I now begin a journey through the complex and wonderful universe of musicality. What fascinates me the most is that from now on, I know I will never reach the end of the discussion on this subject, but I will try my best to leave the thought organized in order to guide both those who are beginning to want to include musicality in their dance and those who need to teach these concepts to their students but have difficulty in organizing the ideas.
I would like to thank two friends who helped me write this content.
Sérgio Viana, Leader of Forró in Lausanne and to the Incomparable Juliane Rosa (Juzinha) with whom I have the privilege of working with, for several years.
What is Musicality?
In dance, musicality is the body expression of what you hear in music. It’s like playing an instrument with no sound impact, but visual.
The first notions of musicality that we learn are rhythm and footwork. We learn to synchronize our steps with a repetitive pulsation of a characteristic percussive instrument, usually easy to identify.
Musicality begins in the ear and not in the footwork, steps or decorations that highlight the musicality. These body marks are nothing more than the corporal consequence of how a dancer listens/knows a song, allied to his/her repertoire.
A frequent question is “but to be musical you need to know the music before?”.
The most comprehensive answer will be something of the genre: “although it can help to predict complex transitions/pauses, we do not need to know the music if we know how to listen to it”.
There is a very obvious mathematical thread in almost every song we listen to. Listening a lot to the repertoire of songs in the modality you dance to helps develop the ear, but what will enhance the ear even more is being able to decode the mathematics and standard structure present in a global way. (We will talk more about this soon)
The first task to be done is to interpret the music, this interpretation is in terms of internalizing, absorbing from the music what touches you and what calls your attention. That’s why evaluating musicality is a complicated task. Each one extracts a feeling, a different “vibe” from the music. That task is the easy part of musicality, and the one that fools many people.
To absorb something from the music “just” listen to it. ” Just ” is in quotes, so listening to the music and dancing at the same time is a complicated task for some people. It’s a coordination that also needs training, although it’s more natural for some people, especially those who already have a more intimate and longer relationship with music.
But as everything in life, the excess can be a problem, many people who have a very deep involvement with music for a long time, have a great difficulty with musicality, because their ears are very trained and these people can extract a lot from music, but in most cases, playing an instrument is a fine motor task (uses small muscles and joints), and dancing is a thick motor task (uses large joints and muscles) for more. In this way expressing with the body what we take from music is the biggest challenge.
Let’s get to it!
As mentioned above, the greatest challenge of musicality is to produce body movements that are based on what we interpret from music. Returning to the case of the musician, we have a person who identifies a huge amount of information coming from the music but his body does not have enough motor repertoire (amount of movements already trained and memorized) to be able to contemplate everything he identifies from the music. It is as if he was a person who understood a language but could not speak that language.
That’s why many professionals, myself included, prefer to deepen their musicality studies after a period of student maturation. However, nothing prevents us from starting the reflections and teachings of musicality in an early stage of the dancers, because it is possible, having little repertoire, to make the same movements in infinite different ways. Many times, in the beginning of the learning, we find an enormous difficulty to perform a movement different from the way we learned first. But with a good orientation and dedication everything becomes easier and more natural.
There is also the opposite case, people with a gigantic motor repertoire, who can’t adapt what they are doing with what comes from music. It’s like those long speeches with beautiful words, difficult words and effect, but in the end they don’t mean anything.
This is the case for the apprentice who has gone too long without studying musicality. A person who is more comfortable with his own body but has not exercised his ears.
First I start by clarifying what I mean by the term “dance body.” Let it be clear that each and every body is capable of dancing and there is no right or wrong body. But each dance has certain marks that are strongly influenced by the most advanced dancers and teachers of each style. Sometimes these marks are based on tradition, on the origin of that dance, and sometimes these marks are updated and modified according to the trends created in the society and culture in which the dancers are inserted.
With the term body of dance (used in the school where I work, other places and schools may have the same concept with other names) we want to refer to the most primary sense of musicality, which is to move according to the feeling, sensation or impression stronger than the music brings it. This is done throughout the music and can change if the music mood changes as well.It is as if it were the setting in which a play is going to take place, or as if it were the table cloth before receiving the vast amount and variety of food.
It’s something that doesn’t stand out, but it’s always there, and if it’s not there there’s a feeling that something’s missing. No matter how beautiful the movements are, without that background, the impression is that those bodies are dancing to another song or even without any music. I myself prefer to watch several of my videos without the sound because we don’t always get to perform what we would like in relation to what we capture from the song.
