I have fond memories of my dance teachers growing up always having ‘the coolest music’ (which I now recognize as retro Janet Jackson and 90’s Eurodance). I don’t recall them ever playing The Spice Girls or *NSYNC or whatever else I was listening to at home – and now as a coach myself, I understand why. Musicality comes naturally to some but for most it needs to be skillfully trained and nurtured like all other aspects of dance.
Here are my Top 4 tips for training musicality and timing in your dancers:
1. Have a set choreographed warm up and enforce synchronization. This makes timing and music awareness a priority right from the get-go, as soon as they start moving. Choreographed warm ups require counting, not just copying – after a while nobody wants to be that one girl still in a lunge while everybody else has expertly moved on to arm circles in one swift movement. Moving ‘as one’ through warm up also creates a nice sense of teamwork and purpose.
2. Like the great dance teachers of your childhood, be more picky about what music you have your dancers moving to. You can’t control what they listen to at home but you can be in control of increasing their music vocabulary in the studio. Moving to only Top 40 all year and then throwing an intricate pom mix or emotionally mature lyrical/jazz song at them for competition is asking them to go from 0 to 100.
Between warm up, across the floor, stretching and conditioning, you play at least 45 minutes worth of music each practice. Use this time to expose your dancers to music they don’t hear on the radio, intricate or unique beats and melodies, various genres, and songs that evoke different types of emotions. Being mindful of age appropriateness, this can be harder with younger dancers. For little ones I like to use things like classical or rock covers of pop songs so they’re hearing familiar music presented in different ways.
I know sourcing music can be the bane of coaching – but don’t worry! I’ve linked you to my Spotify playlist (above). I update it regularly so it’s always fresh. Follow and enjoy! If you don’t see the link you can find it on Spotify by searching ‘dtmasterclass’ and follow my DANCE TEAM playlist.
3. When it comes to timing for a specific routine, have your dancers listen to their routine music any chance they get. Not practice, just listen. On the bus, walking home from school, brushing their teeth – anywhere and everywhere! Make sure they have easy access to the music on their phones and computers. The closer it gets to competition, the more I make them listen to it – sometimes 10 x per day. They will begin to hear things they hadn’t noticed while dancing – different instruments, accents, lyrics and mood changes. That familiarity will come through in their dancing.
4. For cleaning routine timing, I like to do the routine ‘a cappella’. Without music and ideally with minimal counting (just 1’s or just 1’s and 5’s). This can be packaged and sold as a ‘game’ and is super easy to get your dancers excited about due to Pitch Perfect fever. Aca-awesome! Being able to hear every step, slap, jump and shuffle highlights who and where your timing issues are coming from. If it’s not sounding so hot all together, start by breaking the team into smaller groups and have them perform for each other.
What are your favorite tips for training musicality and timing?