Understanding Music & Dance: Storytelling Brought To Life

It's no secret that there is a very close relationship between music, and dance.

Many of us listen to music daily, but it's not often that we take the time to figure out what music really is. How it works, and what it truly means to dancers.

To the outside eye, music is the thing we dance TO. The rulebook we play by, and the truest leader there is.

This is a myth, and one that is unfortunately believed even by some of the most advanced of technical dancers. A myth created and fed by rigidity, an increased focus on technical "perfection" rather than artistry, and more recently, a desire for online virality.

Hopefully, this will help you to think of the relationship between music, and dance a little bit differently. To see it in a new, empowering light, and understand that music is the thing we dance WITH.

I like to encourage my students to think of music as a story. Words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters all pieced together in a precise, melodic order. An order specifically designed to create an auditory journey, meant to evoke an emotional response in the "reader," - or more accurately, the listener. Emotions ranging from nostalgia, euphoria, exhilaration, despair and so much more.

Everything more.

Now that you're taking a moment to think of music as a story, consider that a dancer's job is to be the story-teller. The physical display of not only the melodic story that already exists in the form of song, but the way that the artist dancing hears that story, because it is important to know that those two ideas are not the same thing.

For example, when some people think of "The Wizard of Oz," they may think of the joy of Dorothy returning home to Kansas, and the people she misses, who surely miss her in return. Others may feel the sadness that comes with her saying goodbye forever to the amazing friends she made along the way. Some may think of the ferocity, and vindictiveness of the Wicked Witch of the West. Others may understand the witch's grief, which was created by the accidental, but nevertheless brutal death of her sister, by the girl who then went on to steal the only thing left of her: her shoes.

It's all in how you see the story.

The same is true for dancers. No two dancers are exactly alike, and no two dancers "read" the story of music in exactly the same way.

As dancers, we know how much work goes into being able to execute the correct techniques to move efficiently enough to match the general flow of music, which - don't get me wrong - is a crucial, and undeniably vital part of our role as performing artists. The hours upon hours that we spend trying to perfect every single movement, memorize every term, heal every injury, and remove all perception of effort are not spent in vain; but without a true understanding of how to read, no story is truly complete.

Without the ability to break each word apart, and look for deeper meanings, we are left trying to scrape understanding from the bare bones of any story, simply taking the words as they are, and losing the humanity of the author.

The same is true of music.

Without the ability to break down the details, we don't understand the need for things like crescendos and diminuendos. We miss the urgency created by staccato notes. We aren't fully able to grasp the suspense created by long, sustained notes. Even words like "crescendo" "diminuendo" "staccato", and " sustained" may slip our grasp, and that leaves you with a vocabulary that is lacking the right tools to be able to fully emote when physically telling a story.

It leaves you trying to tighten a screw with a butter knife. It may get the job done, but there are definitely better tools for the job.

I was very lucky in this regard. I was privileged enough to be raised by a mother who embodied music. She was a musical director, and helped to bring out the very best in the artists around her for as long as I can remember. In fact, I was singing long before I was dancing. I was probably singing long before I was walking. She was, and continues to be a great teacher and source of inspiration.

But, like I said: I was lucky

Being raised in a musical household is not something every (or most) dancers get to experience, and that can make learning to understand music - so that you can understand dance - very challenging.

Trying to understand how to read a story begins with first learning to understand what letters are. Then, we begin to understand words, followed by sentences, and so on and so forth, until one day, we're reading our new favourite book, getting a deeper meaning from it than the people around us seem to.

Music is the same. You must start at the beginning, and work your way through it, because music -like dance- is undeniably a language.

You must begin with the letters in order to understand the story.

As a dance teacher, I am blessed to have a student who was actually my teacher many years ago. When I was in high school, trying to decide the course of my life, I wanted to learn music from more and more people. I was in a school where a music course was offered, and I made sure it was on my schedule, just as swiftly as I made sure dance was. They were always hand-in-hand for me.

In this class, I met Joanne Sampson, a brilliant musician and teacher. Over the years, she was a huge help whenever I was preparing for an audition, showcase, play or production.

About 10 years after graduating from high school, I was given a chance to return the favor, and now I am one of her dance teachers, and I get to feel the joy of watching her continue and develop her own artistic journey.

Using some of her own well-known teaching tricks on her isn't too shabby either!

To this day, music has remained her passion. She understands music in a way that almost makes it her close, personal friend. If music could have thoughts of it's own, she'd know what it was thinking at all times.

With people like Joanne Sampson - my former high school teacher who can see the future of music in all of her students,- and a mother like Nancy Duxbury - who could make any road trip become an in-car concert featuring just us - I was blessed.

While my mother may not be a music director anymore, she is still one of the smartest musical minds I'll ever know. She may not teach music anymore, but she still embodies it.

Joanne does still teach music to this day. It is still her close, personal friend. She is always accepting new students, and I couldn't recommend her more.

In fact, at CD Dance Collective, we have an important saying: "As dancers, it's our job to make all music make more sense," and Joanne is a huge part of that mentality.

I recommend that all dancers take some time to consider music lessons. You'll thank yourself later. I promise.

If you'd like information on how you can begin to more deeply understand music, I invite you to contact Joanne Sampson today. You can reach her at, and begin learning online, from the comfort of your own home today.

Tell her Christifer sent you!

To all of the CDDC students who have lessons on file, she is also being kind enough to offer a 15% discount on her services! Just let her know that you're a CDDC student, and she will help you on your journey to understanding music in a way you've never thought possible.

Now, go forth and begin dancing your stories. You have minds to spark, and lives to change.

See you on the dance floor.


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