It’s important to point out that the dancing body is not tied to any specific step or marking. It is present in every movement, through the posture, the softness, the speed of each movement. It is the way the body behaves when we make the steps and not which step we are making.
I will separate in topics the main tips to be able to express your musicality and then I will try to put the most typical sensations and how these sensations affect how to use the resources presented.
In slow songs, the breaks tend to be huge, that is, you stay a long time without being able to step on the ground, but that doesn’t mean you should stay still, frozen. Pausing does not mean stopping the body.
When the music ransmits light, soft, continuous sensations it is very important to abuse the movement in the pauses. Moving during is a valuable strategy to pass on the idea of body fluidity, of continuity. These are characteristics of slow music in which the percussion instruments are not in such evidence and there is an abundance of filling by the melodious instruments and the voice.
But of course if we want to pass on the idea of something, cut, broken or a very strong and evident marking, we can minimize the movements in the pause so as to freeze the body for brief periods indicating the cuts in the music. It’s worth remembering that if we stay still for a long time we may lose the opportunity to make a good preparation for the next movement, so these cuts, freezes are usually very punctual and are shorter than the pause.
One of the most common sensations of slow music is that of softness and lightness. To soften the steps, the idea is very simple, although the execution demands a lot of attention and practice. When stepping touch the ground with your feet without the weight of your body. The idea is the same of reaching the edge of a pool and put the tip of the foot in the water to see if the temperature pleases you. This way we will have a more gradual and controlled weight transfer, helping not only the smoothness but also the stability of your movements.
In slower songs, even the small ones the balance errors are very evident, so stability is something you will always be looking for.
Naturally in the case of songs very marked by percussion the greatest tendency is for the foot and weight to reach the ground together, as if they were playing dry notes from a drum.
Height of the Center of Gravity
This is, in my opinion, one of the factors that most generate a visible result and is unfortunately neglected by many dancers. Many songs convey the feeling of something deep, intimate, sometimes even a heavier and more closed atmosphere. In these cases it is interesting to lower the center a little or in other words to duck a little. We can bend our knees a little more and open the base a little more, dance with the tip lower (in the case of those who dance on the tip), relax a little more the shoulders. I like to say that it is the body posture of someone who is taking care of a child, of course we don’t need to go down that much, but this more grounded posture also contributes to the idea that you are worrying, taking care of your partner.
On the other hand, there are the songs that give an idea of a very big lightness, so we need a way to look like we are floating more, exploring more the high plane of dance. We can stretch our knees a little bit more (without letting it get stuck), close the base, open the chest more, look higher, climb on the tip of our feet and in the arm movements let the arm climb a little more.
In slow songs we usually have two very clear moments, the high and low energy moments. I reinforce here that in slow songs the breaks are very big which can give the impression that the music is very still or that it doesn’t have a continuous tempo. But this is a very limiting view.
The moments of marking a slow song are full of life and can even be filled with large dislocations, long past without passing the idea of haste or instability. And the pauses are a notable low energy, in them the movement starts to happen almost in slow motion.
It is as if I am always in an endless cycle in which the energy goes up and down, on and off, agitates and calms down. A lot of people focus on the low energy part, so it reduces the amplitude of the movements too much, restricts “key” joints like the knee and hip, they end up not being able to generate spaces or fill spaces because they always move in a very small way and sometimes they make the fottwork slower than the music.
The arms are super important structures in musicality. They are the structures that can reach the world more easily. In non-verbal communication they are the parts of the body that are used to draw attention to you.
Try to remember that the arms are separated from the legs, that is, they have no marking function, so the pause does not exist for them. The arms move continuously but their movements have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Try to make the beginning and the end of this path coincide with the beats of the music.
Remember also that the arm is tri-articular (shoulder, elbow and fist), so you can pass the idea of lightness and continuity by moving the joints separately and often in sequence (usually starting with the shoulder joint, then the elbow followed by the fist).
When we want to pass the idea of something more marked and the idea of interruption, we move the arm a little faster using the three joints at once from one point to another.
Remember that we are in a universe of non-verbal communication. The facial expression you do, completely changes the perception of musicality. Smiling all the time in a very heavy, melancholic music can generate a great contrast of sensations. Remember that your face also dances and communicates.
The training of musicality requires a lot of attention to the music and the pair. Like all other skills in dance, it requires a lot of dedication, getting it right and making mistakes many times before achieving consistency. In my opinion, it is one of the most complex and beautiful skills of the dance for two.
Remember that with a proper orientation everything will be easier and you will have a superior quality in less time. Let’s study!
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