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#34: Tempo Rubato and the Copacabana!

I dare you to sing this.. to the Copacabana melody!

The word is Tempo, Tempo Rubato,

with holding one note extra long and making up the time after,

It is a technique, for being sassy,

Robbing time from measure 4 to hold out measure 3 longer

Across music today, Whether work or play,

Whether dancing or playing music,

Who could ask for more?


Did you do it? Did you actually sing?!  I hope so! I had some good fun making it up!

So, in all seriousness, tempo rubato is totally awesome and worth a blog post for sure, so, on the recommendations of a current student of mine in The OMTC, here we are.


TEMPO RUBATO: In robbed time.

*If a song has tempo rubato in it, it should end up being exactly the same length of time as if one had played it in straight time, with no tempo rubato. The time that is drawn out in one spot MUST be made up in another spot; that is tempo rubato.

Tempo Rubato in the Studio

You know when you're watching a truly musical dancer dance and they stretch/reach on a note, almost too long, and then quick as a fox make up the time to catch up to the music? THAT is tempo rubato! It's a magical moment when you witness it done well.

The use of tempo rubato is an indicator of a musical and mature dancer since many young dancers are unable to imagine this, never mind actually do it skilfully.  Musicality is integral in order to demonstrate this skill well since they will actually be 'off' the music temporarily and without musicality, they'll never get back 'on' the music, it is at this moment that your musician is slowly dying inside. lol 

The good news is, this is musicality training that you can do with recorded music, no pianist required. If you have a pianist it can become almost too much if you have a pianist who is using tempo rubato as well (FYI: pianists should only be using tempo rubato minimally for your dancers in the earlier training years of ballet). I've had occasions where I've used it in between ronde de jambes and bending/port de bras and too late I've noticed a dancer is also using tempo rubato before pushing into the ending. When I draw out count 8 of the RDJ section and a dancer is drawing out that count out as well, we just become in sync slow-motion instead of being fabulously musical and playing with the time. Truly that is what tempo rubato is, in a sense, playing with the music; it's like teasing the beat!

Tempo rubato is a cheeky little musical trick that delights the viewer when done well!

Action Plan

If you're interested in teaching your students about it, one of the best exercises to use it in, is accented rond de jambes (RDJ). With the accent to the front or back, you can ask them to stretch just a little extra before racing to catch the time on the next count! Tempo rubato is a delight in RDJ.

*That being said, if you're working with your dancers on reaching the back corner of the RDJ, you will not want to talk about this since they'll be thinking about the music and arriving on the count and not think about reaching every part of the semi-circle of RDJ!

Another exercise that is a great example of tempo rubato is the glissade in petit allegro work. The quick footwork is much more delightful if they wait a slightly too long and swiftly glissade almost too late to arrive on time! It's perfect to think about it that way since the glissade is not about height anyway.


In conclusion, this quality/ability in dancing is for mature dancers, whatever age they may be! If your dancers can keep their technique and still manage to play with the music this way, win for you and them! 

Quick Story for you!

I have a quick story for you about tempo rubato that made me laugh, it's about a student of mine from the inaugural run of The OMTC for Ballet Teachers. 

She had decided to start ballroom lessons in her late 50's, something she'd always dreamed of and while taking The OMTC, she got spurred and inspired into action!  During her assessment with a young man (Gold medal award winner World Champion) half her age,

'he asked "how do we stay on the beat if I want you to take longer on the 2nd step?" I answered "It's called tempo rubato where you rob time from the 2nd beat and catch up with the 3rd". He absolutely dies on the spot and cheers & now I'm his favourite student!!! Wants me to join the performance competitive squad ASAP.' 

So funny! So there you go.. it's handy to know about tempo rubato and how it applies to dance. :)

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