Growing up, I trained in all styles of dance and played a musical instrument, the piano. I could easily and proficiently count music, read music, and identify an upbeat or downbeat. Now, as a teacher, I notice that many students, across varying ages and skill levels, struggle with the musical components of dance instruction. Phrasing, tempo, and rhythm are concepts that require detailed explanation and practice in execution and understanding in all styles of dance.
Here are a couple of exercises I have integrated into my classes to assist in our understanding of music:
(1) Round Robin Counts: We will open a class with round robin style counting exercises. Students will take turns finding an 8-count of phrasing in the music, and they will “pass” the phrase onto another dancer who will work to continue the phrasing and counting of the particular music. To notate the phrases, we clap or march and say the counts out loud. For this exercise, we vary types and tempos of music used.
(2) Teaching With Counts: When I teach choreography with counts, I like to have the students repeat the counting to reiterate the importance of phrasing and timing. I tell them we are using the counts as our road map, and to stay on the same journey, we must use the same map.
(3) Phrasing, Tempo, & Rhythm: I will teach a brief segment of choreography (8 or 16 counts), and we will practice executing it at double time, half time, and triple time. It is important that students understand the process of counts and the ability to manipulate speed and tempo.
With time and repetition, these exercises strengthen the dancers’ understanding of rhythm, musicality, and phrasing, improving their overall performance and understanding of dance.