Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just listening is not enough

When you're preparing for a performance, be it improv only or choreographed, you will obviously need to listen your piece... A LOT! I know that I've mentioned this before but, when I have selected my music for an upcoming performance, I listen to it back to back for like 1 hour each day for a while, typically at work or at home while doing something else.

Whether you've listened to your piece a few times only or back to back for 1 hour each day for a while, you may be surprised when you start playing with the piece in the studio/practice space that the dancing is not flowing as fast as you thought it would. What gives? Why isn't it just flowing out? You love that piece so what's wrong?

First thought that may come to mind is reconsidering whether this is the piece that you should be doing. While, sure, you can reconsider it, I would challenge you actually to keep working on it. You love the piece and you should follow your instincts. Also, quite honestly, it has been my experience that my best pieces have started very very awkward in the studio and have required a whole lot of work to make it happen... and those are the pieces from which I learned the most. So keep at it.

What I think is happening actually is a disconnect between how your ears are taking in the piece, how your brain is interpreting the sound waves, what emotions the piece evokes in you, and how your body responds to all that. First off, that's a whole lot of input that your body has to react to so it may get confused as to what it should be obeying to.

Secondly, when you're listening to the piece and not moving at the same time, your brain will generally be free to wander in whichever direction it wants to... but when you decide that it's time to dance on it, your left side of the brain may kick in too hard and is forcing your body to obey it and its very strict appreciation of the piece... or if it's your right side of the brain that kicks in too hard, you'll find yourself twirling and going "wheee!" and you'll be left wondering where the dancing went. :p Bottom line: you need both sides of the brain to work together... but it's very likely that they will fight at first. They'll eventually come to an agreement of who keeps track of what and it will get better from there.

Also, quite honestly, sometimes your body doesn't quite know what to do... and your brain may not even know what to tell the body to do. It happens. Again, it doesn't mean that you need to ditch the piece.

One striking example that I have about this phenomenon is whenever our troupe practices for an upcoming performance. We agree on a piece and everyone listens the hell out of it. Cool beans. The first time that we do our group improv to it in rehearsal, it's choppy, it's messy, and it never goes as planned. It comes as a surprise to a good number of the members. Well, the thing is that they had listened to the piece but had not tried to move to it. So now the body was going "Huh... what do you want me to do here?" and the left side of the brain is going "Where's the beat again? This is the first time that I'm hearing this!" and the right side of the brain is going "What do you mean I can't play now? I know that piece!" ;) Then we do it again and it gets better and better.

There are two take away messages that I want you to get from this blog post:
  1. If the first attempt at working on a piece isn't perfect: do not despair! It will get better!
  2. For all that I'd love to tell you that you can just pick a song and dance to it right away flawlessly, that'd be a lie. Just listening to a piece is not enough. You need to actually move to it too to get ready.

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