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Movement meets Melody

Melody is the part in music that you normally sing (from Greek melōidía which means singing, chanting). As a dancer you are singing your movements, voicing them with a sense of pitch, loudness or quietness, rhythm and flow.You are constantly challenging your dance quality, searching for new ways of HOW you can perform your movements. Many answers can be found in Laban’s theory of dynamics, which is an endless source of knowledge and inspiration. Elements of music, like rhythm, melody, harmony, can be acknowledged through the same theory of dynamics, with the purpose of creating a dialogue between music and your dancing.

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What matters is your inner intention and attitude towards felt senses of your movement and the elements that you perceive in music. When you understand both languages, you are capable of relating one with the other. Melody and dance both have an immense ability to arouse emotions. Through the movement quality dynamics, you are able to express emotions, moods and states of being and so does a musician or a singer.Let’s see in more detail how melody can be your inspiration and eye opener, especially when you work on your movement dynamics.

What is melody?

Melody is much more than a series of notes that move horizontally along time. You feel melody in terms of motion, a succession of related pitched tones, organised rhythmically so as to create a complete aesthetic statement.Quite similar to dancing, the content makes the form and awareness of the movement and its intentions make the steps and figures. In music there are sounds (differently pitched tones), intervals and scales. One tone is not music, at least two notes/sounds are necessary to make music. The relationship between two notes, called interval, creates the musical meaning. Intervals work horizontally (melodically) and vertically (harmonically).In dancing we have actions, movements and movement structures. We need at least two actions to make a rhythmical movement and sequences of movements create a movement structure/dance figures.

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Scale is a sequence of intervals. In traditional Western music, a scale generally consists of seven tones/notes and repeats at the octave. Notes in the commonly used scales are separated by whole step (a tone) or half-step intervals (semitones). An octave has 12 tones with a half tone distance.  You can find a scale in your footwork. When you gradually rise from flat foot to low ball, ball, high ball up to toe, you can sing along do-re-mi-fa-so and then the same in the lowering process, so-fa-mi-re-do.

The main difference between the major and the minor scales is the arrangement of whole tone and half tone step intervals. Due to various arrangements you will feel major scales as triumphant, with a sense of liberation, the gates of heaven itself.On the other hand, minor scales can create a very mysterious feeling, modest, humble, sad, or exotic. They are often used to express more complex emotions.Various scale moods and atmospheres affect your dance interpretation.

Do you sometimes wonder why blues melodies are so unique? There are hints of pain and sweetness, yearning for lost past and hoping for a better future. Blues refers to the use of blue notes or a harmonic form. Blue notes are sung or played at a slightly different pitch from standard and harmony in jazz alternates between the major and minor chords which are challenging each other like bright and dark colours in painting and strong and soft movements in dancing.

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Dance tunes/songs are easy to remember, they stick in your mind, you whistle them, they never go out of the range of the normal human singing voice (normally around two octaves) and the phrases don't last longer than the normal breath. Easy like social dancing.But top performers develop their range as art requires developed skills. The vocal range of Celine Dion and Mariah Carey is five octaves, of Dimash Kudaibergenov six octaves. Great singers, like dancers, not only develop the range, they pair it with the skill of projection. 

The range of your movements, your body flexibility, extensions and elongations can be compared with a singer's vocal range. With those qualities you communicate openness, freedom, endlessness, onward going flow, range extremities beyond expected. Extreme range of your movement will always mesmerise the audience. When you hear a melody, you also see it, you can visualise all those SHAPES and ARCHES and CURVES of melodies. They rise in tension and sink down in relaxation. With your movement you express that through design and muscle toning, from strong to light or heavy movements.

The technique of combining several melodic lines into a meaningful whole is called counterpoint, more than one melody is going on at the same time, counter melody multiplies the main melody, there is an abundance of melodies.The counterpoint in the movement can be expressed most visibly through the partnering skill as each partner is creating their individual movement line, which then merges with their partner's. The merging process requires a great deal of empathy.

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Empathy is your capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within, your capacity to place yourself in your partner's position. You also feel empathy with a melody, you share a broad range of emotional states with it. Therefore, we say that melody is the soul of music and a bridge between people.Known melodies are secure, because you know where you go and unknown ones can be taken as a challenge or new discovery. 

Dynamics in melody and movement

In music the term “dynamic” refers to loudness and quietness of the sound (forte, piano). When we speak about dynamics in dancing, we are talking about how the movement can be done, taking under consideration the so-called motion factors – time, space, muscular toning and energy. Dynamics have four subcategories, each of which has two opposite polarities, either fighting or indulging.Laban recognized that the dynamics of movement are created by particular combinations of these subcategories: SPACE (Direct / Flexible), WEIGHT (Strong / Light), TIME (Sudden / Sustained), FLOW (Bound / Free).

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Dynamic qualities are created by the dancer’s attitude to the motion factors: flexible or direct attitude to space,relaxed or forceful attitude to weight, prolonging or shortening attitude to time, liberation or withholding attitude to flow.

Melody, like movement, always conveys a message, an idea, a thought through its line and flow. In a simple way we could say that we recognise happy melodies by their high pitch, fast tempo and light energy and sad melodies by their lower pitch, slower tempo and heavier energy. Let us look at melody and movement through the prism of Laban’s dynamic theory.

Space is melody's kingdom, it can move high or low, rising and falling gradually or suddenly, it can hit you directly or embrace you gently, curving around you. Melody can show you a clear direction or take you somewhere unknown. It can hit you like a fighter or comfort you like a lover. 

Weight is a synonym for melody's force. It can be strong and loud or soft, light and quiet. It can make you want to resist the gravity or indulge, give into it. High pitches will invite you to rise and lightly levitate with them and low sounds will make you feel grounded and heavier. 

Time can be prolonged or shortened and melody plays with it in an elastic manner, tempo rubato is the name of the game. Slowing down or holding the sound can lead you to a sense of timelessness as speeding up will motivate you to run to the future.A sudden burst or stop of melody will encourage the feeling of urgency, momentary expression or a sharp desire to reach the end of your movement.Sustained melodies permit being delayed, free of stress, indulging in an unending stream of time.


Flow refers to the control and recharge of the energy of the sound and connects one sound to another. Controlling the breathing and muscle toning becomes essential for musicians, singers and dancers.When melodies travel freely outwards, there is a feeling of release and when they are bound, kept inward, tension appears. Energy has to circulate, therefore it alters from scattering (sent in different directions) to gathering (collecting to the centre) sounds and movements. The body's energy is always running though.

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As a dancer you don't need to follow or mimic the melody, but you relate, react to it with the movement dynamics. The relations can be complimentary, or adverse. Like in any creative dialogue, there are many choices, you can dance on it, with it, in it, against it, behind it, in front of it... Melody can give you orientation or you can take it in your own direction.You will make your dialogue with the melody more interesting if you allow the exchange of tension and suspense and thus raise the audience’s curiosity of what is going to happen.

Source of inspiration

Vermey, Ruud. Latin – Thinking, sensing and doing in Latin American Dancing. Kastell Verlag, 1994