Timing. - As the movements and the figures of the dance are but the translation, in terms of bodily action, of the music which accompanies them, the dancer when learning a dance should first of all listen carefully to the tune, and, if possible, memorise it. In particular he should note the number and relative lengths of its several phrases and calculate the number of steps that can be danced to each of them (two in every bar in duple, and three in triple-measure).
In the description of the dances given in the notation it will be found that a definite number of bars, and therefore of steps, is allotted to every figure and to every part of every figure, and it is by this system of measurement by step that dancers "time" their movements with the music. Every dancers, therefore, must always have in mind not only the form and the shape of the figure he is executing, but the number of steps apportioned to the figure as a whole and to each subsidiary section of which that figure is compounded. So long, however, as he "times" his movements correctly and arrives at his appointed station at the end of each section of the figure, it is for him to distribute his steps in relation to the track or course described. He may, for instance, enlarge his track by taking larger steps, or restrict it by taking shorter ones. In the Gip, for example, the size of the circle described by the two dancers is immaterial, so long as, by regulating their speed, they success in completing the circuit and regaining their original stations in the prescribed number of steps. When pressed for time the dancer may find it helpful to anticipate a movement, i.e., to start it a beat or so in advance; or per contra when he has time in hand, to delay it by taking one or more preliminary "balance steps" before getting under way. Devices of this kind should, of course, be employed sparingly and never without good reason, as, for example, in the cases above cited, to avoid unseemly scurrying on the one hand or a premature conclusion on the other.
Phrasing. - It is just as necessary for the dancer to phrase his steps and movements as it is for the musician to phrase his notes and strains, or for the writer to punctuate his sentences. The purpose in each case is the same - to define and make intelligible what would otherwise be ambiguous or meaningless. A series of equally accented dance-steps, musical sounds, or verbal syllables, conveys no meaning until by the periodic recurrence of stronger accents the steps, sounds, or words, are separated into groups, co-ordinated, and some sort of relationship established between them.
The writer indicates these groups and their relative values by punctuation; the speaker by pauses, emphasis of particular words, and by the rise and fall of his voice; the musician by slurs or phrases, which define the positions of the rhythmical accents; while the dancer groups his steps in correspondence with the rhythmic phrases of the accompanying music. The dancer, like the musician, must be careful to distinguish between the metrical accents (i.e., the accents and beats within the bar) and the rhythmical accents (of which the bar itself is the unit), the former corresponding to the "foot" in prosody, the latter to the "verse."
Technically, the dancer phrases his movements by gradating the accents which he imparts to his steps, giving strongest accent to the first step of a group and the weakest to the last. The strength of the step accent depends partly upon foot-spring, but mainly upon body-balance. In a stationary figure like the turn-single, the step-accents are determined solely by the height and energy with which the steps are made. When, however, the dancer is in motion, the accent of the step depends less upon the strength of the spring forward than upon the momentum generated and controlled by the inclination of the body in the direction of motion. Before beginning a movement from rest, therefore, the dancer should throw his weight on to one foot and adjust the inclination of his body so that the first step of his phrase, which is always the most important, as it is also the strongest, may be made with the appropriate emphasis.
The dancer must never make any movement in the dance, however insignificant, that is not phrased, i.e., executed rhythmically in accord with the music. This injunction must be held to apply as much to arm-movements as to steps. For instance, in giving or taking a hand, he should begin the movement in plenty of time - two or three beats beforehand - and raise and move the arm in rhythm with the music.
Continuity. - The directions given in the notation are divided into Parts, figures, etc., only for the sake of clearness of description. The aim of the dancer should be to conceal, not to call attention to these divisions. In learning a dance it will probably be necessary to dissect its movements, to parse, so to speak, each component section; but in the finished dance these subordinate elements must be pieced together and merged into one continuous movement as complete and organic in structure as the movements of a symphony.
To this end the dancer must think ahead, perceive the relation between that which he is at the moment doing with that which is to follow, so that he may give to the concluding cadence of each subsidiary phrase its just degree of emphasis, and pass on without hesitation to the movement that follows. If he fails in this, his movements will be spasmodic, his phrases isolated and unrelated, and his performance as a whole unintelligible and difficult to follow as reading aloud by a child who spells out and pronounces with equal emphasis each word as he proceeds.
Concerted movement. - The performer in a concerted dance has not only to consider his own individual movements, but to relate them to those of his companions in the dance. The expert figure-dancer is probably far more conscious of the movements of his fellow-dancers than of his own; indeed his pleasure, as well as theirs, depends very largely upon the completeness with which he effaces his own personality and loses himself in the dance.
Although the continuous and accurate adjustment of position by the dancer in a figure-dance is of first-rate importance, it is quite possible to exaggerate it, and by paying too much attention to precision of line and symmetry of figure, to stiffen and formalize the movements, and to give to the dance the appearance of a military drill. The ideal is to steer a middle course. To this end the following general directions will be found useful:-
In line formation each dancer should adjust his position in relation to the dancer on either side. In dual movements, e.g., the Side, Arms, Back-to-back, etc., the distance traversed by each performer should be approximately equal. In the heys - especially the straight-hey-for-three - and the Gip, the performers should describe identically the same track. In the forming of rings the dancers should extend their arms and move round in a circle, edging towards the centre until they are near enough to link hands with the dancers on either side.Page maintained by $hugh_stewart$