Artist's Statement

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An essay about the breakdown of dance & rhythm and how equally important each are to one another. Silence vs. Sound.

Submitted: October 23, 2016

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Submitted: October 22, 2016

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By making something out of empty space, I am concerned with the issues of how we perceive sound. The concern is as to how the space (as an abstract idea) can be manipulated to use a ‘cube of dynamic’. The cube, in my mind, is created of empty space vs. occupied space by sound vs. silence. This creates a third dimension of dance as many people tend to focus on what is spatially occupied, when the lack of spatial occupation is just as important, which is where other plains come in, such as sound and air.

I will use the example of something I’ve been putting a lot of effort into as of late, as my focus in dance has come to a focused pinnacle in Tap Dance. Some of the lessons I’ve taken lately have really resonated with me so I thought I would share some of my thoughts and epiphanies that have changed how I dance.

 

  1. “The sound is already there. All you need to do is make the space for the sound to happen…”

– Filipe Galganni

This means that when you try to force a sound it won’t come naturally. It will either sound scrape-y, you will look rigid or you won’t have an ease that allows speed-tapping. No one wants to hear scraping. A dancer needs to trust that the sound will be made and this happens by relaxing. It’s amusing, because tap dancing looks like it takes so much effort but it’s all about relaxing while also using the muscle you have created to support the look of ease. When your muscle strength and stamina are increased to endure the strain of dancing, it becomes much easier to use less effort. A tap dancer needs to focus on the space under their taps to allow the sound to be made. So many people are terrified of up, because your body screams at you that “this isn’t right! I want stability, get down to the ground!” but the space under the shoe is the space a tap dancer needs to manipulate when they make sounds, or if they decide not to. To make space, one must jump and to jump, one must fly and think of “the up”.

 

  1. You need to have an emphasis on the ‘up’.

When you dance ‘into’ the floor (a fusion between the fear of instability and the dancers mind which manifests into a rigidity, rather loud sounds, and a heaviness to the quality of dance), your dance performance is crushed. All height level and dynamic to the dance is lost because the mind transfers to the floor and the ease and any illusion of floating across the stage is lost. Tapping turns into an ear-agonizing 3 minutes. When the dancer thinks “up”, lightness is created in the steps and choreography. See Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire for reference. They were the masters of ease.

In working with space, it is really important to me to create an experience of weightlessness. If you don’t focus on the ‘up’, there will be no empty space for your taps to make one sound, let alone double sounds or triple sounds. This sounds completely obvious but you’d be surprised how many people in a tap class can’t comprehend this. To make double, or more, sounds in a single ‘tap step’, the toe taps on the shoe have to rebound off the floor. This is called a pick-up, which then leads to far more complex steps such as grab-offs, single-footed pickups, wings, double wings, wings with pickups, etc. Feel free to do a quick internet search for context.

I have witnessed a grand amount of people who are afraid to jump. I blew out my back and knee because I didn’t trust the ‘up’. I held so much tension and fear of falling that eventually my body couldn’t stand it anymore and it crumbled beneath my feet in a dance class. I was forced out of dancing for 5 months wherein I became misery-stricken, dependent on alcohol, a gorger of food to eat my misery away. I have friends with knee injuries because their knees took so much pressure due to the ‘down’. Down is forced sounds and movements. I’ve observed dancers who embrace both the ‘down’ and the ‘up’. ‘Up’ is…breath taking, confounding, inspiring, heart wrenching. ‘Up’ is healthy for everyone. An elongated spine in posture will aid back pain because the muscles grow stronger and support the spine rather than an overly flexible back that has a large curve in it. We can jump over large puddles in a rain storm if you think of the ‘up’. Up is also very attractive. If you do it enough, it eventually becomes second nature and those phone numbers will be flying at you.

Up is space created either under you, above you or within you. We should try to embrace every medium of up. Up is important.

 

  1. The sounds of a dancer’s tap need to be light.

This also ties into the ‘up’. Imagine The Rockettes; 66 women on stage all making the same sounds and rhythms at the same time. Now imagine if they all stomped into the ground as loud as they could because they wanted to be heard. It wouldn’t work. The dynamic of the sound would be lost. There would be no obvious downbeat or pulse to the music made by the taps. Every noise would sound the same as it blurred into one cataclysmic ensemble of chaos.

Tap dancers need to be able to control the pitch of the sound made, whether the choreography dictates the use of the toe taps, heel taps or the sides of the taps. One must create the sounds with accuracy, but also nurture the music made without making ‘the baby cry’. The dancer has to feel the energy (whatever energy that may be) of the piece, and perform it while taking care of their bodies as to not get knee injuries by tapping lightly. It’s far more pleasant to hear the tippity-tap of a good, old fashioned soft-shoe than CLOMP CLOMPITY CLOMP CLERMP, but it also contributes to the weightlessness of the aesthetic that comes with dance.

 

  1. Enjoy the silence.

Silence and tap dancing are conjoined like yin and yang. To contribute to the lightness and rhythm, there must be a sharpness to the sounds created, but we must also revel in the silence as to appreciate the sound of the dancers feet. Here it is again: dynamics! Silence is on the other side of the spectrum but it’s equally as important as the audible. If one of these dynamics isn’t present, then dance becomes tedious to the audience and the senses. Too much of one thing is never good. When silence and sound combine, you can begin to create new rhythms such as:

 

/TAP/ /TAPTAP/TAP

1+2 +3+ 4+

The rhythm I have just provided is accented on an off-beat, which is a beat that opposes the natural feel of counts. I like to call this rhythm manipulation (I think it’s a catchy phrase) which is mostly played with in rhythm tap rather than theatre tap, or Broadway Style Tap. Playing with the down beat, or pulse of the rhythm creates a certain magic that I couldn’t explain to you. I cannot make you feel my emotions or intrigue, so I urge you to have a gander, yourself. When the pulse of the dance is added on top of the opposing rhythm of the music, the dynamic changes again. It really is a sublime thing to witness.


Rhythm Tap resonates with me more than any other form of dance. I can’t explain this. There’s something about manipulating the sounds, down beats and accents the draws me in and breaks a smile across my face when I dance as opposed to Broadway Style Tap where you slap a smile on. Don’t force it, remember?

My rhythm tap teacher, Filipe, has taught me things that changed how I tap. He has a perspective that is completely different from Broadway Style Tap which has been a focus of mine for about a year now. In this I say that you should aim to be as versatile as you can be. You never know what epiphany will encourage a growth in your own craft in a transference of knowledge by carrying one lesson over to another.


© Copyright 2017 G. E. Davies. All rights reserved.

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