Sunday, June 24, 2007

Too Stiff? - You Must Know Too Much

It's a common misconception: If you know too much about dancing or music, you'll dance stiff.

On some of the dance message boards, I've seen people recommend "feeling" the music. I wholeheartedly agree with that advice, AND I believe you should know and understand as much as possible about dancing and the music. Feeling and understanding are NOT mutually exclusive concepts. Just because you know how weight transfer affects a certain move, or you can count your moves, or know the structure of the music, doesn't mean you can't feel it.

But some people are recommending that you shouldn't learn traditional dance techniques (maybe jazz or ballet), or learn to count the music, because they claim that will make you stiff or take all the feel out of your dance.

Sometimes I think this gives a convenient excuse if someone already dances and doesn't want to learn more; they simply want to dance. Because they don't want to invest in more learning, they tell you learning the music structure, counting or theory will make you robotic. Instead, they say, simply listen to more music and the feel will reveal itself through your dancing. They seem to think if they feel it exclusively, it must be good.
That does work in a few cases, but combining a great feel for dance or music with some theory, history and understanding rarely hurts anybody, especially in the longer term.

As I've said before, when you first learn a dance concept, you may be stiffer while you are thinking about the details. It's part of the growth process. But being stiff is a short term issue, assuming you continue to practice and grow as a dancer.

As with everything in life, there are a few exceptions, but that probably isn't you or me. A few learned what I call "organically"--they learned to dance the same way they learned to walk or run, by watching their parents and going to family gatherings where everybody danced for fun. The moves are passed from generation to generation, but the new kids aren't out social dancing in the clubs in a couple months. Most people learning as adults can't follow the same path as it generally takes longer, and most of us want to accelerate the learning process. Ask most great organic learners how long they have been dancing and you'll see it's often not the fast track.

A perfect musical example is this video below (I used this same example in a previous article a couple months ago.) I love this cut because all the musicians have music on their stands. During the take that is filmed, some read music while performing, others have read it enough in the rehearsals to memorize their parts.

Check this out:
Reading complex music means these guys understand significant amounts about music, and it's hard to make the case they are stiff. Because they can read, they can learn new music MUCH faster than other musicians who do it by feel alone. When you watch the piano solo, it's obvious he is reading as he's playing, and his technique is excellent. The technical aspects of his playing are common among a wide set of great piano players, and none of that gets in the way of his great feel while performing. He's even "singing" during his solo and none of his classic training or musical understanding is getting in the way of a world-class performance.

The same applies to your dancing. One size never fits all, but talk to the fastest growing dancers in almost any city and you'll find they know much more than the average dancer. They can feel it, explain it, and/or show you the history of dance and music.

Organic learning should always be part of the mix as you grow, but the more you know the better off you are, especially if you are learning as an adult.
I was a ballerina. I had to quit after I injured a groin muscle.
It wasn't mine.
-Rita Rudner

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero