As many of you know, I was an adult beginner. I took my first ballet class at the age of 26, after completing one year of Jazz training with the legendary Luigi. My very first ballet class was a beginner class at the Joffrey Ballet School, my second class was a beginner class at Ballet Academy East. Having had no knowledge of, or experience with ballet training, I didn’t really know what to expect. I assumed there would be a barre, I assumed there would be a teacher, I assumed there would be a lot of confusing French terminology. But it never occurred to me that there would be live music. As I excitedly took my place at the barre, a musician took his place at the piano. The class started, the teacher explained the first exercise and the pianist played the first introduction. I was simply not prepared for the sensation of dancing to live music. Luigi’s Jazz classes used recorded music; legendary jazz recordings as well as music composed to specifically accompany his famous technique exercises. He had an excellent sound system, the quality was first rate and the music provided the necessary support and inspiration. But the experience of live music in these ballet classes was something altogether different.
I grew up in a musical home. My father had been a professional reed player, my mother a well trained amateur pianist and I was given many years of training, studying both clarinet and piano. It isn’t as though live music was a new experience for me. But dancing to live acoustic music was a completely new sensation. There is something about the way the sound of a piano fills the room that is strikingly different than music coming from a speaker. I’m sure a physicist could explain it but in this instance the science doesn’t interest me. It was as if the music penetrated my body. It was as if the music went right to the core of my being. It was as if the music was helping me dance from the inside.
The story of my unusual path to a performing career and now teaching career is known to most of my readers; but for those who are not familiar with my work, I now make my home at the Joffrey Ballet School where I am passing on the great dance traditions that I was taught. And as a teacher I have really come to appreciate the value of our excellent musicians.
Live music gives me freedom. Our musicians easily adapt and adjust to any changes in tempo and meter that I need, allowing me to tailor my lesson to the specific needs of the students in front of me without having to stop and search through playlists. Live music allows me to more effectively teach my students without the stagnant dead space that occurs while I search for a track when I need to deviate from my prepared lesson.
Live music provides me with teaching moments. I have never been a teacher who teaches from a purely technical standpoint. The art of dance is so much more than technique. Each of our musicians brings a different and endlessly varied repertoire of music; often providing a jumping off point for a short commentary about the score of a great ballet, or a jazz standard, or a tune from the musical theater cannon, enriching the students’ education and experience in the room.
Live music allows me to inspire my students in a way that recorded music never will. Every time the sound of a piano fills the studio I relive the sensations that I experienced in my first classes. I implore my students to experience that sound; to allow the music to enter their bodies, their minds and their hearts and to feel the music coax the dance from the inside out. I ask them not to dance TO the music but to dance INSIDE the music. And as my teachers nurtured me, I am much better able to nurture the artist that lies deep inside each dancer.