When Lorena Feijóo took the stage in Jerome Robbins’ In the Night at New York’s City Center last October, it was as if an invisible cord connected her body to each instrument in the orchestra. Whether from studying the piano as a young dancer in Cuba or from her intrinsic ability to embody sounds, the San Francisco Ballet principal exhibits that intangible quality that makes dance such a pleasure to watch: musicality.
So what exactly is musicality? It’s how a dancer expresses music in his or her body. “Musicality is understanding music on a technical level, and then dropping all of that knowledge so you can sit deep inside the music,” says choreographer and “So You Think You Can Dance” regular Wade Robson. “It’s dancing inside the music, as opposed to floating on top of it.”
A well-developed sense of musicality separates the pros from the amateurs. It also makes you enjoyable to watch—and it’s a more rewarding way to dance! Here are some ways to hone your ear and make inspired music and movement choices of your own.
Put a musical dancer and a nonmusical dancer side by side and you’ll see why it’s so important to be attuned to the rhythm, melody and mood of a song. Dancers without a keen connection to the music might seem stiff or disconnected—often, they’re hard to watch. “They’re unable to transmit the emotion the musical notes are giving,” Feijóo says. “A strong but nonmusical dancer is like a painting without any colors. I’d rather watch a musical dancer with less extension and not-as-pretty feet.”
Musical dancers, on the other hand, never disregard the music to fit in more tricks. “You can see the effort in a nonmusical dancer—they are often step-driven,” says NYC ballet teacher Deborah Wingert. “Musical dancers don’t just turn until they stop. They turn until they have to move on to the next point in the music. Musical dancers never get so caught up in steps that they ignore the music.”
It’s important to understand that musicality comes in many forms, and there is no right or wrong way to interpret a score. Some choreographers create entire dances before they choose the music, while others may start with a piece of music before they create a single step. As a dancer, you must be ready for any approach they use.
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