Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Too Much, Too Little, or Just Right

Remember the fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Where every item Goldilocks encountered was an extreme or just right?  The porridge was too hot, too cold, or just right.  The beds were too soft, too hard, or just right.  The chairs were too big, too small, or just right.

Pretty much all of the performances I see fall into 3 Goldilocks-like categories.  There's Over-Dancing, Under-Dancing, and Just Right.

Over-Dancing is when the music says "the mouse is black" and the dancer is saying "the super-fast tiny mouse is most certainly black and is-hiding-in-the-corner!" There's far more movement going on than the music asks for.  Consistently throughout the entire performance.  And sometimes there's a prop integrated that doesn't make sense with the music. There's no sense of breath, no relief for the audience, and a sense of audio-visual incongruity. Often the dancer is trying to capture too much - the rhythm and the melody all at once, all the time.

Under-Dancing is when the music says "the small mouse is very black" and the dancer is saying "mouse" and "black". Again, and again.  Basically hitting only the bare minimum without acknowledging any of the language happening in between.  There's too much space, not enough movement, and it feels remedial and gets boring quickly, not matter how big and exciting those initial movements are.  It's like typing in ALL CAPS.  ALL CAPS.  ALL CAPS. ALL CAPS. The dancer here is catching only the accents or only the rhythm with no attention paid to the ornamentation. Dum. Dum. Dum. Dum. When the music says Dum Dum tekka tek, Dum tekka tek, Dum tekka tek tekka tek tekka tek.

Just Right is when the music and the dancer are saying the same exact thing, more or less, throughout the performance.  Sometimes the dancer works the melody, sometimes it's the rhythm, sometimes a balance of both, but without getting too busy.  There's a sense of breath, a place for both the dancer and the audience to rest and enjoy, and not feel like THERE'S TOO MUCH GOING ON!  The dancer works within the structure of the music without doing too much or too little, with a sense of variety.

All of this is part of Musicality means to me, and what I teach. It's so important to really learn how to listen to the music, and not just the rhythm and not just the melody.  Far too often dancers simply go "oh, I like this music!  I'm going to perform to it!" without really considering the music and what it is saying.  Just assigning choreography to a piece of music isn't it.  You really need to take the time to consider what it says, and visualize the movements it is asking for.  It's this philosophy that allows me to do improv without trepidation.  And the more you listen to the music and get in the moment of it, the less you will anticipate what's coming next too far in advance. And the more you will be able to really own those movements and express through them, versus just executing them. The more you listen, the closer you get to "Just Right."

(If you want to learn more, check out the workshop "Musicality & 'Motion" with Tempest at Tribal Fest 11!)


  1. For the record, that workshop "Musicality & 'Motion" really drove this point home for me. It totally clicked.

    And, yes, I've seen a number of dancers in all 3 categories. For those who overdance, I want to say "Edit! Edit! Edit!" And for those who underdance, I want to say "Oomph it up!"

  2. My troupe and I were trying to discuss musicality the other day, and kept getting hung up on how to put it into words- your analogy works perfectly!

    'You really need to take the time to consider what it says, and visualize the movements it is asking for.'
    Absolutely! I'm only a baby dancer (in terms of progress, not of size or age) but I strive so hard to do what the music asks for, not just what I learnt last week in class/I find easiest to do