Kevie Kev aka Dj Renegade and his Facebook statuses are always a food for thought. If you are not familiar with them, go and follow him right now. Some can say they are provocative or harsh, but i would argue that no matter the form, the content is on point. His latest one is more of an education about understanding the music and dance. It would not do the justice to him to paraphrase it so here is the wholes thing. Also take your time to watch the live interview attached to it and wait fo the part 2.
“So, first things first.
This is not to diss or degrade anyone. It’s just share my perspective. Take it or leave it. Read it or dump it. What I write either makes sense or it doesn’t. It’s also not the only way to look at things. Nor is it unique to me. If you ask 10 different people about, let’s say Musicality, you may well get 10 different answers. It’s an intangible concept and there’s no single strict definition. And that’s even for people that have studied for a lifetime, much less people that haven’t spent much time on it. Unpacking abstractions is hard, but there is overlap; lots of overlap. Let’s go right back.
This is about music and dance. Specifically dancing to, and with the music. So we need to go to the music first if we are to start somewhere. I’m not gonna go deep into Music Theory but we need to understand some terms and definitions. The reason being that music studies are far more advanced than dance theory. Especially when it comes to globally and dances from the African Diaspora. Most of the concepts and principles are the same for our purposes. It stands to reason to consider dance as downstream from the music, at least in this particular context. Not all movement is dance and not all dance is limited to being done to music, but again, in this context, these considerations must be made. There is no point having wildly different definitions for the same thing in a single discipline. But you can have multiple words for the same thing and the same word for different things. OK…
All movement needs a time component. So both music and dance need a consistent system of measurement. In music we have what are called beats or counts. It’s the measure of the pulse of the music, or what we also call the tempo. Music is divided into these beats/counts and usually expressed in them; time signatures or in minutes as BPM(Beats per Minute). Each of these beats/counts can be grouped into what we call bars or measures. Timing in dance is the ability to match movements or steps to rhythms in the music. That is, those created by the drums, other instruments or even the lyrics. Remember, all of these are consistent with the pulse of the music. 99% of the music in our dance forms are based around the 4/4 or 4 beats in a bar time signature and drum heavy!! With hardly any variation in tempo. We do use counts of 8s but that’s just how we choose to group or phrase our beats into bars sometimes. Do we need to understand Music Theory to be a good dancer? No. But it doesn’t hurt and in fact reveals a lot of useful information about the structure of music and its relation to dance. At the same time, many principles can be discovered by pure experimentation but it’s much harder to pass it on through pedagogy and ultimately you’ll only be reinventing the wheel. Let’s define a few things for our parlance.

Musicality.

Let’s start with what it’s not. Musicality is NOT just chasing after or hitting beats. Nor is it just displaying a single ‘energy’ state of the music. It’s about connecting your dance, movements and steps, to the music. The flow, tempo, tone, mood, timing, phrasing and beats. There’s how the song feels and how the song makes you feel. How are you communicating these things? Let’s consider 2 frameworks of musicality. The reactive and the proactive. Reactive is a basic understanding of how the music is structured, how rhythm works, timing and phrasing, tempo etc. The ability to follow the music. Even at an advanced level. Proactive is the ability to interpret, add to, and express the music thru DIFFERENT dynamics and accenting. Being a visual percussive companion to the music. Dynamics does not just mean going fast or loud. It’s the CHANGE. The difference between the highest and lowest, fastest and slowest levels. You need a mixture of both and in both of these it is required to add your own flair, or character. To express AND impress. Or who cares? Real talk. It’s a performance and if no one cares to watch you may have missed the point. You may be dancing for yourself but let’s be real. Don’t even go to the club or competition then.
Another important aspect of musicality is related to quality of movement. That’s the clarity of the delivery of the moves and steps so that they are not a bunch of badly executed movements. It requires a strong relationship between the mind and body. What we refer to as proprioception. Your movements can’t look strong and definition is lost if that connection is weak.

Groove and Swing and Syncopation.

For Groove and Swing here is a generic definition, which is ‘what feels good’. But there is no information in that description. It’s almost like saying great food is food that tastes good. Or food that is prepared well. It doesn’t tell you anything. Let’s have a usable definition for Groove, Swing and Syncopation. They are all how you treat the ‘in-between’ notes. As we discussed, there are 4 counts in a bar. But you can divide those so that you have 8 or 16(or 32 or 64!!)
syncopation means accenting beats that are not naturally accented. Simple as. We normally accent music on the 1 and 3 or 2 and 4 counts. These are known as the upbeat or downbeat. To be honest there’s no difference in timing terms. Just in feel.
In African Diasporic dance we prefer to accent the 2 and 4 but that is purely our convention and taste. If you choose to accent the 1st and 3rd count, you are NOT offbeat. You are just ugly. Out of phase with our preference. Really being offbeat is having an inconsistent connection to the pulse and subdivisions of the music.
So Syncopation…
Let’s break the counts into parts.
1…2…3…4…
1..and..2..and..3..and..4 Accenting those AND ‘counts’ is Syncopation
1..e..and..a..2..e..and..a..3..e..and..a..4 Accenting any of those counts between the whole numbers is Syncopation.
Groove and Swing are HOW you use those Syncopations!! How you tease them or delay them or drag them out. How you switch between long and short. How you change their intensity.

Phrasing.

Simply put, music is built of phrases. Grouped and usually arranged in some multiple of 2 in 4/4 music. Where a whole ‘thought’ or motif is expressed. You can hear it in most modern music. Verse, bridge, chorus…These all consist of phrases. Dance steps are also arranged in phrases. If you’ve ever done the Electric Slide or the Candy Dance you’ll recognise that the whole sequence is made of phrases. And even the sequence can be considered a phrase. But so is the Twist-O-Flex or the Fresno/Slot. Or the Indian or Salsa Step. Or the Fila or the Steve Martin. Or the Pas de Bourree or Loose Leg. They don’t just fit randomly anywhere. They fit in counts, in the MUSIC. On the MUSIC. You can play around with them but if you mess with their phrasal structure, it doesn’t look nice. And if they are off the music, you really should try harder. It happens that some steps have an odd count but there is usually a ‘rest’ that fills in the space or you combine it with another step. Your phrasing needs to make visual sense and fit the music. Music doesn’t just change at random intervals. There is a pattern. Your dance should also have patterns, not necessarily predictable but we can’t have storytelling without them.
I’ll finish today by stating my truth. Especially in our dance styles. As a dancer, you’re not just performing skills. You’re performing skills to, and with the music. The music is not just for background. It is a landscape you have to navigate. It’s not a theatrical picture of a forest you perform with as a backdrop. It is an actual forest. Complete with trees and rocks and streams and other features. That’s what we collectively decided.
No music. No dance.
In the next part, we’ll discuss being in the pocket, compare phrasing to language use, and understand why we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss all these things. We can’t refine our understanding if we don’t speak openly. Also if there are any specific questions, let me know.”