Counting and Feeling

I don’t like to count when I dance because it feels counterintuitive to my desire to move with freedom. There are instances when counting is absolutely essential (like when dancing the Rite of Spring). However, after years of teaching technique, I find that dancers who are fixated on ‘getting it right’ on the beat every time usually don’t allow much room for their instinctive nature to enter their experience. They look good but also exclude me from truly witnessing their experience because they are so driven by capturing each step by imitation, brute force or other external forces. Perhaps the fact those who have been dancing for a long time have grown to trust their instincts and not rely on such a rigid rhythmic structure. I like to think that when I dance, my intuition fuels my presence and feeling  of ‘the moment’. How can one be precise, yet fluid in terms of interpreting the choreography or choreographic intent? Is there room for clarity and creative exploration? Where do you lie on this spectrum?


18 thoughts on “Counting and Feeling

  1. Counting and following exact patterns in music is how I’ve learned to dance. In Folklore this usually is the case. Also, as a choreographer, I have taught like this and I continue to follow these patterns so when I first started to just hear the music, it was difficult for me. Not until no,did I develop an ear to the music that is sensitive enough to just do things, yet my body sometimes feels like it should certain cues.

    Then again, when I perform, I totally forget about those cues and I just move while still following my dance combinations and choreography. It’s quite weird since I rehearse very strictly to hitting certain things, but I do “feel” the music when it is to perform. It is because of this that I think I consider myself to be in the middle of the “sequential vs. explorative” spectrum.

    What do others feel/do? And how do you plan to “feel/explore” more for the midterm?

  2. Growing up, I was taught to very strictly follow the counts. All my teachers were sticklers about counting, and one even insisted on breaking down each count into 4ths specifying how we should look at every moment. So given this history I like counts, they help me learn. I choreograph with counts, and I teach with counts. But I don’t count in a flat, uniform way. Because I associate movements with sounds , my counting will often sound like one, wosh, three, four, ha!, six, te te te, eight. Or something like that. It’s my own way of interpreting/feeling the music in a way that makes sense to me. I need markers.

  3. I was actually surprised that this course did not emphasis the counts in the dance combinations. I was always used to the 5-6-7-8 count and that each movement was a count. I also found it difficult to apply rhythm when counting while trying to recite a dance. I was like a robot and had no expression in my dance. This course allows us to dance through our souls in a way rather than dancing to a count. Although following the counts are important I feel like there is art in the way that you can recite the dance without using counts. I also feel like I am beginning to express my unique dance form in the way that I perform the combinations, and that is because I try not to focus so much on the counts of the combinations. I know that I may not know the combinations as well as others but I can see myself improve using my own style rather than beating myself up for a count that I missed.

  4. I’ve always had the opposite problem of not counting; not because I have impeccable musicality. My problem of not counting stems from my problem of not listening. I tend to focus so hard on technique and memorizing combinations, that I use all of my head space to do that. I find that not only does this make me rigid, but also that I am actually working harder than I need to (and not in the good way). I get so determined to execute that I forget the relationship between dancer and music. Thus, I leave my intuition– and ultimately myself– at the door as I try to reiterate the moves of my teacher/choreographer.

    Ultimately, I think LISTENING to the music helps a dancer embody the music. The dancer will be able to express and represent what is heard. If the dancer pays attention to the intricacies in the music and learns to appreciate the music as equally informative (in some cases more informative) as the choreography presented, I think the dancer will allow the music to be “seen.” After stepping away from ballet for a bit and learning to dance with myself as a being rather than a dancer at concerts or music festivals– where the emphasis of art is clearly placed on the music– I really learned to dance WITH the music. The music no longer became a backdrop to frame my exercise, as much as I learned to express movement based off the experience the music inspired. Reframing my relationship with music has made my movement come from a more honest place. Now I have to learn to apply that theory to choreography and class!

  5. Ever since I started dancing everything was always taught to me in counts. Now that I am taking this class I realize that this method of learning is completely different because we dance to what we see and not by counts. I am now learning that another way to learn is through observation and by paying close attention to the sounds and beats in order to dance in conjunction to the music. This past week as we were learning our midterm dance, Gerald pointed out to dance with charisma, that its not all about knowing the steps but also enjoying what your doing by feeling the music. I found this to be motivational because I know that with time I will get better and don’t have to be so harsh with myself on pushing myself to do better because it takes time to grasp the movements and progress. I am finally acknowledging that we all make mistakes and that’s how we learn and that practice makes perfect and will eventually show throughout time when I get better at what I love doing the most.

