Photo Credit: Igor Burlak Photography
I can never forget the first moment I played for dance.
I just graduated from college and I was actively looking for a job. I loved the theater and was lucky to find several gigs from that, but I needed more income sources. Meanwhile, my friend, an actress, whom I met at a theater project, spoke to me of the ballet classes she was taking regularly, and of the live pianists in her ballet classes. She told me that ballet schools might be hiring pianists, so I called a few ballet schools around me — and, yes, they were hiring pianists! I was excited and went to Music Espresso (a music store near NEC) to find a music for the ballet class.
I found the music book designed for ballet class so purchased it and practiced all the music in it until I felt confident enough for the audition.
At the beginning of audition, it didn’t really go well. I didn’t understand why the music from the ballet class book were not working for the teacher’s demonstrations.
The Teacher stopped me and asked for a different music. I was frustrated. At the time, it didn’t seem like I’ll get the gig, and I actually wasn’t sure I would even be playing till the end of class.
Halfway through the class, the teacher asked me: “Can you play slow waltz for us?” I immediately connected Slow waltz to Chopin waltz as I could play a few of Chopin waltzes comfortably from my memory. So, instead of picking a music from the ballet class music book, I played one of Chopin’s Valse Opus 68. That got the teacher smiling, saying the music works for the combination.
Then, a strange thing happened. I was playing the music I had played numerous times in my life, but this time it sounded completely different.
Dancers were dancing to my music and they were visualizing the sound.
I was playing and seeing my music at the same time.
They visualized my tempo, phrases, legatos, nuances, and dynamics as they drew in the blank canvas.
From that, I found myself creating a story which I delivered to the dancers through the music. We were communicating and drawing inspirations from one another.
I was fascinated by my experience; I completely fell in love with playing for dance.
The following day, I got a call saying that I was hired, and I have been playing for dance ever since.
Dance has become a big part of my life.
Dance is not a still image.
Google Image: Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker
I always enjoy teaching ballet music to my piano students. Whenever I find ballet music composed by Tchaikovsky in the method books, I spend time talking about his music and life. I especially enjoy teaching Nutcracker Suite to my students around holiday season.
Last year was when I had the idea of using images. For Autumn recital, I assigned dance-titled pieces such as Minuet, Musette, Can-Can, Waltz, March, Rumba, German Dance, Hungarian Dance, and Ballet Suit to my students, asking them to find the dancers’ images that engaged with their music pieces and use their imagination to play for this dance. For example, Calvin’s piece was Hungarian Dance by R. Keinmichel, and he found the painting of energetic Hungarian dancers. I asked him to use his imagination to play for these Hungarian dancers.
Although my students enjoyed this process, I felt as if something was missing from the approach. How will my students feel this dance without dancing to go along with music or seeing the dancer’s movement?
Dance is not a still image — it is about movement.
-Robin Cho Piano Studio
Would it be more helpful if they learn how to dance polka before playing polka music? If they know how to step minuet or see the dancers dance in minuet, wouldn’t they feel the rhythm of 3/4 and phrasing of the music better?
Meanwhile, I came to know a piano pedagogy book: “Thinking as You Play” by Sylvia Coats. In the last sections of the book, she said, “What better way to learn to play a Minuet than to dance the Minuet?” and she went on to describe the dance piece with appropriate dance steps — I felt as though my thoughts had been validated.
Google Image: Longy School of Music Dalcroze Institute
I knew about the Dalcroze/Eurhythmics method a few years ago when I got a call from university to accompany the Eurhythmics class of dancers. I connected them with other pianist who were more knowledgeable on this method, but I was curious about this method since it seems to engage with dance and music. I got to know that Longy School of Music of Bard College offers a course on this method, and so I signed up for the course this summer.
“The Dalcroze approach to music education teaches an understanding of music — its fundamental concepts, its expressive meanings, and its deep connections to other arts and human activities — through groundbreaking techniques incorporating rhythmic movement, aural training, and physical, vocal and instrumental improvisation.” -Dalcroze Society of America
In eurhythmics class, the teacher played a certain music, or an improvised version, and we moved our body responsively to the music. We associated our feet to the rhythm of the music, reinforcing the concept kinesthetically.
We listened to the tempo, dynamics, texture, phrase structure, and style of the music and expressed it with our body instrument. We also visualized the music with becoming a painter of impressionism and pointillism, showing the music through movements.
The whole concept was innovative and perfectly suited to the direction I wanted to go for my piano program. So, I decided to pursue a certification in Dalcroze/ Eurhythmics. I will continue with this course by the next academic year, and will complete it next summer. (I hope to achieve the certification next year!)
I can’t wait to adopt Eurhythmics to my piano program and help our students feel the music and see the music.