6-5-2015 Steppers Beat

The West Coast Report
By Samuel Parker The West Coast Report

Musicality Not Necessarily Required

Written by Samuel Parker on August 25, 2015.

The term ďMusicalityĒ is defined by Merriam Websterís Dictionary defines as a noun, meaning, (1) sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music, (2) the quality or state of being musical: melodiousness.

Among dance performers, the term is frequently used to describe an expected performance objective or standard. Even among the audiences that pay to see dance performances, most observers readily and intuitively respond to it even though many of them are unaware of why. They may only be able to articulate that some performers seem to have a certain something - which others donít. It is usually "musicality" that they are subconsciously recognizing and responding to.

Interestingly enough, the term does not even appear in the official 2015 World's Largest Steppers Contest Rules and Judging Criteria - at all! Nope, not one single time. Dancers are not required to perform it, and judges are not required to detect or rate it. Regrettably, "musicality" is not officially required. In fact, even the word "music" appears only twice among the Rules and Judging Criteria.

However, rather than calling it a mistake or oversight, it may more likely be that the producers of the WLSC have discovered something about the audiences that attend the WLSC - musicality does not sell as well as acrobatics, flashy turns, and dramatic flourishes. Given the focus on the "homerun move" and watching and waiting to see it - audiences can even experience a sense of disappointment and being under-whelmed when performers (while executing good dance and musicality skills) fails to deliver that sudden dramatic acrobatic moment.
There are Five (5) categories in the official rules and judging criteria. They are: (1) Originality, (2) Synchronization, (3) Footwork, (4) Appearance, and (5) Showmanship.

Judges are instructed that "Originality" should not be confused with creativity and that all movements should be executed "in time" within the basic pattern of the dance. You could almost reach the conclusion that this criterion is suggesting musicality - at least regarding timing - and the cadence of the basic pattern. However, without mentioning that points will be deducted for not dancing "on beat" leaves the door open for some judges and audience observers to conclude that the cadence of the basic pattern of this dance is founded on the "down beat" (3rd and 7th quarter notes in the 8 notes of a musical measure). Judges are not necessarily required to deduct points for dancing "off-beat", but are required to deduct points if you start Ballrooming or Jitterbugging. (Wait...isn't the Jitterbug a forerunner of the Bop, and the Bop is a forerunner of Steppin'? But I digress...)

You could say that "Synchronization" is definitely about timing and musicality. However, while no points are required to be deducted for short "syncopations" which can certainly demonstrate a performerís knowledge and capacity to descent/ascent and return to the basic pattern and cadence, no point deductions are required for failing to ever match or synchronize with the follower's eight step basic pattern. But you can lose points for missing a hand or failing to properly execute a dip. (I've gotta read up on synchronizing, I must be missing something.)

Finally! You would expect, that "footwork" would require musicality - since our dance (Steppin') seems so inextricably connected to it. And it does....well, kinda. At least, the rhythmic side of musicality is expressed here and point deductions are required if a dancer fails to execute footwork that isnít awkward or detracting from the effortless movements that are characteristic of the dance. Cool. But, how can I find out what each judge considers "fancy", and what about the melodic side of the music, and should I stop, pause, or change my flow when the music breaks or changes from verse to chorus? Maybe the music is just a metronome for my foot speed.

Ah! Surely, it can be argued that musicality is a part of the "Showmanship" criteria. However, it has been demonstrated that is very possible to execute showmanship (under these definitions) with an emphasis on acrobatic moves and wild and garish exhibitions that engage and grip the audience's attention - without being musical. (See paragraph #3, and think of flashing lights, mirrors and smoke.)

The final judging criteria confuses me to a degree. I can appreciate the ability to assemble a good costume for a musical performance, but usually the costume is applicable to the mood or message of the music - which may be the case with the fashions we see on the stage. In a sense, you could say that the apparel (should) reflect or be coordinated with the culture. However, most of understand that "coordinate their attire" has little or nothing to do with the music or the dance. Points will not be deducted unless the dancers fail to match any of the colors or patterns in their partner's costume. Err umm, that is - unless and to the degree that the judge's personal fashionista taste happen to be soured by your taste in paisley prints. My point is about the relevance of this judging category in a dance contest- as compared to something like....musicality.

So, instead of just complaining, here is my suggestion for an additional or replacement judgment criteria for a dance contest: "Musicality" - Musicality is the matching of the movements and form of the basic pattern of the dance to the tempo, rhythm, melody, and mood of the music being played during the performance. Dancers should reflect their knowledge of, and sensitivity to, the structure of the music of their performance. For example, "Make the music visible." Points will be deducted for failure to (1) find and remain "on beat, (2) match or accentuate the rhythm, melody, and mood of the music, (3) animate the energy level of the music, (4) organize/coordinate dance movements with the music. Points can be added for demonstrating musical interpretation and improvisational choreography skills."

In my effort to transition into more than a social Stepper, I am benefiting from the study of musicality. I hope it will make me a better Stepper and performer. Whether Iím in pursuit of a competitive prize, judging a competition, or watching other Steppers perform - the opportunity to "see" and effectively "move" to the beautiful music that we dance to should not be ignored. (IMHO)

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