  6. When I start out dancing a new routine or a new piece of choreography, I like to have the counts laid out for me. Having the counts helps me get the movements in order and it allows me to wrap my head around what we are doing. But as we incorporate the music, I cannot focus on the counts. I find it more beneficial to focus on the rhythm and the music pattern. If I try to count and focus on the music, I get lost in my head and eventually lose track and mess up more. I have found that I am a better dancer when I take the confidence of having already learned the moves and then just going with it when the music starts. If I mess up, I think it looks better to just add a little turn with the music over trying to re-step the counts to re-find my place in the dance. I allow myself to lose control and flow a lot better if I do not count. My natural body instincts take over when the music comes on and I find it better not to fight them. In this class, when we started doing floor work, I like learning the steps in chunks, but with music I like to just let the dance happen and make it work over trying to break it up into counted sections. I think you can make it look better that way.

    • I totally agree with you Victoria. I personally have awful rhythm so having counts only makes it that much easier for me to remember not only the counts but the actual steps as well. When it comes to confidence, i agree that i am way more confident once i know but i think thats part of the process, the process of messing up and not knowing what you’re doing. On the side note, i want to say that I’m taking a music class and that class as well as dance are a reality check and to an extent they make me come out my comfort zone to find myself within.

  7. I think that I am somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. This is because often I am intent on getting the counts right, but when I let go and forget about the counts I have a great time. On the other hand, focusing somewhat on the counts really helps me when I’m learning new combinations because the counts organize the movement. After I learn something I can focus less on delineating the movement precisely because my body takes over my mind. There is definitely room for both precision and freestyle, which I think is the ideal in dance.

  8. As a young dancer, I hated counting. I was always completely off, and focused on the cue of the music. I was often criticized to stay in sync, and count to my movements. So I was forced into counting. However, I feel like counting has become counterproductive. Yes, it may have made me look like everyone else (How boring!), but it felt different. It’s a distraction! I no longer let the music drive my body. I was so focused on being on time, that music seemed to fade away in the background. I compare how I dance when in class, counting, to when I’m just feeling the music at a party or in my room. The feeling is completely different. Dancing to the music with no limitations to numbers is pure freedom. The numbers can be a good structure, but it can also be restricting from one’s fullest potential.

  9. I seem to avoid numbers if I can. When the counts are announced it’s more foreign than the French terms. Counting has even less relevance to me while I’m dancing. Maybe it’s because I’m so intent on remembering the choreography, but I never ever count. That’s not to say that I don’t want to hit a movement on the beat, but this desire seems to stem from a feeling.

    I understand that there is a place in this world for counting and numbers and that to achieve greater balance I’d do better to acquaint myself with such things. I think this is precisely where I need to grow more as a dancer — precision and clarity. My initial exposure and understanding of dance so far has been highly focused around creativity and exploration. I understand why you don’t want to count, and I like you for that, but I think I need it.

  10. I think counting is very important at times and I wouldn’t consider it a hindrance in myself; however, I understand that counting can also take control at times, causing people to disconnect with their emotions and intent. When it comes to personal choreography I expect myself to know the counts in order to be able to accurately teach what I want to come through to others, but I believe with time the counts become background knowledge and one can easily lose themselves in the movement and music as their body has become accustomed to other factors. Though I feel the importance of dancing freely as well — Improvisation is one of my favorite things to do on my own time, especially when creating new choreography. That “in the moment” sensation is one incomparable to getting the counts down.

    • Adding onto this I keep thinking about what Gerald said in class today — Is that movement or feeling genuine, and how can I prevent portraying a fake emotion to the audience. What’s stuck in my head is my theatrics for one of my pieces in Random where I have just decided to fully let go to entertain the audience. Should I be second guessing my “emotion” which is somewhat of a facade, and should I press myself for further exploration of my character?!

  11. Personally, because I started dancing without understanding or really getting counts, I do not have a strong hold of following them. However, because I find myself overly concerned with my lack of technical background, when I am unsure of new movement and I see that others are working with the counts and getting it, I ironically become overly obsessed with figuring them out. This is also because when I started taking dance classes here one of my teachers made me stand in front of the whole class and try and count a phrase with her and I just couldnt do it haha. I love watching dancers and being a dancer who moves organically with the movement, I love the instinctual fluidity that comes with letting go of counts, but I do notice that when I am uncomfortable or unsure with new choreo that I resort to counts even if I dont know how to use them! So yes, I think that dance inherently is based on creative exploration and intuition, but it becomes difficult to rely on your instinct when you are trying to keep up with others or impress others etc. I hope that one day I will be able to stray away with my fear of “looking bad” and go back to how I used to dance: with my body and heart, not mind.

