You can be easily mesmerised by somebody who speaks, sings or dances beautifully. Both verbal and non-verbal communication can impress with a rich vocabulary and appropriate choice of words, sounds or dance movements and the way in which they merge together in order to convey a meaningful message.
Articulation means being able to express your ideas in a clear and comprehensive manner.
How to achieve good articulation in your dancing and where to search for inspiration? Let’s start with the music as it is an integral part of your performance.
Articulation in music
Articulation in music, like in speech, refers to the manner in which sounds are initiated (attack) and released (decay).
A sound starts with an attack, ictus (a rhythmical or metrical stress) and continues with the glide. The glide can be upward or downward. When the glide is prolonged, we sing.
In your dancing you do that by being aware with which body part you initiate an action or movement, how you ‘paint’ it through time and space (glide) and at which point the transition into the next movement happens (preparation-delivery-recovery/transition).
Musicians and singers apply their technique to execute the sounds or notes in various manners:
· "staccato”– sounds are separated,
· "legato”– sounds are smooth and connected,
· "tenuto” – sounds are pressed and lengthened.
You also move like that. Some actions and movements are more separated, shorter in time and using free energy, like often in Cha Cha Cha or Tango. Or your movements are smoother, more connected and longer in time with a held energy, like in Rumba and Slow Foxtrot.
To prevent cliche perceptions of articulation be aware that you can choose any kind of articulation in any dance for the purpose of variety and contrast. The secret lies in a good balance and your refined sense for the character of the dance.
In dancing the articulation can be portrayed through joint articulation, the choice of dynamics (especially time and flow of energy) and gestures. Each of these aspects contributes to the holistic perception of articulation.
The joints themselves can be called articulations. This noun also describes the act of joining things in a way that makes your motion possible and linked with your interpretative ideas.
There can be so much beauty in the way you articulate your joints – foot usage, beautiful hand and wrist movements, spine articulations… Every dance and dance style deals with unique joint articulation. Picture a Brazilian Samba dancer, Turkish Belly dancer, Flamenco, Ballroom or Ballet dancer; they are all very different in their movement articulation.
Ballroom and Latin dances have very different joint articulation. And yet, it is not only about your joint mobility, achieved body flexibility and richness of your movement vocabulary. Additional skills regarding the flow of the motion and different ways of connecting actions and movements into movement structures are also required. Articulation is an onward going process and dynamic qualities give flavours to it.
The flow is a connector
Movements in time duration can be shorter or longer and in the flow of energy either held inward or free, released outward.
Your flow of energy affects your feeling of the movement and your relationship with a partner. We all have potential energy which is like fuel. However, you have to use it wisely and direct it.
When you hold the energy, you have greater control over the movement and you can stop it at any moment. Free energy is difficult to control therefore you use it in shorter time intervals.
The excitement is in having a clear intention, control when needed, yet enough freedom. Study in detail how to prepare the movement and then let it happen, release the energy and catch it back. Consistent renewal of energy, changing from bound to free, brings vitality, feels like a breath of fresh air. The flow of energy connects movements and fills you with a sense of continuation and development.
In daily life and dancing you reinforce your statements and movement intentions with gestures. Gestures in dancing can enrich the overall message as they indicate or illustrate an idea.
How can you make your gestures meaningful and prevent them from coming across as artificial, inappropriate or awkward. Acknowledging the PGM (posture - gesture - merging) theory will help you. Gesture and posture relate in a particular way, therefore it is important to investigate gestures within the context in which they occur.
To experience that yourself, do a little exercise; point your index finger and change your posture from being totally straight, inclining your body forward or leaning slightly backward, oriented frontally or under an angle. In each case the gesture has a different meaning.
PGM means that the whole body is involved, your potential energy is clearly directed and the merging of posture with gesture creates credibility. Furthermore, when a gesture is embodied, assimilated in movement with bodily backup, the feeling that something special is going to happen occurs.
You cannot 'have' a posture and 'make' a gesture as your body is posturing at all times, within the flow of the motion. You make gestures mostly with the head, hands, arms and as a dancer often with feet, legs or hips. Your gestures can be referential (showing empathy or denial, giving or seeking attention) or demonstrative (pointing out something special), the way how you touch your partner or yourself, your facial expressions...
It is a question which one is stronger, your posture or your gesture, but when they merge in the right timing, it's a jackpot. Your awareness of both is needed, whether you initiate with posture which will merge with a gesture or vice versa. You will intuitively feel when both make sense, especially if you explore spontaneously, being free of expectations. Listen to your body and you will hear its whispers.
Check your movement habits, maybe the position of your head is not making sense with your posture. The body never lies and although you try to cover up insecurity or pretend that you are in control, or even seeking attention, your posture and facial mannerisms will betray you. Your mind and body cannot be separated, and only when the two are connected will you appear natural and true.
The way you move and dance not only communicates with music and others, but also forms your ‘self’. Becoming a master of ARTiculation requires a clear vision, attention to detail, common sense and lots of experimenting on your artistic journey.
Therefore, articulation is your artistic tool to create a meaningful performance.
Source of inspiration
Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994
Leonard Bernstein - Harvard lectures 1973