Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Psychology of Musicality part 2

A classical dance from India:  Precision of drums and dancer.

In part one of "The Psychology of Musicality," I reasoned that music came before dance.     Click here for part one.

Ask anyone, including avid dancers, and it seems that nearly everyone has strong opinions about dance preceding music or music preceding dance.  A tango friend, Lisa, using her observation of her children, came to the conclusion that dance and music happen at the same time.  Her daughter was moved to dance with or without music, and her son made every common object into a drum to make music. Maybe that is the solution -- making dance and music parallel, not one or the other first.  She concluded:  "Dance was created by those who needed to move and they did so to their own internal music.  Music was created by those who needed to feel the vibration and they did so with whatever objects were at hand. Dance and music were created parallel."

These are good points.  However, is it possible that the dancing without music we see in small children is the result from the baby's ability to remember the music she had heard earlier? The ability to remember music includes the ability to dance to remembered stimuli, just like remembering where food is gets the whole body reacting by movement to find food again and even have stomach acids ready to receive it. Food is the remembered stimulus, which creates food-searching movements. Music is the remembered stimulus for dance movements.  Also, playful animals "dance" around.  Human beings dance for joy (as some animals do) -- but is this truly dance?  If it is, it is the rare exception to what dance is as a response to music.  An exception does not make dance first and music second.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of which came first, perhaps. Or the solution is that both happen simultaneously.  At least this is not a question that will cause the end of the world.  However, I would argue that indeed putting dance first has consequences for adult learners.  I believe that the philosophy of Dance-before-Music is exactly how tango is too often taught, and this has negative implications for learners.  A series of steps learned will make a great dancer?  Let's choreograph this song and then add music?  No!  Music first, then dance.

This post was about to be published today, but I called my 17 year-old son and asked I asked him how his dance lessons were going.  He just started a month ago.  He said he loved it, but he does not like that the dance instructor has her adolescent students learning steps first and then she introduces the music!  That's right:  She goes through the steps and then turns on the music, belting out directions of how they must move.  Ben said, "I now know why you like tango, Dad.  There are no steps that you are forced to do."  I couldn't believe how perfectly his complaint fell in line with these articles on the psychology of musicality.  He gave me permission to mention his experience.  Dance before music is poor pedagogy if nothing else.

In the psychology of musicality we must return to the simplicity of stimulus and response (music and dance). Secondly, we must return to being childlike. Among a long list of motherly anecdotes, Lisa, my tanguera friend said, "Although I waited until age 7 to sign [my daughter] up for ballet lessons, [her ballet dancing] was never as wonderful as her spontaneous dancing. Now, at age 14, she will only dance when no one else is home." Lisa's daughter is already learning how to control herself so much that she is losing the innate ability to dance with natural musicality (see Part One for the discussion of why we lose our innate musicality). Later, she might tell a dance teacher when she is in 40's, "I have two left feet." No, sweetheart, you have a brain that has forgotten how to be and do what it was made to do:  Dance spontaneously to the music.


Next: The Psychology of Musicality part 3. I asked a group of tango teachers if music happens before dance, and a few responded back with some insightful answers.

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