How often have dance pianists been in the situation when the only instruction given by a teacher is “Warm up/Plié, please.”?
This normally happens in company/professional class and not usually in training classes for younger students. I have only ever encountered it during warm ups and/or plies. It is usually a chance for the dancers to do their own combination of warm up or plié according to their individual needs, an opportunity to try out muscles and focus before the class gets under way full steam.
Try to capitalize on each occasion when the teacher provided only the bare bones of an exercise. It is a HUGE compliment to us musicians when this is all the instruction we get. This means total trust and responsibility has been handed over to us even if it is just for one exercise. Hurrah! This means that we can choose the tune, the key, the style, and……. gasp! Surely not the tempo as well!? Ok, maybe we have to keep a weather eye out for frantic signals from teacher.
Show off all the hard-earned knowledge you have about class: Can’t go far wrong with a nice stretchy tune for warm-up. As for plies, a bog-standard structure seems to start with two demi-pliés followed by a grand. Dynamic is squeezy and smooth. In these circumstances, the odd boo boo will probably be forgiven as long as you try to provide a generally acceptable tempo and dynamic.
Whatever you do, DO NOT spoil it by resentful whinging (“Should’ve marked the tempo if you wanted it that slow”) when they ask for subtle changes. DO NOT plow on at your own tempo and expect the dancers to keep up. All this illustrates is ego and disrespect for the purpose of class. Return the compliment instead by seeing how fast you can respond to their request for tempi changes. Speed of response and generosity of spirit are both high on the brownie point list for many teachers.
Be a lean mean tempo machine, be James Bond’s Aston Martin prepared for all eventualities, or the Batmobile (here to save the day at a local dance school near you)……not a wheezy 1.0 litre Micra who can barely make it up the hill. I say this with great fondness for Micras having been the proud owner of one but …they just have NO go in them.
All this only works if you DO know what typical dynamics and combination of steps are to be found in warm up/plié. Teachers should be made aware if they have an inexperienced pianist playing for a class in which case they do need to provide marking.
Coming next : No marks – Part 2: Adage