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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.

2 thought on “Musical surprises #15: It’s musicians who count weirdly, not dancers”
  1. This I like!!!!!!! As a dancer-turned-teacher I have always felt that I don’t know enough about music theory to be on a par with the musician in the room, but if one translates that into ‘body knowledge’ then I feel I can meet them and the music on equal terms. Thank you Jonathan X

    1. Great, glad you like it! I’ve got an article coming out next April in a journal (a properly scholarly one) on this topic. If you’re interested I’ll send you a proof copy. In fact, I’ll send it to you even if you aren’t interested 😉 xxx

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist