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