Actually, my thoughts on leading and following also kick me into thinking about the role of dancers with respect to the musicians. Exactly what is the role of dancing – in some sense, they’re not integral to the band as “the show can go on” without dancers. Are we an accessory – like costumes, or lighting, or sound equipment? That’s probably what I used to think – but then more recently I’ve heard tap dancing likened to a percussion instrument, which got me to thinking – are dancers just another aspects of the performance art process? After all – many forms of performance intrinsically link music with performance. Although I’m not quite at the level to see/hear it, I’ve heard of musicians feeding off the energy of dancers, catering to them and sometimes even styling to emphasise what the dancers are doing. But how does this work when there are many couples on the floor, many dancers, each doing something different…How does the interaction work there? The energy of the crowd? Those closest to the band?
This also has to do with what you think the role of music is – in my mind, it is something like protolanguage. Sometimes I imagine music uses rhythm, pitch and tone to convey the feelings, the state of mind, colour and images of the composer’s mind. But then the musicians take the music and make it their own when they turn it into sound, so why not another step of processing, with the dancers imparting translating the sound into motion. But is the processing just one way? It may be possible to ignore dancers when they are present, but it’s also possible to just play music straight.
Perhaps…it is just a matter of what you want to achieve – as a composer, as a musician, as a dancer. There is unwillingness to give up a particular artistic vision – I’ve heard some composers are so very explicit and meticulous about exactly how the piece the music is to be performed – exactly what kind of ornamentation, dynamics – a vision of the sound. Then there are musicians – and solos – improvisation, and turning playing music into a performance. And the dancers – there is following the music, but then there is also adding to the music – an additional instrument, another step in this music making process.
Tap dancers are sometimes considered half percussive instrument as well as half performer. Swing dancers often emphasise beats with their footwork, working in stomps and jumps, in addition to the kinetic performance synced to the music.
For now, my focus is in making an interesting dance for my follow (and me!). I haven’t figure out exactly what I want it to be like – be able to replicate Astaire? Replicate a Broadway musical dance number? But the aim is something that makes sense to the music, but also something that makes sense to who I’m dancing with – and of course, since I’m driving, makes sense to me! For now, I’m probably only at the level of doing things that complement the music, my partner – which is a gentle addition – but I know that there’s still the whole realm of creating new things to go along with it all…Then again, I’m starting to realise that being able to lead, and sync to the music and the partner…and lets not forget doing dancing on your own end…is not an insignificant cognitive load. Then add on top of that strategy and planning for the phrase structure (“hitting the breaks”)…and then on top of that there’s matching the overall mood – fast, slow, upbeat, slow – as it changes…
Actually, that starts feeling like there’s the “base” – your steps – that branches upwards into immediate things to worry about – your partner – and then perhaps into doing things with your partner to the music, complementing the feel of it, it’s structure, and then timing for the structures. Maybe an upside-down pyramid…and all of it is perhaps dancing. The dance pyramid…like a food pyramid…Hmmm