Harmony brings you inner peace, calmness, balance, the feeling of being in tune with yourself and the world that surrounds you. It works through your mind, feelings, senses and intuition.
You desire to live in harmony and experience it, be it in relations with other people, tasting food or pursuing it through colours and design in fashion, art, architecture ... and of course in dancing. As it exists on various levels, you can search for it in your own body and in the connection with music and your partner.
In this article I would like to lead you beyond the traditional understanding that harmony in dancing is a well-coordinated movement with beautiful lines and proportions only. The arrangement of your dance actions/movements and choice of dynamics create harmony in your dancing. It is similar to the arrangement of words and phrases which create well-formed sentences in a language or combinations of differently pitched tones which create chords in music. Music teaches us that harmony is about layering, combining and progression. It is about balancing conflicts and resolutions, tensions and relaxations.
In my previous article I described Laban's dynamic theory and four motion factors (time, space, weight and flow). The beauty and mystery arise when you start combining motion factors into movement dynamic chords. This is how you will create a variety of moods, expressions and appearances which affect your as well as the audience's senses and feelings.
Harmony in music
Looking at music can inspire you to get a better understanding of layering elements to enrich your dancing. Harmony entered music slowly in the Middle Ages (1000–1453) and Renaissance (14th–16th century), as opposed to the rhythm and melody, which were a part of music from its beginnings. It seems to be the most mystical element of music. Harmony enables the composer to speculatively affect emotions by providing music with extra depth and colour.
Harmony is the vertical aspect in time of notated music, the relationship of simultaneously sounding pitches, called chords. A chord is two or more notes sounding at the same time. Most often composers use a triad, a chord made up of three tones. The study of harmony involves chords, their construction and progressions.
All music creates tension and release, dissonance and consonance, with the purpose of making you feel changes and conflicts. Consonance is a combination of notes which are in harmony with each other due to the relationship between their frequencies. It creates the impression of stability and repose. On the other hand, dissonance creates the impression of tension, clash or sharpness, it can be unsettling, jarring or even unnerving. This is because dissonant sounds create a tension that the listener naturally wants to hear released, resolved.
People associate consonance with sweetness, pleasantness, acceptability and dissonance with harshness, unpleasantness or unacceptability, although this depends on the listener's familiarity and musical expertise. Music usually sounds pleasant to the ear when there is a balance between the consonant and dissonant sounds. That occurs when there is a balance between tense and relaxed moments, like in your dancing.
Harmony in movement
How can you create balance between tension and release in your dancing? And I don't mean only the control of your muscular toning here. You can play with movement conflicts and resolutions, lyrical and dramatic expressions, harshness and sweetness ... The mystic, illusive expressions arise out of your conscious layering and the variety of fusions that you can create with four motion factors and their polarities by building movement dynamic chords.
You can start with a combination of two and then three motion factors, similar to a combination of two or three differently pitched tones in music. Combinations of two motion factors are known as states:
Awake – combining Space and Time
How do you feel awake as a dancer? Acknowledge your presence in the moment and where exactly you are in space. Control your focus and direction of your movement in the space.
Dreamlike – combining Weight and Flow
Imagine yourself being light or heavy and in a consistent free flow. There is no pressure of time and space.
Distant – combining Space and Flow
Stay in a flow, keep your energy and acknowledge the feeling of being 'away' in space.
Near/Rhythm – combining Time and Weight
In this state you are in your body, sensing body rhythms, muscle toning, time is perceived as now.
Stable – combining Space and Weight
Stable is when you trust your sense and spot of being grounded.
Labile/Mobile – combining Time and Flow
Your state of mobility is seen through the flow of your motion and time duration.
By creating the illusion of a particular state you will invite the onlookers to sense your state of being as theirs, they might identify with it, become a part of your way of storytelling. States work like magnets.
Combinations of three motion factors are known as drives:
The Action Drive – Weight, Space and Time
The Passion Drive – Weight, Time and Flow
The Spell Drive – Weight, Space and Flow
The Vision Drive – Space, Time and Flow
Visualise yourself dancing in different drives. The way HOW you treat the movement is always your choice. It's all about your inner intention – how you intend to experience movement. Drives have a special impact on your sensing and the receiver's sensing. You make others feel, visualise and dream and so provide food for their soul. You take them on your journey.
Let's have a look at what happens when you combine space, weight and time, taking on board all polarities. You get eight combinations.
Flick is a quick light stroke, Float feels like levitation, Slash is done like a cut or sweeping stroke (like a broom), Wring happens when you twist and squeeze the movement, Punch is a direct thrust, Press feels strong and direct, Dab is like a light blow or tap and Glide is a smooth movement (like flying without engine power).
You can play with your actions, movements or even movement structures and dance them in many different ways.
The states and drives are often discussed as having distinct psychological characteristics. What does that mean? Laban was influenced by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and connected his dynamic theory to Jung’s personality types. Space can be associated with 'thinking', energy flow with 'feeling', time with 'intuition' and weight with 'sensation'. Introducing more harmony into your dancing will always work through balancing your thinking, feeling and sensing and relying on your intuition, your tacit knowledge.
Although the term harmony means agreement and concord, you know that disagreements, tensions, struggles and conflicts are also important as they ask for resolutions, upgrades and so stimulate your development as a person and dancer.
Harmony brings different elements together for a moment that lasts less than the length of a breath. And your dancing happens in that moment.
Source of inspiration
Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994
Laban, Rudolf. Mastery of Movement. MacDonald & Evans, Plymouth, 1980
Title photo credit - Sybil Tay