Not that many years ago, I remember floundering in the pea soup of ballet steps that made up an enchaînement. I had only started playing for dance because of a chance remark to a young pianist to whom I said “You’re so lucky to have the opportunity to play for ballet. I’ve always wanted to give it a go but never had the chance”. Next thing I knew, the ballet teacher for whom she worked needed another pianist and my number was passed on to her.
I spent a year playing for syllabus classes without having a clue about what made certain music suitable for particular steps. The springy steps were the easiest to identify with – springy music, please! Improvisation was also easy – something tinkly for fairies, heavy for elephants, and hoppy for frogs. Beyond that….zilch. Not a clue about what made rond de jambe music different from plié music, or what differentiated tendus from glisses. Dynamics – what’s that?
Seven years later (after a gruelling year of training with Scottish Ballet, complete immersion in vocational dance training courtesy of Elmhurst, and playing for anything and everything dance-wise that came my way), I am writing my very first blog about playing for dance.
These scribblings are not about THE way to play for dance. They are personal ideas and observations that I’ve made in the many hours spent in dance studios watching dancers at work. Some are not even my own ideas, but those of teachers and wiser dance musicians who generously shared their knowledge (due credit given). But I think it is important to write them down as there is so little information in the public domain about dance music and its practitioners. Very few dance musicians choose to explain their choices of music, or even to help out fellow pianists trying to improve their understanding of dance music.