Shall We Dance

Dance to the Music

To Paivyt Meller

I was never a great dancer but I was always fascinated by the people who are so well coordinated that it seems they can control even their smallest muscles and can orchestrate all those movements at the same time. Knowing my limitations I got interested in Yoga and Tai Chi and tried to learn the principles of working with my body more correctly. It was interesting to see in both disciplines the analogies to animal movements. There is something very natural and effortless about the way cats move. But it is not just that. It seems like every movement has a purpose, a meaning, nothing is in vain, nothing is wasted. In his book The Invisible Actor, Yoshi Oida describes a gesture in Kabuki theater which is called looking at the moon. One actor did the movement so beautifully that everybody was talking about his beautiful performance and marvelous technique. Another actor performed the same gesture and nobody said anything… “they simply saw the moon”.

One of the more difficult things I have experienced as a teacher is teaching the notion of kinesthetic memory – remembering a physical sensation. It was even more difficult when I asked the students to replicate it. Sometimes I would ask a student to move his right arm as if it were moving in a tub of pleasant warm water. After he did it I asked him to remember how it felt and to do the same thing with the bow in his hand. It is much easier to remember a text or even a melody than to remember how a gesture feels. The way we practice this in class is by visualization: we close our eyes and we try to “see” our movements in our mind’s eye as we do them. We try to imagine the picture in the most vivid and colorful manner. Then we try to imagine it without doing the movement. Finally we try to play and reproduce the feeling we had when we just imagined ourselves doing it.

Another important aspect that has to do with movement is Rhythm. As opposed to how it is quite often being taught, Rhythm is not a mathematical thing. Neither is it philosophical, nor political.

Rhythm is in the body. I once went to a Djambe drumming workshop with a teacher from South Africa. The teacher who was very kind never told any of us that we were out of time or that our rhythm was bad. He always said: “your movement is not right” or “your motion is wrong” and other things that had to do with movement. This is very important: We feel rhythm in our body, not in our mind. Once I had to illustrate the subject of dividing the beat to young people. We walked around the class to the sound of a steady beat and then the child who was assigned to be leader shouted a number. We all had to match the number of steps the leader asked for to the beat.

When we see a fine dance performance we realize that for a group to be together it is not enough to start the gesture (or note) together, they also need to end it together and furthermore shape it together. I thought that movement actually helps us understand what duration is and thus what a musical gesture is.

After a fine performance I told one of the dancers how much I was impressed with the elegance of her movements. Elegance, she said, is taking the motion to its natural end. Not stopping it in the middle. Too many people kill the movement, she said; think about it, if I move my hand in front of my body from left to right, a distance of about 20 inch and an alien from outer space sees me for a second, he wouldn’t know if this motion was just 20 inch long or if it was a part of a longer motion and he only caught this part. “I always make every motion as if it were part of a larger motion and I feel as if I take it to its natural closure. Although nobody will see it, one can actually feel it.“

I realized that there is music in the very rhythm: it is the gesture, it is the elegance.
If you would like to read more about those subjects I welcome you to visit my website at

You can also contact me at
Just as I was writing this, Prof. Paivyt Meller from Sibelius Academy, Finland, visited JAMD. In her teaching and in her playing she demonstrated all of the above. This is just another proof that there are no coincidences.


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2 Responses to Shall We Dance

  1. Jonathan says:

    What a nice opportunity to read what youre doing. I knew it, or actually sensed it, that you are not the typical teacher. Walking the students around in order to feel the rythem… I’m pretty sure other teachers prefer the blackboard and a lot of explanations. And the movement of the hand in the tub, learning to touch the sensation so to speak – and then going another step further to feel without movement… kynesthetic is the word ? Seeing with our minds eye ? Well, this is not music you are teaching, it is a lesson in life capabilities (at this point I imagine you jumping right up to tell me that music is one of the learned life capabilities). A bunch of other questions – can one learn to feel ? can we learn to replicate the feeling that comes with movement ? If it isn’t there, does the rule “fake it until you make it” apply here ?
    This is what came to my mind reading this – just thoughts on the way.
    Have to go back to my papers now – it was a pleasure reading this !

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