Last night, in my ballet class I taught a dance I choreographed to Liebesleid, Love’s Sorrow, by Fritz Kreisler, and my dear friend Renia Shukis (pictured above), a professional violinist, played the music live on her violin. Lots of dance studios in the city have pianists who play for class. I have never heard of or seen anyone having a violinist. It was so much fun.
I love music. Music soothes. It lulls babies (and me) to sleep. It comforts, cheers and invigorates. It is there for me at the first sign of romance and there again when I’m breaking up. It provides the soundtrack to the city I love as well as the means to escape it.
Music also invites the dance. It’s what invokes the spirit, dictates the mood and indicates the type and quality of the movements. “Listen to the music,” I always say in class, “it tells you what to do.” Dancing to live music is even better,
I’m not a musician or composer. There are plenty of people who can tell you far more about music than I can. What I know about music comes from playing various instruments when I was growing up, years of singing lessons, but mostly from dancing inside it.
Dancers need to be able to feel the music, not just listen to it. It helps to be able to count the beats, noticing if the tempo is counted in 3s and 6s or counted in 4s and 8s. Hearing the different tempos within the music can help you understand where to put the steps. Much of the pop and rock music we dance and listen to is in 4/4 time and counted in 8s. This is why dance teachers and choreographers often call out “5, 6, 7, 8”, to cue the dancers to begin — a line made famous in the musical ‘A Chorus Line’. The piece we danced to in class last night can be counted in fast 6s or in slow 8s. As a dancer, you need to hear both tempos, as well as the variations in tempo, feeling where the music slows and where it speeds up. The advantage of having a live violinist in class, is she can also see the dancer and together we can see each other and get the ending exactly together.
There are other more unusual time signatures, and sometimes music is counted 5s or 7s or 9s or changes times signatures in the middle of the piece or composers add measures of music as it suits them. Hearing and counting the music out certainly helps me choreograph to it better. Even when music has lyrics, I always count the music to understand it better.
All of this is just information to better help us dance to the music. Listening better can allow the music to affect us deeper. We can then express it more fully, and through our movements, others will be moved.
* Photo of Renia Shukis, violinist, by Sarah Doudna.
Last night was special and most of my classes are not like that. I teach Tuesdays 7-8:30pm and Saturdays 12-1:30pm at 380 Broadway, buzzer #5. Please arrive early as we do cap our classes, and latecomers are not admitted. Suggested donation for classes is $10, but if you are able to give more when musicians play, that is highly apprciated.