I believe it's similar to "white men can't jump". It's a myth, but it has some truth to it. The reality is, most musicians avoid dancing. It's a different skill, and most musical instruments are played with fine, small muscle control (think fingers for piano, guitar, drums, violin, flute, etc.)
Oh sure, there are a few exceptions (mostly the singers) but most others don't do it, and I have some ideas why they just watch. Their reasons are generally similar to others who don't dance, but you'd think it would be much easier for musicians to learn.
Great dancers will tell you that understanding the music is half the battle when it's time to dance, so what's up with musicians sitting on the sidelines? In theory, they start with a huge advantage over a friend who doesn't know music and is starting dance.
Here's my theory: Musicians spend years learning to express emotion via our primary instrument. We work thousands of hours listening and refining small muscle movements to control our instruments. Many of us sit while practicing or performing. For most instruments, too much body movement has a negative effect on our sound. Often we work toward "body calm" as part of the practice goal
It's a rude awakening when we figure out our full body can't express the same emotion without a ton of practice. Dancing primarily uses complete body control with balance, weight shift and mostly larger muscle groups engaged, a big difference compared to playing an instrument.
As a musician, I watched people dance at thousands of events over the years. In one year alone in my early twenties, I played over 225 events, ranging from weddings, recordings, nightclubs, corporate events and beyond. At 95% of my gigs, people were dancing and I always thought, "Someday I should learn to do that." I waited over 20 years for my "someday" to start.
Knowing the mood of the music doesn't give us the tools to express emotions via the dance that are effortlessly expressed via our instrument, due to years of practice. Worse; Knowing the feel of the music almost instantly tells us our dance/movement isn't expressing the real feel of the music. It's disheartening at points, and the obvious disconnect between the music and dance gets in our heads during the early days.
I've already spent thousands of hours of practicing and performing on drums, and now I have to start over with a new instrument: my body. I've had moments where I thought, "Hmmm... Do I really want to invest years into this new instrument?" I knew from the start that being a high-quality dancer was a multi-year project.
It can be downright frustrating. Musicians hear the music being romantic, but have little idea what moves would fit that feel. Or they see the appropriate moves on others, but haven't invested the time to express that with their own body. The music amps up and it's easy to recognize that it's time to crank up the dancing, but they don't have the body control or the experience to make it happen. It's easy to see on others, but that doesn't mean we can do it without practice.
Sometimes it seems easier to just go back to things mastered earlier in life. Great musicians have already gone through the painful ups and downs of learning one complex creative craft; learning to dance requires the same commitment all over again. If they have high standards for their music, they will probably have high standards for their dancing.
Mastering either one puts you closer to the other, but still requires years of practice to become above-average. A seasoned, world-class dancer has heard great music for years, but learning the piano, drums or guitar would still require practicing hundreds or thousands of hours before they could perform effortlessly.
On the flip side, knowing the music intimately pays off big time AFTER a significant investment in dancing. Most musicians have the potential to be excellent dancers far sooner than a peer who starts dancing without a musical background.
The road map for becoming a great dancer parallels the map for being a strong musician. When you've been down the road before, it can be very helpful, because you clearly see what it takes to excel. But it's still easier to practice your strengths (your primary musical instrument) rather than develop your dance moves.
In some ways, it was easier learning music because I was so ignorant about musical excellence along the way. By age twenty I believed I was a hotshot, so I practiced like crazy, got lots of positive feedback and was a big fish in a little pond. I was truly humbled when I moved to LA to be around the big guns in the music business; I soon saw that there was a whole new level of elite skill that I had never seen before.
That experience means that, when I looked at dancing in my mid forties, I realized from the start that it would take me three to six years to become "reasonable" by my definition. I see the best in the dance world, and know that reaching that echelon is a decade or more of hard work.
Make no mistake, it's worth the effort; still, musicians are often frustrated when they find it's like starting over with a brand new instrument.
Most go back to practicing their first instrument rather than go through the learning curve again. The ones who push through it have the potential to become excellent dancers, but that assumes they put in the effort just like everybody else. It may be less work than a peer without musical training, but it's still plenty of sweat and frustration, and the path of least resistance is often going back to playing the music.
I hope more musicians make the journey, because at some point the musical background becomes a huge asset. Then they have two creative outlets, and that makes life much richer.
Dance Books by Don Baarns:
Music4Dancers: Free YouTube Musicality Series
This site and the Music4Dancers video series are supported by your donations. No other ads!
All contributions appreciated!
Connect with me:
Facebook.com/UnlikelySalsero ("Like" the page)
Google+ (Don Baarns)