Watching a dancer, I always see something more than the movement. That something is the reason that dance is so hard to explain. Everyone wants to say that their exercise or their game trains the brain. With dance, there is that something more, more than the brain, more than the effort and more than the extreme skills.
The special something of dance has obsessed me for many years. Trying to make a list is like a grocery list that never ends. One reason is that dance contains the simplest beginning to movement leading to variation upon variation of complexity.
So I continue to try and clarify a few simple things about dance. I begin with Ballet because it is the one form that takes from and influences every other form of dance.
One simple element that gives movement an extra quality is the rhythm. In a Ballet class the teacher often emphasizes the rhythm by using the phrase, “And, One.” This can be stated repeatedly or in series as in “And, One; And, Two; And, Three.”
So many principles are capsuled in these words. First they are a phrase. All movement is more than a task or a skill, it is a phrase in the same way that music is more than sound.
What else does “And, One” reveal? The anticipation of the movement is as important as the move itself. In other words, every part of the movement is important.
How does the dancer make the anticipation just as important as the movement? First is the rhythm that can be using duration of short/long. The “And” becomes the short and the “One” can be long. Or the variation can be Long/Long that sustains the phrase as in music.
The dance can then vary the movement by distinguishing a rhythm with the simple phrase of shorts and longs.
This is easily experienced in Tap dancing that specializes in the sound of shorts and longs in phrases that can be quick or extended.
It is this extension of the phrase that is also different about dance movement. By combining the short/long variations, phrases place emphasis. As an observer I am guided by the phrase to anticipate the emphasis. As in “And, One” I anticipate the One. With a longer phrase, I wait for and anticipate the return of the emphasis. For example, “And, One: And, Two; And, Three,” returns to “And, One.”
Not only is every moment important, the preparation and the emphasis. Every moment can also be distinguished by an emphasis or a building to an emphasis. This is also the language of music.
Another way of describing this process of managing the emphasis is using the term transition. Dance and music are basically learning to experience ways of making a transition from one sound or movement to another using processes like the phrase.
Hip Hop and Street Dancing demonstrate all this with their moments of suspense just before a surprising movement. Latin Dances likewise vary the emphasis with variations on “And, One, And, Two” changing the emphasis from the One to the Two.
Rhythm built around the phrase and emphasis are only the beginning of what makes dance movement unique.
Tim Hurst 06/28/18