Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Psychology of Musicality

What came first, dance or music?

What do you think?
I am dumbfounded that many believe that dance comes before music.  I notice, however, that when a DJ suddenly has sound problems. Suddenly there is silence. We were all in the middle of a wonderful vals.  I notice that most everyone else stops dead in their tracks.

In spite of this, 50% of the people I have asked over the years say, “dance was first.” Beginners and advanced dancers – it hasn't mattered. I started this project back in 2009, and the answers have not changed. In fact, the last three people I asked were sure it was dance that started first. Rarely do I hear, "Well, I don't really know."  Strong opinions prevail.  My guess is that many people learn dance and the music is slowly introduced to the movements.

However, psychologically speaking, when one thinks of dance being first, now dance and musicality have to be combined.  That is where this backward psychological perspective of dance will make the musicality of dance a daunting, maybe impossible task for anyone struggling with either the movement or hearing the music. But dance is the normal response to music, which is clearly innate and not learned!

How we teach our children to have two left feet
It takes years to teach a child to disconnect from their dancing persona. Here are the stages of how we fall away from our natural talent to be musical in our bodies as a response to music that "moves" us:
  • As infants and then toddlers we were "dialed in" to music. It's not a few children, but the majority of children who have very early dance responses to music.  People laugh and we had fun as children. It seems even that music "forces" us to move without any thought.  But we quickly learn that we cannot just dance anytime or anywhere.  Suddenly our parents are upset when we start dancing at our older sister's piano recital, for example.
  • Our early school experience taught us that we must restrain ourselves in certain settings, such as church or school from feeling/dancing to music.  Even in music class we may be told not to dance or sway too much.
  • In middle school, many of us trained each other not respond to music the way we feel it for fear of being laughed at or not being "cool."  (This is not true in many cultures, of course. Latin American school experience is much different than cultures highly influenced by Europe.  The Euro-centric school experience demands restraint from the desire to move to music -- except perhaps in a dance class and with the proper acceptable movements for the music being played.)
  • As adults we must maintain control at work and in public settings because only children, crazy or inebriated people dance to music in public.
  • Even in private piano lessons at my university, my teacher told me not to move so much, and I did not even know that I was moving!
Become as a child
Take a moment to remember the babies you have seen dancing, obviously do not need extensive training in musicality.  They appear to be unabashed about their body and connected from the very uniquely human trait of naturally moved to dance. Toddlers do not need musicality lesson nor technique for musicality because music comes first, and it starts in the unique wiring in the human brain.  Become as a child. As an adult learner, find a teacher who helps you respond to the music naturally.

The paradoxical sequel
The Psychology of Musicality part 2 will show that movement comes before music, which seems to contradict my conclusion above, but -- you guessed it -- movement (not dance) preceding music only confirms that music is primary and internal.
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