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Blog #38: Training Musicality in Mature Dancers

I have a question to put to you..

Is it possible to train a professional dancer or prima ballerina, or is that something you born with?

I do think it’s easier for someone who is instinctively musical and naturally intuitive as a performer to reach that kind of status on the stage but, with the right training and support, I think it's quite possible for the most unlikely of young dancers to make it on the stage!

As a ballet teacher, you have incredible potential to impact the future potential of your dancers.

Let me tell you one statistic that has come to light from a survey that I put together for ballet teachers to get a sense of the impact on themselves and their students of any music training they, as a teacher, might have had (in fact, you can do the survey as well if you like; CLICK HERE). 

What I found out was that 94% of ballet teachers surveyed felt that the future success of their dancers was directly connected to the music training that they, as a teacher, had taken.

When a dance teacher has taken music training and is able to capitalize on the accents and qualities of music in their voice when they mark, in their music choices for unset exercises and in the way they talk about the physicality of the movements, this directly impacts their dancers' future success as it relates to the dancer's understanding and the way they hear the music. 

With this fact in mind, let’s take a look at 2 ways that you can train your more experienced dancers to respond to the music more maturely.

2 Ways to Challenge your Dance Career Minded Experienced Dancers

#1) There are counts, and then there is the space between them!

You MUST teach them about that space between the dancer counts. If all you do is teach your dancers to hear and respond to the counts, to be on the music, then they will simply be a mathematical, 'metronomic' dancer who is on the music correctly. As valuable and necessary as this is, it's not the end game, is it?

When you talk about that space between the dancer counts and ask them to fill it with their movement, to continue the movement through that gap of time between dancer counts, and they figure out how to do itthat is when they truly begin to become dancers in their own artistic right.

When you are training senior dancers who are hoping to become professionals, it is imperative that they learn to fill and use every ounce of time/music between the dancer counts. 

"Dance as though you were showing all the qualities of the music to a deaf person." I often say this to dancers when their teacher is struggling to draw out expression from their dancers.  As someone who is hearing impaired, the idea of seeing the music's qualities resonates deeply with me.

An example of this is how they dance their slower movements like slow tendus, adagios, ronde de jambes, fondus, etc. If one dancer count is in first position with two feet on the ground and the next dancer count is in a pirouette position, what happened between those two counts? Was your dancer aware of filling each second of music with movement by slowly drawing the foot up the leg, or did they just zip the foot up and then wait?

To be very clear, I'm not talking about sharp movements, I'm talking about your dancers' abilities to fill the music between the counts by controlling their movement to perfectly fill the time between positions so that the positions are less 'position-y' and more of a drive through Starbucks to pivot through on their journey through the exercise.

Duple meter adagio music is easier to fill, in a way, because there is only one '&' before they're back on a count so they don't have to budget their movement very much.

A triple meter is often not utilized as well because the less experienced dancers get lost in all the time between the counts and tend to arrive to the next position early instead of using all 3 beats to get to the 'drive through'!

#2) Their use of Tempo Rubato

I’ve talked about this musicality skill quite recently in a blog post that I wrote just before Christmas .  It is integral that tempo rubato is taught to your dancers who hope to become professional dancers.

Tempo rubato is best described and seen in very specific exercises! Frappes, for example, they're not just a strike, they are a strike with a hold that is so long that you almost think they’re going to be off the music before they strike again. Ronde de jambes, port de bras and adagios are more exercises where tempo rubato can be demonstrated by reaching or stretching out a position for so long that the dancer has to rush to make up time and 'catch up'.

They Must Have the Flexibility and Discernment to Adjust

Finally, when your dancers are in a situation where they need to blend, say part of a corps de ballet, then obviously they need to tone down their tempo rubato and personal expression of the musicality since they are called to blend with the other dancers and NOT draw attention to themselves.

There is a time and a place for both, right?

Conclusion

In conclusion, if any of your students hope to become soloists in a company one day, their ability to not only hear the dancer counts but use the time between the counts is what will skyrocket them from 'lovely' or 'nice' to incredibly musical, gorgeous and eye-catching. I've played many an audition class and let me tell you, the dancers who are able to use the music well are the ones that catch everyone's eyes (even the musician's, shhh..). 

If you're interested in music training for yourself, click here to learn more about The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers.

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