Monday, August 15, 2022

You need to dance, then you can sing

There is an old Zimbabwean proverb that says, “if you can walk, then you can dance; if you can talk, then you can sing.”

But I believe that you need to be able to dance in order to sing well. It should be: “if you can dance, then you can sing.”

I came across an instrumentalist a few years ago who was talking about how she learns the music of any culture she is not familiar with. First, she learns the dances of that culture, and only then does she pick up her instrument to learn the tunes.

She needs to get the essential rhythms into her body and to let them rest there securely before she can even begin to think of communicating them through her instrument.

I believe that the same applies to singing.

Before you can begin to sing songs from, for example, Namibia or Croatia or New Zealand or Scotland, you need to be able to dance the dances of that culture.

When we are learning songs from a culture different to our own, we have to find a way to short circuit years of growing up in that culture, moving to and listening to that music from when we were very young.

The best place to start is with the rhythms of that culture through dance.

Many cultures have tricky time signatures and syncopation. If we stand still and try to sing those rhythms, it’s extremely difficult. But if we learn the dances, it all falls into place (literally!). Many off-beats in songs are where you lift your foot off the ground in the dance.

This even applies to our own culture, even much of our traditional music doesn’t particularly prioritise rhythm. You can see it happen automatically in choirs: when a song is in waltz time (3/4), singers start to naturally sway from side to side.

I was watching the Sky Arts documentary “Anyone can sing” the other day, and all the opera singers featured made it very clear that they also have dance classes in order to be able to sing well.

Even if you think you have two left feet, it’s important to try.

“Anyone can sing”? Yes! “Anyone can dance”? Yes! It just takes a bit of practice and time, like learning to sing. Music will help your rhythm and rhythm will help your singing. And, of course, it will mean that your body is fully engaged which is great for the voice.

What are you waiting for? Get up and move to the music!


Chris Rowbury


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