Musicality done right

One of the greatest challenges of any partner dance is balancing the partnerships: the partnership with your physical partner, and the partnership with the music. Too often we sacrifice one for the other, rather than finding ways to engage both partners equally and at the same time.

The other night I worked with students on phrasing the dance to twelve-bar blues. The challenge was to be musical – to hit the phrase change but also to reflect the build up to the phrase change – and to do so in a way that was comfortable and engaging for both partners.

To do this, we practiced listening for the upcoming phrase change and picking patterns or stylings that would set up the partnership to be musical together. These selections were higher in energy and intensity but were simple enough that both partners could successfully and comfortably hit the phrase change, in some cases even providing the opportunity for each partner to hit the phrase change in their own way.

Lots of dancers can hear the phrase change coming, or recognize it when it occurs, but it takes some thought and skill to be able to plan for it, let alone do it in a way that engages your partner. Planning for the phrase change is how we avoid the last minute “attack” – the rushed and often tight movement to hit an accent or break. These “attacks” create tension and discomfort, rather than providing a comfortable and more relaxed approach that allows both partners to remain stable and to express their individual musical response to the phrase change.

How do you – as a leader or follower – engage your partner in musicality? How do you strike that balance between the partners, creating opportunities instead of commanding your partner in some way? And how do you set up things like phrase changes so that both partners can engage in a comfortable and stable way?

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