Teaching about the interaction between dance and music

I have been doing Swedish dance for over 11 years, usually learning at week-long or weekend Scandinavian dance camps, as well as hour-long workshops every month. Going through the Uppdansning program has improved my dancing tremendously, with a focus on a few dances each year, perfected at a week-long training camp with Leif and Margareta Virtanen, and with Stig and Helen prior to Uppdansning performances. The focus has been on learning specific kinds of polskas from specific villages or regions. Examples are Polska från Boda, Polska från Älvdalen, Bondpolska från Viksta, etc.

The dance teaching at the ESI is different. Here the emphasis is on a very organic way of teaching dance movement so that the body movements become very conscious as well as efficient and with the right energy. It involves a lot of walking to music, paying attention to different aspects of the movement. We focus on response to the music, hearing and responding to the main pulse, the secondary pulse or pulses (or beats), the mechanics of body movement, the interaction and communication with the partner, and hearing and changing on the musical phrases. It is very well suited to the year-long format of the dance course.

For musicians, we join the dancers in dance class one day every other week. It is a major tenet of the course that musicians benefit from knowing the dances. Dancers also take music theory and play an instrument, and we all sing together in regular singing classes, so it works both directions. Our first two dance times all together we worked on schottis. It was interesting taking many hours to listen to and walk to the music, and really think about it. It took the entire first day to begin the turn. Two weeks later we completed the turn! I now have a much higher comfort level with leading schottis, as we took both roles during our days of schottis.

We also had an hour of playing for the dancers in a joint class. We went through a series of exercises using Lasse Leile Diu, a slängpolska tune taught to us by Mia Marin. Mia taught this exercise together with Andreas Berchtold, using this progression of steps:

  1. First we musicians played and the dancers danced individually to our music. Then we discussed our observations from each perspective.
  2. We played and they danced as couples to our music. We could feel that their focus was more on each other and less on us. But we also noticed more interesting dancing when they added their interactions as couples.
  3. Each dancer was then paired up with a specific musician to focus on (and vice versa) and we played again. It was fascinating how different we sounded during this exercise, much lighter, and we listened better to each other. We also got practice in watching dancers while playing.
  4. We then all focused on one designated dancer while playing. We did this a couple of times with a few different dancers and it felt and sounded different depending on which dancer we were focused on. The dancers enjoyed controlling our volume and feel, and starting and stopping us with their dancing.
  5. Then we focused on one dancer, and then switched to another dancer. They were doing individual slängpolska, and did a round couple turn to switch to the next person. It was fascinating hearing the differences in the sound within the tune.
  6. Then they began dancing minuet and we switched to a minuet tune and repeated some of these exercises.

Here is a photo of musicians and dancers during this exercise, 18 November, 2014.

It was a fascinating exercise and we all felt that we had a much deeper understanding of the musician-dancer communication. It was also a thoroughly satisfying experience.

1 Comment|Add your own comment below

  1. Happy Thanksgiving Sonia!
    Your entry about dance and music is very interesting and the process must be very rewarding. You have a depth of understanding of the process at this point that I feel I will never have, but really connect with the concept. Many were the times that the music did not “speak” to me in the past so this explains why. Now I have to try to watch the dancers more and see what I can do to improve slightly.
    Hugs, Jill

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