    • I dont know where else to put this but here are my notes from that one class I had to sit out on!!!!

      February 20, 2014
      THEA 130

      • Three different initiations for improv section: First one will be your bones, second: skin, third: muscle. Move 16 up 16 down with each and then change to 8, 4, 2, 1 counts.
      • These are only three different ways that you can move with and within improvisation
      • The exploration and expansion of movement is key
      • Express it whatever way you want
      • No demonstration! Explore with your own body!
      • Each of the three should look different and feel different.
      • ex: for muscles you might work with stretching and retracting
      • Be aware of this difference when doing the other two, even though you are moving do you have to be focusing on your muscles? (Encapsulated by your skin..)
      • Yield and push through space
      • What qualities do they (the three) have different and what do they share? Lots of nuances that are important to think about…can really draw them out in your choreography
      • Its really hard to work with music that isn’t working with you
      • Downward dog: press down on all tens, fingers and toes, and clarify the alignment
      • Your ears should be in line with big toes
      • Plank: let shoulder girdle collapse and then move to over achiever; find happy medium, that is where you want to be
      • Heel rocks: let your heels move your whole body
      • X position: think about where your belly button is and see if you can radiate away from it, don’t worry if you’re doing it right or wrong; just relax.
      • Snake: connecting the whole body, not Janet Jackson style
      • Always find connection from arms to legs
      • You have to be able to connect with your body on the floor in order to do so in space/standing. You get used to certain quirks that you think are right because you’ve been doing them for so long, even when they are not.
      • When stretching and moving: ITS NOT HOW FAR YOU GO, ITS HOW YOU GO: don’t trick yourself
      • Be aware of structural integrity: where does it feel stuck?
      • When doing the choreo always incorporate what we did on the floor: think about bone, muscle, and skin!
      • Do not forget about any body part that you aren’t using: be aware that you’re whole body is working and needs to be taken care of
      o Point both feet

  12. Counting and feeling to me have always been to different techniques of dancing I agree that when I count the routine in my head I focus more on the next move and do not show any emotion on my movements, they look plain and simple. On the other hand if I focus on feeling the moment i catch myself exaggerating on the move making me go full out and enjoy the dance instead of counting it. Some techniques that I use to keep myself on track with others or so i wont stay behind is working with the sound of music. If I follow the rhythm of the music it helps concentrate on my movements and articulating every muscle.

  13. Counting and feeling are two key concepts in the world of dance in my eyes. In order to have a symphonic flow in choreography counting allows the work to be synchronized. However, showing feeling in one’s movement is what draws the audience closer to the dancer; something that people love about watching dancers perform. Technique is important and so is counting, yet feeling is what completes the ice cream sunday. Both counting and feeling are difficult to master, but highly achievable once one learns to be one’s self when performing movement. I agree with Gerald in his idea of “Perhaps the fact those who have been dancing for a long time have grown to trust their instincts and not rely on such a rigid rhythmic structure,” because I tend to count my every movement and this is what misguides me away from being able to give feeling into my movements.

  14. I can never pick up choreography fast enough and I feel like the counts help me remember the movements, but I agree with you and I also don’t like counting. I know it sounds contradictory, but hear me out: dance means multiple things to various people, but to me, I am not looking for the highest extension, or the most pirouettes, I am looking for relief. I love to move to music and not thing, just feel. And I would love to not have to rely on counts because I love how Angela, Meybe, and Amelia are so expressive with their movement.

    I find it very difficult to be precise in dance. Everybody has different bodies and minds and individuality reflects on movement. I find dance to be the place where people can be creative. I want to, one day, if I mess up, just improvise a solo rather than get all scared (this would be creative exploration). When people choreograph, they know that it’s rather hard finding a dancer that expresses the choreography and emotions the way they visualized in their heads. For that reason, I don’t think dance has to be perfect, it just has to be felt!

    “I like to think that when I dance, my intuition fuels my presence and feeling of ‘the moment.” Yesss!!!!!! me too!!!!

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