Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.
Happy Music Making
By Lou Pechi
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It's the music that makes dancing possible.
You can have music without the dance, but you cannot have dance without the music. We mostly dance to recorded music and occasionally get a chance to dance to a live band. I feel that without music the dancing is no fun, unless you consider as music the drumming or silent dancing to the sounds of the steps from some remote Macedonian villages.
This made me think that there is a great similarity between dancing and music.
Some musicians cannot play the music without having the score full of intricate dots, flags, and the ubiquitous five lines stretching across the pages in front of their eyes. They need to carefully look at the patterns on each page as they sight read the score to produce beautiful music. Similarly, some dancers whom I might label "Sight Dancers" need to look across the line to the leader in order to follow the steps. Looking at such a person will make you think that they are wonderful dancers, but the same way, if you removed the score from a person who sight reads the music, removing the good dancer across the line will cause the "Sight Dancer" to come to a screeching halt.
And then, there are musicians, who memorize the score of the music and do not require any music sheets to play, same as there are dancers who can do all the correct steps, even if they were the only ones in the room. Since many times I fall into the "Sight Dancer" group, I am grateful for the dancers who know the score.
Some beginner musicians (dare I call them musicians) who no matter what the score is or how the instruments are tuned cannot produce acceptable music. They require extensive coaching and practice to maybe some day play good music. Some dancers, many times beginners, struggle with the steps and no amount of looking across the line, or following behind the line helps them to do the dance. Same as with musicians, coaching and practice holds a hope for them to be good dancers.
Composers, on the other hand, hear the music in their heads and compose their own music, or combine various themes to produce a song. Dancers in that category are our numerous folk dance teachers, who combine original steps into well defined patterns that match a piece of music and teach us all how to dance.
Lastly, there are the creative musicians who improvise and make music of their own. They play by ear and instinctively are able to either copy a piece of music or improvise on it to produce good sounds. It is very difficult to perform with such musicians, since one never knows what will come next. The same way there are dancers who improvise, taking steps from other dances that might match the beat of the song being played and dance to the beat of their own drummer. This works sometimes, if done at the head of the line, but is very disruptive if done in the middle of the line, when all are doing the same steps. When done solo or in free style couples, such dancing can be quite beautiful.
It is not important what type of musician you are or what type of dancer you are, but on how much you enjoy what you are doing.
Happy music making and dancing!
As appearing in "Dancing with Two Left Feet (56)," Folk Dance Scene.
Used with permission of the author.