Seeing Music

When I was in 7th grade I had two albums (yes, those big 12” black plastic things):  Fleetwood Mac Rumors and Boston’s debut album (with the flying saucers on the cover that were actually guitars).  I listened to those two albums over and over and over.  I actually remember listening intently to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (a song that I still love).  At one point in the song, all the instruments drop out except the bass with the snare drum slowly building until the whole band kicks in again.  Oh my word, I loved it so.  When I knew every detail of the song, I felt like I was right there with them when the music took off.

As a Nia teacher, I think of that time often:  lying on the floor in my parents’ living room running back and forth to the stereo to turn the records over and over.  Part of what I do now when I teach is get that intimate with the music:  to know all the details and changes and variations in the sound.  Then, with that connection to the music, I can use the movement to bring the music to life – so we can SEE and FEEL the music in our bodies.

David Byrne, the genius musician and artist behind Talking Heads, did a short interview recently in which he talks about this ability of movement to bring attention to sounds which might have otherwise been overlooked.  Check out the 5-minute interview here – the part to which I refer is just the first minute or so .

He talks about how the dancers’ movements in his show can highlight the music for the audience.  I think that when we’re actually MOVING movements that highlight the music, it allows us to see the sound and listen with the whole body — even more than if we’re just watching a performance.  In Nia, we are DANCING the music.

It is one of my favorite sensations, to connect not just my ears, but my whole self to music.  And I feel a connection with the artist, too.  It’s as if my movement says, “Oh yeah, I hear what you’re doing there! I’m right there with you.”  And my body~mind feels integrated when I’m moving in this way.  The music isn’t just background.  It’s not just the beat to keep us moving.  Music in Nia is integral to the experience.

Nia Blue Belt Principle 11, Music, Movement and Magic (MMM), is really all about this connection between music and movement and how it can transform an experience from moving TO music to actually being moved BY music.  MMM invites us to really see every song as a work of art that offers topography on which to play.  Occasionally, I’ll play with intentionally moving against the music but mostly, I find that the magic is being integrated with the sound.  So when Stairway to Heaven really takes off, so do we!

This week, I invite you to pay particular attention to all the music around you:  the music in class, the music on the radio, the music of traffic, the music of kids playing outside.  Notice the details, the nuances, of every sound.  Then, make magic by connecting your body to the sounds that you hear:  your breath, opening and closing your hands, even conducting (if you don’t know what I mean, please please watch this – or at the very least, from 3:20 to the end )!  See what it feels like to integrate your body to the sound.  Make magic:  see the music!

  1. Jennifer said:

    I attended a dance improv with live music last week, and I can safely say I was allowing the music to move ME the entire time. I have never had the privilege of moving to not just live percussion but guitar, flute, vocals, piano before. It was exhausting because the sounds were so enticing that my body was just RESPONDING to them without much thinking on my behalf. My lungs kept saying “Whoa, we need oxygen!” but as long as the music kept playing, my body wanted to play along. I almost felt possessed by the music!

  2. Very cool, Jennifer! That’s an amazing feeling and, I think, what Trance Dance is all about. Another experience is to be moved by the music and simultaneously be responsive to what the body needs. Different dancing muscles! Rock on.

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