Musical surprises #15: It’s musicians who count weirdly, not dancers
The term ‘dancers counts’ is often used in a rather perjorative way – as if they’re incapable of seeing and hearing the world normally. Even dancers use the term against themselves sometimes: teachers sometimes say ‘You’ll probably think I’m counting this all wrong but…’
Now there are times when a dancer’s choreographic map laid over the music is structurally different to what the music appears to say, just like two lines of contrapuntal music might be different rhythmically (the concept of counterpoint in music is revered, why should it be weird in dance?). And some choreographers may ignore musical structure or not recognise it – but that’s some choreographers not ‘dancers’ as a group.
But what I’m talking about is when dancers count, let’s say, two in a bar, when the time signature says 4/4, or four in a bar when the time signature is 2/4, or in four when the music is in 3/4 or 6/8 (i.e. they’re counting duple hypermetre).
In this case, it’s not the dancers that are weird, but the musician: pulse is a sensation. It’s a sensation for dancers and musicians. If you choose to notate that sensation in a way that is rational but counter-intuitive, then who’s the weird one? Real metre as perception can’t be fixed, because it’s dependent on tempo and what you’re doing to the music. Again, it’s notation that’s the oddity, not movement or perception.
- How to talk about musical meter: Justin London’s fantastic lecture online.