class recap: 2-hour Musicking to Contact, Contacting to Music, Sun., 2012/12/30, Earthdance (rough)

This was a two-hour class I taught as an offering at the Earthdance New Year’s Jam 2012-2013. The title was “Musicking to Contact, Contacting to Music.” The aim was both to teach contact dancers new ways of relating to music as well as teaching musicians new ways to relate to contact dancers.

The main goal to was lead everyone to a  sense of deep connection, listening, and interaction between dancers and musician(s), or “love.”

The class took place in the rectangle/square studio at the Earthdance main building in Plainfield, Massachusetts.

It was apparent afterwards that I tried to do a lot in the class, and didn’t get to a lot of it. A longer class or a less ambitious class might have been more effective.

Opening Circle

Explanation of class: there is something specific I’m going for. I’m going for a sense of connection that I don’t often feel in jams, and I hope that having felt it, you’ll look for it in the future. Let’s call it “love.”


  • Dancers lie on the floor, be comfortable
    • I’ll say some things; don’t worry too much about paying attention to what I’m saying if you can’t follow — just let yourself fall asleep if you need
  • Listening exercise — telescoping listening awareness
    • listen to sounds within the room
    • hear what you can hear outside of the room
    • imagine sounds you can hear outside the room and beyond
    • the bring your attention back to the sound of your own body, and your breath
  • Playing to warm-up
    • resist moving at first unless compelled by the musicians; move only when compelled. Like in bed and you don’t want to get up.
      • (Here I gave specific advice to the musicians on compelling the dancers to move — often the instructions were to simplify.)
    • after some time, I instructed the dancers to allow themselves to be moved a little more
    • Then to start moving in ways to warm themselves up, to do what they needed to do

First Half: focus on dancers

  • Gradations
    • In two flights, moving and observing:
    1. Move exactly with the music — what contemporary dance classes call “Mickey Mouse-ing.” Call this #5.
    2. Ignore the music completely, move on your own. Call this #1.
    3. Move with the music or ignore the music on a scale of #1 to #5 (I call out varying numbers as we go along).
  • Discussion


Second Half: focus on musicians

  • Dialog exercise (in two flights, moving and observing)
    • Musician and group of dancers alternate phrases/statements. At first, don’t pay much attention to each other, but as the exercise goes on, allow yourself to be influenced by each other.
  • Labbing — musician playing with dancers, I give specific instructions
    • Some of the instructions given to Group 1
      • to dancers:
        • let your movements come more from a sense of compulsion (recall the warm-up exercise) — too much secondary movement is difficult for the musicians to read and relate to
        • follow the integrity of your own movements and the movements of your partner. Don’t simply stop moving because the music stops — follow it out.
        • try going into a repetitive pattern. Musicians love seeing repetition and relate to it easily.
      • to musician (flute):
        • avoid clipping the ends of phrases — this doesn’t connect to the dancers
        • simple, short statements at first to draw the dancers in, and to get them on the same page with each other. After that, then you can build and develop
    • Group 2:
      •  to musician (piano):
        • simple statements — literally, be careful of too many notes
        • make conscious decisions about use of the sustain pedal. Don’t simply hold notes out of habit, as this fills in silences, which are useful to give space to dancers & make clear ideas. Make sure to end phrases.

2 comments for “class recap: 2-hour Musicking to Contact, Contacting to Music, Sun., 2012/12/30, Earthdance (rough)

  1. richard
    2013/07/24 at 02:15

    “Musicking” follows the general convention of adding a “k” before forming the gerund form of a word when it ends in a “c”. Thus: traffic -> trafficking, mimic -> mimicking. I never thought about “musick-in” as an alternative.

    The results were mixed. I think there’s a difficulty in this sort of class in trying to give something to both dancers and musicians and use time efficiently. Two hours was definitely not enough — it should have been at least three.

    Something I didn’t convey above is how I gave feedback to the musicians. Much of the time, I would whisper to them while they were playing, giving real-time suggestions and comments, occasionally demonstrating things. I whispered because (1) I didn’t want the dancers to be affected by what I was telling the musicians to do (e.g., “the dancers aren’t dancing together — see how distracted they are? If you give them something simpler to connect to, they’ll be able to get on the same page.”), and (2) I didn’t want the musicians to be criticized in front of everyone and get self-conscious. I think the musicians really got a lot out of this. But the dancers felt like they didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t get much feedback for the second half — they were basically just guinea pigs.

    I think if I did it again, I would not only give more time, but set it up more as an experience for the musicians, so the dancers know what they’re getting into. And I’d try to share more comments with the dancers after the fact, so that they can get some insight into how I’m working with the musicians. Maybe I’d make some of my comments more audibly as well — somewhat like a masterclass (in the music sense, not in the dance sense).

  2. 2013/07/21 at 23:51

    Why was this called “Musicking” (rather than “Musicing” or Musick-in”) ?

    What were the results?

    Any plans for the future?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.