About a week before writing this a dance teacher posted on the LinkedIn arm of Dance Better Now (The “Dance Teaching, Coaching and Training” group) about a student of hers that she was having some minor problems with.
The student was technically very good, but he didn’t have much life to his dance.
His teacher described him as a technician. He focused on the minute details of each step and figure, but didn’t really seem to get out of ‘practice mode’. This was despite dancing for years, competing in dance sport, doing exhibitions and taking multiple lessons a week.
The teacher wanted to know what to do to make him let go and dance.
Music and expression
I suggested in reply to her post that she try asking the student to do the following:
- listen to the music that was playing,
- identify the instruments,
- think about the feelings that each was expressing,
- think about how that could be expressed physically and then,
- move that way when dancing
In a later reply the teacher said that she tried this, but with a twist. She asked the student to pick some music. Then they danced to that. This music was simple, quiet and introspective. Much like the student she felt. This made it more difficult for him to move to it – there was not much to express.
This was interesting – by choosing the music that matched his feeling, he did not necessarily have something to dance to.
The teacher then put on something up beat.
It took some time, but towards the end of the lesson the student finally let go. He started to dance in a way that expressed the music as opposed to just being in time. He seemed to feel the music and then made his partner (his teacher) feel it too in the way that he danced.
The teacher reported that the student seemed pleased with himself, that he danced better and that this was to be a new and regular part of her teaching.
The lesson for you
You might not always be dancing as well as you could because you are not feeling the music.
To turn a series of timed movements into dance, you need to feel the music and then share this feeling.
This is easier said than done – the student in the above example spent a number of hours working on this.
We do not force our feelings upon the music, we let the music’s feelings effect our feelings. Note how when the student used music that suited his feelings he was stuck; it did not suit the dance.
When dancing, let the music guide you and you will dance whatever dance you are dancing better.
Musical appreciation and expression
As important as this is in social dance, it is not taught as much as it could be.
If you want to learn more about really listening to music and then capturing its emotions and using those, then you need to think more like a musician. One of the best books on how to think like a musician is The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey.
I have read it and found it very useful for this aspect of dance.