This is an excerpt from More Dance Improvisations by Justine Diane Reeve.
Musicality is the awareness of music, rhythm and how dancers express these with their bodies. Musicality in dance has two main components: openness and originality. Musical openness is the ability to receive, comprehend and be sensitive to musical concepts like rhythm, tempo, phrasing and mood. Musical originality is the ability to connect with accompanying music, interpret it and add movement dynamics that relate to it in a unique way.
Musicality in dance, then, is the degree to which dancers are open and original in their translations of music through movement. Teachers can establish greater openness and originality by providing plenty of practice. Musicality starts the moment you move to music. As you warm up or perform class exercises in your training, you’re exhibiting musicality.
Listen, Listen – Then Dance
When you choreograph to a novel piece of music, listening is key. If you improvise, you’ll select and refine your choices in the moment and your responses will be immediate. It’s a good idea to film and watch these responses because there may be moments you’d like to keep. Remember, musicality comes in many forms and there’s no right or wrong way to interpret a score. You may choose to choreograph to a track that challenges you. In that case, don’t be intimidated. Listen to that piece repeatedly. The better you know a piece of music, the more you’ll be able to play with the dynamics of movement instead of always dancing on the beat. Which qualities could you emphasise in your movements? Try to identify all the instruments, make notes and draw pictures. Visualise the music and how you might dance to it.
Experiment with just moving to music anywhere and everywhere. You could do this with your eyes closed in a space with no hazards. Try setting a playlist to shuffle.
Slower music can give students more time to explore, play and try different styles. Play a piece of slower music and use it to inspire movements to cross the dance studio diagonally. You could also try a faster track to push creativity.
Keep It Simple
Often, dance students who concentrate on technical aspects of the class won’t be as sensitive to qualities of the music. You could assign simple exercises they can master quickly so they can take the time to listen and respond to musical subtleties.
Variety Is the Spice
Vary the music you use from class to class. This will force dancers to listen and develop their musicality skills. You could make them aware of specific qualities of the music, such as speed, emotion or intensity and how they can express these qualities through their movements.
Discuss the Music
Musicality is instinctive for some teachers, professional dancers and dance students, but it can also be learned. Take time in class to discuss the music with students. Ask them questions about what they hear, how it makes them want to move and what meaning it gives their movements. Ask them to reflect on any movement changes after the discussion.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
Music can encourage you to breathe correctly. Ask dancers not to hold their breaths throughout a phrase or piece. Try to relate their breathing to the musical patterns.