Off-Topic Thursday: What Musicians Can Learn from Dancers

Image via Pexels.

Image via Pexels.

When my schedule permits, I like to take dance classes. I've tried swing, ballet, tap, and modern and enjoyed them all for every different reasons--much like my love for different genres of music. Dance is hands down my favorite form of exercise, since it combines artistic movement with my beloved music. What better way to take care of my body?

And what better way to introduce some variety into my artistic practice than by exploring a different discipline! Aside from the great workout and enjoyable creative experience, more often than not I leave dance classes with new ideas for things to incorporate into my musical work.

The single most important thing that I walk away with, every single class, is dancers' dedication to the foundations of their art form. In the beginner classes I take, there are a tremendous range of abilities, from true beginner up through local professional dancers. Why are professionals dancing in a beginner class? I wondered for a long time. Then I began to watch them--and their interactions with our teachers--a little more closely.

The beginner classes move slowly, with the opportunity to really focus on each movement and combination as they are presented. For the less experienced, this is a chance to learn for the first time with and form healthy, accurate understanding for future work. For the more experienced? This is their chance to focus on returning to and refining core principles. The teacher may offer a beginner like me corrections on my torso alignment, while offering the professional dancers nuanced correction on the angle of their arms.

It's not unlike a musician's time with slow scales, arpeggios, and tone exercises. When we first start out as beginners, it's our first time learning these concepts. With careful instruction and thoughtful work, we learn them as part of our core musical understanding. As a more advanced artist, we return to them as the foundation of the whole of our work. If we can't play a beautiful Bb scale when the quarter note = 80, we shouldn't be hurrying through intricate Anderson etudes at 132.

Slow, thoughtful, "beginner" exercises give the opportunity to really listen to how we are playing. Are we supporting each note of the scale evenly? Do we produce consistent vibrato throughout the entire compass of that scale? Are we playing evenly? Are we shaping the phrases of the scale? There is so much to be explored by revisiting the basics, no matter what level of musician you are. With "time, patience, and intelligent work" (thank you, Trevor Wye!), it can offer tremendous opportunities for growth.