Before we take a closer look at ways to improve our dance and movement ability and think about ways to enhance the aesthetic nature of it, I think that it’s important to first define and then examine exactly what the word “dance” means. Technically the word is an expression of human physical movement in a variety of different settings (i.e. performance, social, spiritual) and more precisely is a method of non-verbal communication. It’s important to note that dance and music (sound and rhythm) have an obvious symbiotic relationship, and for that reason I try not to differentiate between them as forms of expression too often. Now, a key word is movement, which is defined in the dictionary as “the act, process, or result of moving” and even more relevant to us right now, “a particular manner or style of moving”, which is simple enough. The usual problem is the manner and style of the movement and how it is interpreted and what differentiates a classy stylised move to a drunken attempt at the same thing!
So, it’s clear that movement is just motion from point A to point B in an aesthetically pleasing or stylised way. But what exactly makes the move aesthetically pleasing or at least a tolerable physical expression that has some kind of form and that simply put: looks good? I would say that style, form, poise, consistency, timing, placement, control and accuracy are at the top of list and all make up the concept of aesthetically pleasing execution of movement, in the physical sense. Let’s first take a closer look at some of these things and the reasons why it is important to be aware of them and implement some simple techniques to improve them.
Any performer or person who is aware of their own anatomy is in a position of control and can utilise their body in a better way than somebody who is not. It’s clear to see when somebody doesn’t have this awareness, they may be off balanced or look uncomfortable. I also think that it is not important for us all to be experts in anatomy or the optimal balance of weight in our body movements, but the fact that we have a cursory understanding and awareness, will help balance and positioning. Just the idea of thinking about your body, standing up straight, head up or executing a movement through a line, will indeed translate to better physicality.
As you can see from the diagrams, your body is made up of lines and it is important that you are aware of them. When you are executing a dance move, think about executing it along the full length consistently, while keeping strictly within the line. The most important line in the body is your centre line (vertical) and secondly your horizontal line through your sternum and arms. When thinking about our physicality and position the most important aspect is our spine. This means we stand up straight with our head up.
Any movement should originate from that centre line consistently, unless a step is intended otherwise. It’s also important to be aware of your sternum. If you are going to swing your arm to the left, after raising it up, for example, it should originate at the sternum to the left, with a consistent speed, and across and through the line (as outlined in the
diagram) without wandering from it (unless it is intended otherwise). The start point of any movement is of importance, as is the end point. Some seem to forget that it is the whole movement that is judged. Keep any movement inside your lines (see diagrams), but be aware of the start and end point also. If that start or end point is kept within your obvious straight lines, without wandering out, and is executed with consistency, then it should look great. If you wander from (unless you intend to) a line, to return to it, then this will not look aesthetically pleasing, unless you intended to wander from that line or to make it look a certain way. A straight line is usually the shortest distance between the start of the movement and the end of it and if you think about the various lines in the body and focus on moving your body through them, you should remain balanced and looking great.
The dictionary definition of poise states that it is a “state of balance, equilibrium or stability” and for obvious reasons good poise is the foundation of a good dancer. Posture is where it all begins, so if you want to dance or walk down the street in a straight line, it’s important to keep your back straight and lengthened.
Find a nice straight wall and go and stand with your back up against it. It is important that you align your feet (heels), your backside (tailbone) as well as your upper back (shoulder blades) completely up against the wall so that you are completely vertical and looking straight ahead as well. This should be your default natural stance. Make sure that you are aware of your stomach and pull it in without holding your breath and using your stomach muscles. It’s also important that you relax somewhat, but be aware of your spine and especially your head. Don’t let it drop down. At this point you can step away from the wall, making sure that you keep the confident disposition (head up, chest up and a lengthened neck). You now have a reference for good posture and it’s important that while you work on improving it you remain aware and constantly re-adjust. Another great way to do this is to place a light book on your head before you step away from the wall and try and keep balanced, while you walk away. It’s important to stay focused and stay balanced. I call this exercise “PEAP”: posture and poise equals aesthetically pleasing!
Michael Jackson’s choreographer was once asked to describe the difference between Janet and Michael’s dance styles and he replied that Janet loves to “thrash” and that Michael has a certain elegance about the way he moves. I love that and agree totally. He has a certain kind of Majesty. The same that you would expect to see in a principal ballet dancer. He understands that it is not about the amount of moves you do, but in the quality and intensity of the moves that you do.
