Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert

Dance, Music and Expressivity

Discuss with Stephanie how these 3 elements are put together for interesting results

In this video, Stephanie talks about how music, dance, and expressivity are combined nowadays, often without a real "live" performance. Do you have any ideas or experiences on this topic that you'd like to tell her about?

Released on January 3, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi. I'm Stephanie together with Virtual sheet music, of course. Today, and with recent Christmas New Year shows hung up in the cupboard for another year, I'd like to reflect on music and its impact as regards dance and dance instruction. They are, as disciplines, inextricably bound after all. Now, to set the scene, most of us, well, females, at any rate, have, at some point, had dance lessons. In my day and certainly in my experience, add on that, classical arabesque, demi-plie, tradition, were the aesthetic ideal, that of beauty, and grace was everything. Watch the turnout, point your toes, soften your arms, and other countless instructions would inspire me and my dance companions to try harder, all to the strains of the piano. Yes, in those days, we had a live pianist, often admittedly, a thumperer, after years of service to the dance industry, yet good enough to get around tricky Tchaikovsky passages and the occasional list. Now, with only one instrument, you'd think it would have been a bit limiting. But thumping aside, I remember dancing to Italian tarantellas, American ragtimes, Verdi, and even Beethoven.

My first experience with Beethoven's third piano concerto, The Last Movement, was doing a traditional dance movement at the bar. So, in short, without the tech and logical support, there was no access to a diversity of instrumentation, you know, orchestral accompaniment as opposed to, for example, a pop song. And yet, the music in those days always did seem varied. It also really helped to the practical level - having a live player who could stop and start up again at any point in the choreography. That was probably the main reason why I loved dance companies still work with pianists. That and the fact that regardless of your personal instrumental preference, the piano with a sheer range of notes is still the nearest any one instrument comes to being an orchestra.

Today's lessons, if they're teaching up my daughter's dance school is anything to go by, is quite different. But then so is the technology. Pianists for starters seem to have been put aside for pen drives and portable speakers. Maybe this is as it should be. Technology is rendering obsolete a lot of our jobs in general. At a training conference, I went to in Genoa a few months back. The journalists said Joe Bellucci warned that many of today's jobs won't actually exist in another five to 10 years from now. By the way, has anyone noticed which governments from around the world are actually addressing this point?

Okay. Getting back to the piano though, nowadays, you'll just line up choreography to track numbers, you know, the minutes and seconds. And yet, how much more clinical is that when dancers would align themselves with the musician, and of course, vice versa. Another thing to think about is that despite the choreography and musical notes never varying, are the artistic performances themselves supposed to be different every time they are realized? A musical recording eliminates this performance variant. You know, Cage's 42 333 spectacularly demonstrates this point. But whether this changes things might just be a moot point in any case. After all, the famous choreographer and dancer, Bejart, danced to completely pre-recorded music as early as 1957. Check out the link below. And he didn't seem particularly bothered.

Leaving aside the above debate, and going back to dance lessons, there's no denying that portable cheap music has changed things both in terms of the teaching and in the realization of shows. But together with this, has come a massive change in a consumer society, yes, of technology, but also of musical consumption itself and the expectations of said consumers. Girls who are, I expect to say, the vast majority of dance students come to lessons already MTV primed. They want a certain style and a certain dance step. Dance teachers, afraid of losing students, put aside musically contrasting works. And I'm not just talking Tchaikovsky here in the name of consumer pressure, and the various musical worlds of dance are not then adequately explored.

Indeed, the result is that a new breed of dance teachers emerge without a musical compass, and the process continues. I would argue that the narrowing down of musical expression and dance has already had a huge effect in the international dance world. So, for example, the dance company, MOMIX, a few years back, spectacular dancing, but the music was embarrassingly two dimensional, lacking in contrast and in interest, and, in my opinion, letting down the choreography. It struck me that perhaps it was the dancers themselves sort of chosen such an unexciting array of pieces and that, perhaps, they needed some professional musical advice from a qualified expert. And with that, meaning to be snobby here, I'm gonna put an emphasis on the word, "qualified."

I talked at some length with my daughter's principal teacher, who's an ex L'Escala dancer, and she agreed with me at every point. She has personally made some headway in addressing this musical imbalance but recognizes the resistance by most students, and indeed, their parents. The bottom line is this, a reduction in musical language becomes a reduction in dance language. And so, the circle continues and spirals away.

Now, at this point, I'd love to hear from some of you, dancers, out there together with students and teachers. Maybe my reality is just a one-off and I've misread the situation. So get writing now, and tell me or show me with videos that I'm just a gloomy E.O. Bye.
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