Hello my fellow dancers, dance students and dance fans!
I’ve been reminiscing today on how wonderful my tours were performing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 2014 and the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 2013 and 2015. I’ve been missing the energy, excitement, camaraderie and thrill of performing with live musicians.
Dance exists because of music and rhythm. Dance is our human form way of expressing and embodying what we feel when we hear music.
I love the excitement I see on young students faces when you play a song in class that they just LOVE! They can’t wait to bust out their moves and they put so much personality and energy into it when they hear a song they know and love.
Multiply that feeling by a thousand and you’ll never even come close to the amazing, phenomenal joy that is experienced when dancing with a live orchestra! I have been privileged to dance with two of the most famous orchestras of all time, and I trained for my college degree at a school where piano for ballet class and piano and percussion for contemporary class were everyday practice.
Each day at Victorian College of the Arts, I would attend my morning ballet class with the Ballet Mistress (Jann Blanche, or Ballet Master Robert Ray) choreographing an exercise and then kindly telling the pianist – who worked with the Australian Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet none the less – what time signature and tempo was required, and off he went, playing something from memory or perhaps his own creation, with no sheet music, and all the while watching the Ballet Mistress for his tempo and adjusting if need be.
Contemporary class was just as exciting, with amazing musicians who could switch between piano, bongo drums, and a full drum set playing brilliant compositions for hours on end no matter what the tutor asked for.
The inspiration and energy that comes from performing with other live artists is absolutely phenomenal. Everyone is there giving their heart and soul into the performance, and feeding off one another’s excitement.
Today we have brilliant, endless access to music, of all genres from all decades, via iTunes, Youtube, and many other media. It’s wonderful to be able to click on a link and visit the masters, or see your current pop star. What is disconcerting to me is the lack of understanding that dancers have these days, of musicians and what it is like to work with live musicians.
Yes, the tempo is different, yes, this solo on the trombone/trumpet/drums sounds different, yes, the pianist played the music different in your exam, yes, you are going to have to adapt. (how often do you do your improvisation the same? It’s not improv if it’s planned!)
Dance and music are ALIVE! As a true dancer, you need to be able to adjust your performance because you Are an expression of the music. You are there to be the Visual Representation Of The Sound! Just as any dance performance is not the same, not one musical performance is the same. That’s the beauty of live art, every single time you step out on the stage it is different, no matter what your art form is.
If you find yourself at a rehearsal and things sound different than what you practiced, just go with it.
Be nice, make friends with your fellow artists (who have probably been studying just as long as you, if not longer) and then you will be able to talk and find a middle ground or a tempo that works. At the end of the day, you are all there on the same team to provide a fantastic experience that inspires the people who come to see you perform.
Yes there are some contemporary pieces where there is no music, only breath, and that initiates the movement. Breath also initiates the music. It is the essence of our lives. When you dance you should be breathing to help enhance your movement whether there is music or none.
As a dancer, please don’t forget you are an artist.
Anyone can be a gymnast/technician, but it takes true love, commitment, musicality, theatricality, spirit, determination, class and quiet confidence to be an artist. And if you want a successful career as a dancer don’t just look in the mirror. You have to ‘Sing The Music’….with your body and soul.