In fact Michael Jackson specifically, dances very little on stage as he likes to walk around a lot. Also, importantly, he is not afraid of utilising various dance styles, from tap to street to jazz to ballet. A basic grasp of ballet and jazz is ideal for a dancer but as with verbal communication, the larger your physical dance vocabulary, the more you will be able to communicate physically, which is why it is a great idea to try as many styles as you can. You will eventually find your own unique style if you watch as many varied dancers as you can and utilise their moves. Imitation is actually the key to developing your own style. Remember the bigger your style vocabulary, the more range you will have as a dancer. Michael Jackson used to stand watching and learning from James Brown. If you imitate and dance as many styles as you can, you will eventually find your own unique style
that you are comfortable with.
Correct timing is essential for any dancer. Opinions vary on what is the best way to improve your timing. Most trained choreographers will encourage you to count and some will say
that it is an absolute must. My opinion differs slightly. If you are training and practicing for a piece, without accompaniment, then indeed, counting is essential and will help you keep form and improve progressively. Slow counting, out loud, gives you control and flexibility of pace as you practise. After rehearsal and practice is over though, I honestly feel that it is not necessary that you count in your head at all.
As we have looked at earlier, you should almost put yourself in a state where the music flows through you. You already have your timing in the instruments. Let the snare and
bass kick count for you. They are in effect metronomes; so why in addition to that would you need to count when you can trust the drums or percussion to do it quite effectively for you!
Again, let the music flow through you and move with it as if you are one. A way to improve your timing is to become totally reliant on the music by becoming more familiar with it. It’s surprising how much easier choreography and dancing become when you listen to the music and become an expert in the piece that you are dancing to. At the end of the day it is the music which should dictate the physical movement, use it and its count as your metronome. If you don’t have music, then count, but look at it as a temporary replacement of the music rather than a framework which you can’t break out of, or a supplement to the music or song.
Think about it, what’s the difference between rhythm and counting and which is essential out of the two? You can indeed learn to count, but to have rhythm comes from inside you and your state and confidence as well as your connection to the music.
Control of your body and movement is what dancing is all about and it is essential to master your body and movements so that you look good, stay injury free and move correctly. A dancer by definition should move in a controlled manner. Adrienne Leitch, in “Dance: concise definitions of universal dance terms”, puts it this way: “control – the ability to manage a variety of body actions with concentrated awareness of muscular activity in order to retain personal equilibrium”. (Co-ordination) balance and control can be improved by firstly, moving slowly and secondly thinking slowly!
Work methodically through each step with full consideration of poise, balance and where you intend to place your body. Other ways of improving your control are to work on your physical strength, especially your core strength and listen to the music and move with it. Think about what you are doing and execute each step in an intentionally slow way and with time you will begin to master your movement.
Placement and Accuracy
Speed is an essential part of dance, but NOT at the expense of accuracy and form. When the music is pumping and the blood is flowing it is easy to forget about your form and increase the tempo and energy you exert and put into a step. The opposite should be the case. The accents of a piece of music, for example are enhanced by the accuracy and placement and not your speed, or increased speed at the expense of control. In fact speed will increase with your confidence after you have mastered a step, but not before.
So always start slow, master your step, focus on accuracy and placement, and when the music is turned up, stay relaxed and focused rather than increase your speed or energy level. Your body posture and alignment is of utmost importance and it is essential that you remain focused on that throughout dancing and performing. Focus on keeping your body upright and eyes level as well as letting the music hit the mark, dictating your movements. The faster you execute a step the more likely you are to miss your mark. It’s essential that you think about your style, form, placement, control and accuracy if you want to dance well.
By Anthony King ©
DVDs: Michael Jackson moves Dance like Michael Jackson and learn the moves at home!
Anthony King’s Thriller Dance Workout DVD!
Two full MICHAEL JACKSON Style dance class routines with the classic moves plus additional lessons: Learn the MOONWALK, Learn the SIDE SLIDE, Learn the CIRCLE SLIDE. Special features include Anthony King’s demonstration Michael Jackson dance videos in London, special video clips, Reverse angle chapters, behind the scenes, interactive motion menus and much more!
Anthony King’s King Of Dance DVD!
Learn to dance like Michael Jackson with the full BILLIE JEAN style workout routine lesson and moves plus additional lessons: JAMES BROWN SHUFFLE! HOW TO SPIN LIKE MICHAEL JACKSON! PLUS a classic MOONWALK, SIDESLIDE and CIRCLE MOONWALK refresher lesson. Special features include slideshow and helpful notes and diagrams, gallery and much more!
Anthony King’s DON’T STOP DANCE WORKOUT DVD!
Learn the classic “MICHAEL JACKSON MOVES” learn the KICKS, turns and “MJ WALKS” in a classic workout routine! Learn the “YOU ROCK MY WORLD” walk, the classic MICHAEL JACKSON SHUFFLE, “SMOOTH CRIMINAL” Robotics and much more! Anthony King is back to teach you NEW moves and a new routine inspired by Michael Jackson’s “BAD”, “SMOOTH CRIMINAL” and much more!