When I was first learning to dance, I took a lindy hop workshop with a great teacher from Ithaca named Bill Borgida. I don’t remember what he taught in the workshop, but something he said stuck with me: “Count Basie is my choreographer.” Count Basie is of course the great swing band leader, and his point was that the music was telling him what to do.
We often think of the leader as the choreographer in the dance, or at least the lead choreographer. He is responsible in many ways for setting the tone and directing much of the dance. But ideally what he choreographs is not born solely out of his knowledge of patterns, but rather his inspiration from the music.
Putting the leader in touch with the music has many benefits. Not only does it create a more musical dance, but it makes his choices clearer to the follower, who can hear what he’s trying to choreograph. This should also make it easier for the follower to engage and add some choreography of her own, knowing that she is on the same page as the leader, both of them connected by the music. It should also be a bit of a relief for the leader, who can let the music guide his leading rather than having to come up with moves on his own.
Who do you think of as the choreographer in the dance? Who is it now and is that how you want it to be? Teachers, how do you help your students to understand choreography and its relationship with the music?