that you like as you are more likely to play/have fun with it than be serious. For example, maybe the lyrics of a song resonate with you, or perhaps the emotional variation of the singers.

From having fun while physically connected to a partner it is easy to transition to having fun doing shines – dancing solo. In some dances I will separate from my partner and both of us will do shines, responding to what the other is doing. (You don’t necessarily have to be just by yourself when doing shines.) I’ll leave you with an inspirational clip of Eddie Torres, a famous salsero, having fun. I will explore shines in more detail another day.

Dance Trinity

Partner dance is typically a conversation between two people in the musical and movement language of a particular dance style. That’s where it stays for many, just like the everyday conversations that you might have with colleagues and acquaintances throughout your day. However, it can be much much more.
Trust is the key to getting the most of any endeavor, and that applies to dancing. It is only when truly letting go that one can be immersed in the river of musical emotion and motion, whether it be raging rapids or a gentle stream. Here there isn’t necessarily a “specific dance style” but one of soul connection. Two bodies and the music being one together, music and souls transmuted into trinity, three yet one. It is a heavenly feeling and I encourage everyone to work on joining me in enjoying the same.
To start the Trinity trail get ready to move beyond the basics by practicing so that you can do the foundational steps and moves in your sleep. Spend time listening to the music so that you can be musical, such as knowing where the breaks are. Then when you are dancing and a familiar song comes on you can match what you do to the music and your partner. Finally, when these foundational elements can be done without thinking one can let go. This is not the only way to achieve the bliss of the dance trinity, but this is a journey that anyone can follow.