How do you feel your dancing rhythms?
Sensing different rhythms in your dancing can be a source of great fun and excitement, or the opposite, they can make you feel calm and at peace.
But what happens when a certain rhythmical pattern represents a threat to you, makes you feel in a panic, rush, anxious and impatient? As long as you fight with your movement rhythms this is a sign that you did not embody them with control and awareness.
Understanding a certain rhythmical pattern is not the same as sensing and owning it. Much better than counting your steps and their rhythms would be to sing them, to voice them, in order to add the organic sense and let them become a part of you.
Your need to become more aware of your attitude towards rhythm, in music and yourself – in your body sensation, mind and emotion. The attitude chosen can keep you in control, fully present and involved and at the same time allows you to enjoy and taste the power and mystery of rhythms in music and in your movement.
In a very simple way, we can say that melody is the singing side of music, whereas rhythm is the dancing side. But rhythm is much more than that, it is the pulse of life and it is a communication system. For you as a dancer, rhythm is mostly perceived as an experience in time where past and future can meet in the present.
Rhythm as the pulse of life
Rhythm is a circle which portrays life. In nature everything happens in cycles, for example the four seasons, appearance of day and night, ocean waves, birth-life-death .... There is a rhythm to everything that repeats regularly over time. The rhythm of your heart beat changes if you suddenly see someone you fancy. Even the ticking of a clock or metronome is a sort of rhythm, though a very regular one. Every day in your life has a particular rhythm, as there is a rhythm to the competitions you attend, the rounds that you dance.
Human life is full of rhythmic–periodic events and their hierarchies. Periodicity indicates the beginnings and endings, therefore in life, music and movement, a rhythm emerges, lives and dies, and very seldom comes back in exactly the same shape and form. That’s why we say that rhythms are like patterns with an endless variety.
There is much more to discover than “one, two, three” in a Waltz or “slow a slow” in Samba.
Rhythm as a communication system
Rhythm is a communication system, “talking drums” served as an early form of long distance communication in Africa, New Guinea and Latin America. They were also used by slaves to communicate over long distances in a code unknown to their enslavers.
It's interesting that Africans do not know the word “rhythm”. The closest expression to what Western culture understands as rhythm would be their word “ben”, which means to meet, to communicate, to come together.
Rhythms of the sounds in music and actions in movement can speak louder than words and communicate beyond linguistic capacity.
Rhythm as an experience in time
Rhythm can be perceived as an experience in time, in music as a sound pattern in time, in your dancing as an order of movements in time.
As a dancer you communicate with the rhythm in music and your partner’s rhythm. You share the perception of rhythms with music and your partner mostly on a subconscious level. It seems there is a direct channel.
Daniel Levitin explains in his book This is your brain on music that music is food for the brain. Neurons fire in synchronisation with the tempo and rhythms of the music that you are listening to, therefore you can perform better timing and connect with the external world with the speed of lightning.
Rhythm in music
In music, rhythm is an arrangement of beats and accents, sounds and silences into a pattern. Each sound has an attack (ictus – a rhythmical or metrical stress) and glide which can go up or down. We also speak and move like that.
To have rhythm in music we need at least one opposing beat with a different sound, being an unstressed off-beat or an accented back beat. The spaces between each beat can be divided into further sub-beats, using multiples of either two or three.
Rhythm has two sides, a metrical (the beat you count) and sensitive one (the pulse you feel). Rhythm only gets sense in the context, in the music within the bar or phrase, in the movement within the moving structure or moving phrase. The manner in which the dancer links the movements/steps one with the other can be translated into rhythmical feeling.
Rhythm in movement is like a verb in language. You have a unique way of sensing and expressing rhythms.
Movement rhythms are born out of relations between different body parts, just like the rhythm in music evolves out of the relationship among differently pitched, accented, coloured sounds. Luckily, you have many body parts in pairs which you can relate to different movement dynamics.
Rhythm becomes alive only through your sensing, otherwise it is just mechanic, mathematics.
What gives life to your movement rhythms? Normally, there is more than one rhythmic pattern going on simultaneously, in the music and in the movement. Different rhythms between instruments in music, and between body parts or partners in movement happening at the same time are known as poly-rhythms or cross-rhythms. Polyrhythms in music and movement are life preservers.
Breaking the rhythm
Rhythm is primarily human-organised. It was discovered before music, and after, it reflected in music.
When rhythm breaks in nature or human biological systems, it means danger. When a dancer breaks the regular rhythm, it creates excitement, introduces fun and happiness.
The ways of breaking or manipulating the rhythm are your intimate properties. There are different ways of rhythmical manipulations in music and movement, we call them syncopations, tempo rubato, Guapacha timing, articulations like staccato, legato, tenuto ....
Changes of speed, which punctuate the movement flow and various accents are making the rhythm visible, especially in company with changes related to the duration of the movement, accelerations and decelerations.
Your rhythm should be embodied, physically sensed and understood. Only then can it relate to the rhythm in music in an endless number of ways – in synchronisation, against the music, even ignoring it or just imagining it, imitating it ....
Only playing with the rhythm outside of its borders may provide a new rhythm. However, to break the rhythm you must first master it in its original form.
As a dancer, you will always be adding your layer of kinetic energy to the rhythm and your actions, timing, dynamics and breath will make your body rhythms look authentic and organic.
If you are interested in Authentic Latin Percussion, visit Snapp Dance.
The course (coming out in the second half of January) on this app provides a unique insight into the rhythmical structure of Cha Cha Cha, Rumba Bolero and Samba. Its aim is to help you understand why your steps and figures have specific rhythms and where exactly they come from, while encouraging you to discover and create your own rhythmical interpretations.