• Emma Acton

The Importance Of Mastering Musicality In Ballet

A dancer’s ability to become one with the music is a development, along with technique, artistry and characterisation, that takes time and practice. For some, the art of dancing to the beat is one that has come naturally for as long as they can remember. However, for others, it takes time to develop the awareness of understanding musical concepts.


What is it that musicality adds to dance? And what is it that we gain as dancers when we develop our musical interpretation?

Dancing as one

Corps de ballet or ensemble dancing is something that every single dancer will have to perform at some stage during both their training and professional career. Asking twenty-something dancers to perform difficult movements and pose in uncomfortable positions all at exactly the same time is quite the ambitious task - especially if each dancer’s receptiveness to musicality is different. The effectiveness of watching corps de ballet work is based entirely on how well the dancers move as one. The skill of interpreting music in the way that the choreographer intends is how dancers learn to become a cohesive group and create musical movement that is dynamic and creative for the audience to watch.

Dancers of Melbourne City Ballet; Image by National Photography

Dynamic quality

As dancers, you will often hear teachers, assessors and choreographers talk about showing ‘light and shade’ in your dancing. This can be a difficult concept to understand if the dancer is not in-tune and developed in understanding musicality. For example, if a dancer is tall with long limbs, they might tend to move slower with a much softer quality compared to a dancer who is short and very strong. These two different types of dancers need to learn to dance to many kinds of music and adapt to its dynamic quality. A tall dancer who is able to move with a quick and sharp dynamic and a short dancer who is able to extend their lines and create continuous soft movement, will both be much more versatile and appealing to directors looking for ‘all-round dancers’. Dynamic quality is what catches the attention of audience members. Performing exact movements on specific accents in the music evokes much more emotion and connection with audience members because it creates a visual that makes them feel the music.

Musical Interpretation

As with dynamic quality, development of an artist’s own musical interpretation is something that comes with practice and maturity. Finding accents and nuances in music that are not the most obvious sounds and creating movement that highlights these accents, shows how we each interpret music differently. Placing emphasis on different steps or movement based on your own strengths is another way of showcasing individuality in your musical interpretation. This skill is one that usually separates a student from a professional, mainly because students are all trained to hear things the same way to develop their skills in corps de ballet work. However, professionals are often given the freedom to explore the music and choreography in a way that allows them to display uniqueness.


Knowledge of musical concepts

Understanding musical concepts such as rhythm, tempo and phrasing is a skill that will come in handy particularly for dancers who are interested in eventually becoming teachers or choreographers. In those instances, you are the one interpreting the music and communicating this to your dancers - therefore you need to be clear enough in your own understanding to be able to make your vision come to life. For dancers who find it harder to always dance in time with the music, learning about musical concepts will also help to bridge the gap between being ahead of the music, or being late.

Students of Elite Youth Classical Coaching masterclass; ©BreakTheBarre

So then, can musicality be taught? We talk about musicality being ‘natural’ for some people - however, musical influence begins from the time we are in the womb. If the people we grow up with are interested in music and often playing it, then we have been exposed to it much more than those whose families seldom played music. Nature versus nurture is an argument for so many cognitive skills and musicality is a cognitive function just like interpreting all other sounds that we hear. If we are exposed to musical influences and taught musicality from a very young age, then it should be a skill that develops naturally over time. Whether developed through nature or nurture, musicality is indisputably a vital skill for dancers wanting to make a career out of their art.

Emma Cheeseman

8th Dec, 2018