Elements of Musicality: Beat and Rhythm

•Tuesday, 10 January 2017 • 2 Comments

Returning to my favourite subject: musicality. As I said in a previous post, when we first start to dance we learn to dance to the beat, after a while we begin to dance to the rhythm, eventually we discover how to dance to the music. Of course, these aren’t separate; when we dance to the rhythm we’re also dancing to the beat. And when we dance to the music then the elements of beat and rhythm are in there too.

In talking to dancers I find that there is sometimes confusion between beat and rhythm. Put simply, the beat is the steady pulse that you feel in the tune, like a clock ticking. It’s what you might clap along to, or tap your foot to. The rhythm is the actual pattern that the notes of different lengths make, which in a song may be the same as the word patterns. Beside the length of notes, rhythm is also created when some notes are emphasised over others.

Generally, dance music (except for waltz/vals, of course) has four beats to the bar. Beats 1 and 3 are the strong beats (the compás in tango) beats 2 and 4 are the weak beats (sometimes called the back beat or off beat). At its simplest level, when dancing we tend to step on beats 1 and 3. (Although when clapping along to a tune the preference is to clap on the back beat.)

Of course, all this applies to any creative partner dance, not just tango. In jive classes you sometimes hear, “This is a six-beat move,” or “This is a twelve-beat move.” This is only true if you’re limiting yourself to dancing mechanically and solely to the beat of the music. If you’re dancing to the rhythm then how many beats a move takes will depend on how you work with the music.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking in step patterns and becoming a ‘one-and-three dancer’. (And sadly the heavily accented beat of much of what passes for dance music tends to encourage this… but that’s another story for another blog post!) We’re dancers, not metronomes.

“Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.” — Samuel Beckett

Terrible Tales for Curious Kids: 3

•Wednesday, 2 November 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Norm’s Last Tango

Norman was a square-dance caller
On a North Atlantic trawler.
Should the crew be feeling low
He’d get them all to dosey-do.

Even in quite stormy weather
He’d gather all the guys together.
“Come on chaps, let’s get dancing.
You’ll find it really life enhancing!”

One day he thought he’d raise the bar…
Which turned out to be a step too far.
How much further could a man go
Than teaching fishermen to tango?

When walking backwards in high heels
He tripped upon a box of eels,
Which quite upset the swarthy captain,
Whose close embrace poor Norm was wrapped in.

He’d planned on cutting quite a dash
But his hopes all ended with a splash.
He’d probably be still alive
If he’d stuck to salsa, waltz or jive.

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This the third in the Terrible Tales for Curious Kids series. If you’d like to read more, try here. Vintage photographs of Hull Trawler SS New Zealand adapted from whatsthatpicture.com

The Elements of Musicality

•Thursday, 27 October 2016 • Leave a Comment

Musicality has been defined as “sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music. A musical person has the ability to perceive differences in aspects of music including pitch, rhythm and harmonies.” In dance, musicality means “relating the dance to the music’s rhythm, melody, and mood” as opposed to, e.g., only stepping on the beat. “This is the key characteristic of improvised dancing… Lindy, West Coast Swing, Argentine Tango, for example, view matching your dancing to the spirit and mood of the music as the highest goal achievable.”

In all dances, in other words, we seek to connect with the music and our partner so we may express with our bodies what the music makes us feel.

“Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another.” — Anon

For me, musicality is at the heart of tango, or any dance for that matter. These notes are taken from the handout I prepared for our recent workshop at the Dance Connections Lake District Weekender, 2016. This is our personal list, and is by no means complete; yours may be different. Please feel free to comment and give additional suggestions.

1 The beat. Feel the ‘pulse’ of the music. See also Tango Musicality: The Compás.

2 The rhythm.

3 The pace. Is the pace of the music constant? Are there sections where the music seems to slow down or speed up? Perhaps the beat may remain constant, but the rhythm changes to give the feeling of a change of pace.

4 The energy. Is the music lively and upbeat? Slow and romantic? Melancholic? Passionate?

5 Emotion and Mood. Often related to the energy of a musical piece. What emotions do you feel when you listen to the music? Are these reflected in the way you dance?

6 Instrumentation. OK, we’re probably getting a little too technical here, but the instruments used by the musicians do affect the feel of the song. An extended sweep from a violin invites a different response to that of a plucked guitar.

7 Melody. How does the melody change during the song? Are there patterns of melody which recur, perhaps with variations?

8 Volume. The volume may change during the song. Do we respond/dance differently to the loud parts compared with the quieter sections?

9 Breaks. There are usually easily discernable breaks after each 8-bar phrase (or 12 bars in traditional blues). Perhaps between verse and chorus. Can you hear any change in melody or rhythm pattern leading up to or following the break?

10 More on breaks or phrases. Apart from the main breaks between the 8-bar phrases (composed of 16 strong beats at two to the bar), there are usually other ‘phrases within phrases’ within the melody or rhythm. We could think of these as patterns made by the singer or one or more instruments. (Much as within a paragraph of prose or a section of speech you get separate sentences and phrases.) It can be interesting to play with these too.

All this may sound somewhat overwhelming. But in fact most of us, after we’ve been dancing a while, will respond to most of these factors automatically, without thinking about them. Nevertheless, I think it can be useful to understand what part they can play in our dance.

“Musical dancers never get so caught up in steps that they ignore the music.” — Deborah Wingert

 

 

Listening to the Music

•Thursday, 27 October 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Tango Dresses

•Friday, 16 September 2016 • Leave a Comment

Guest post by Julie Hall:

Each morning on my way to work I would drive past Anna Roberts Clothing at 571 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield. The dresses in the window looked lovely and I kept promising myself I would call in “one of these days.” I am so pleased that I did!

Anna designs her own range of clothing in all sizes that flatter and make you feel fabulous. She has a range of outfits for wearing during the day and evening, whether it be a day out with friends, or dancing the night away! I dance Argentine Tango and the blue dresss is perfect as it is easy to wear and flows so beautifully when I am dancing. The purple dress is so versatile and comfortable, it can be worn any time of the day.

Much to my delight, Anna was able to take a design I had in my mind and turn it into reality. Hence the skirt you see me wearing in the video above, which she made for me from some material my husband bought back from his travels some years ago.

I highly recommened a visit. Have a look at her Facebook page.

Our Last Tango

•Tuesday, 14 June 2016 • Leave a Comment

Perhaps the most famous couple in tango, Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves were dance partners for over fifty years. Together they made a major contribution to the worldwide revival of Argentine tango through their stage shows and tours of Europe and the United States.

Their relationship was passionate and painful, as documented in this outstanding film, until their final separation tore them apart.

I was lucky enough to see the film’s UK premiere as part of Sheffield DocFest with an introduction and Q&A session by director German Kral. Sadly, despite excellent reviews and festival successes, it has yet to find a British distributor. But do get to see it if you can.

 “The first time I danced the tango, it entered my skin through my feet, passed from my skin to my blood and through my blood to my heart. It requires no acrobatics, you simply have to devote yourself to your heartbeat.”  Maria Nieves

Donte Collins on Passion

•Monday, 14 March 2016 • Leave a Comment

Collins_Passion-s.jpg

Photograph taken at El Quinto, Nottingham, UK, March 2013.

 
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