Imagine you get to drive a Ferrari... 30 kms an hour. Gag, right? Or how about a farm tractor with a seeder on the back, as fast as it will go on the autobahn? Either situation sounds awful, right? It's a matter of each vehicle having an essential value and sweet spot that they're intended for and using them in other ways just makes no sense and doesn't work well; music is no different.
Each of the music types that are commonly used in ballet class have an essential tempo that is their magic, their sweet spot, their value. When you try to use them at other speeds (tempos), it's a crash and burn for your pianist and your dancers! The pianist might play what you want, but they won't be happy, your dancers' movements won't be as powerfully supported and emphasized, AND the best qualities of that music type are being compromised, sometimes horrifically so!
Say you want to do a pointe exercise like (bear with me, it's not the most creative exercise, lol. I'm a pianist not a ballet teacher):
Cnts 1-6: Plie, releve first, hold, plie, releve first, hold
Cnts 7-12: Plie, releve and hold, stay, stretch, reach
Cnts 13-18: Plie, releve first, hold, Plie, releve first, hold
Cnts 19-24: Plie, releve and hold, close first, tendu second
Repeat in second.
and you're doing it with your dancers who have had only a 2 years of pointe experience. You can't do the exercise too fast and yet, you want accent on beat 2 for the releve.
What do you do?
If your first thought is, "I'll just ask the musician to play a mazurka but slow it down a bunch", that's a terrible first thought, never have that thought again, ok?
Mazurkas should not be slow. They're quicker. Your pianist can play a mazurka slowly, BUT, to be honest, the energy and vitality of the mazurka will be lost. Plus, your musician will be annoyed with the unpleasant and unnatural manipulation of the mazurka.
Your better option for that exercise, where you want a slower 6 count piece of music, is to use a polka-mazurka, a bolero or a polonaise. These music types are various levels of heaviness but they've got the right tempo and accent for a slower 6 count releve exercise.
SIDE NOTE: You see, a mazurka has WAY less notes in a measure of music than a polonaise does. A mazurka is perfectly written to be played quicker and lightly. A polonaise, on the other hand, has huge chords (imagine playing 6-8 notes on the piano at one time, between your two hands to the rhythm of a polonaise) often. NOT, intended to be played at a fast tempo!
So, if you're wanting to do a grand battement in 6 count phrases and you're thinking you love the energy of a mazurka but it's too fast, rather than slow down the mazurka, go for the polonaise, you won't regret it and your pianist will thank you!
Likewise, the opposite way, if you've got an exercise where you've used a polonaise in the past but you want to speed it up for stronger, more mature dancers, PLEASE, please, don't ask for a fast polonaise. They really can only be played so fast before they've completely lost their quality and power! You see the polonaise is like the march of the 3s. It's strong and has power in it'd median tempo. Speed it up, and you lose those key qualities.
Another music type that dies a slow and painful death when it's slowed down too much is the tarantella! This music must NEVER be slowed down. If you're looking for an energetic 6/8 but not too fast, rather try for something more like a jig or a 6/8 march!
The only 2 music types that can handle a wide range of tempo changes without losing their value and qualities are the polka and the rag. I find that they have great accents and energy when they're fast AND when they're slow (provided I don't sit heavy on the keys!).
Please, please, please, get to know what music types are great at different tempos and then choose accordingly! Your pianist will thank you! If you're uncertain, try asking your musician, they might have a great idea, ie. get that Ferrari on the autobahn and the tractor on the gravel road!
Alternatively, if you're thinking that you really need to learn more about the many different music types but you're not sure how or when, consider signing up for The Official Music Training Course for Ballet Teachers! It's a course I've created, spent months recording and now deliver 2 or 3 times a year. The ballet teachers who have taken it, have LOVED it and strongly recommend it! You can learn more about it here.
Sign up here to nab your free 3 page PDF guide for ballet teachers who want to be more prepared and capable when it comes to working with a pianist!
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