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Dance Music

Music emerged along with dance – rhythmic body movements that expressed emotion, displayed sexuality and enhanced group cohesion. Birds and animals dance, often in courtship rituals, sometimes in ritualized aggressive-defensive displays. Sitting in a chair to listen to music and to watch dance performance is a recent aberration that denies the group-music-dance connections.

Musical styles and dance styles evolve together. There are many forms from ballet to hip-hop. Folk dance and music were available for all to perform and enjoy. Increasingly formal traditions developed with wealthy patrons that required advanced training of talented performers and audiences who sat rather than participated.

Dances are an integral part of European classical music. In the Baroque period, composers created music for different dances such as the courante, sarabande, minuet and gigue. The minuet later appeared in sonatas, string quartets, and symphonies. The waltz flourished in Romantic music along with ethnic dances such as the barcarolle, mazurka, and polonaise.

Ballroom dancing originally referred to entertainment for wealth aristocrats who could afford large dance rooms, orchestras, and attract the best dressed, most polite guests who were skilled in group dancing. Ballet accompanied by classical music elevated dance to a high art form, again for the entertainment of educated and wealthy audiences. In the 20th century a profusion of dance forms and music became popular and egalitarian. Jazz was dance music. Small ensemble jazz became big band jazz played in big ballrooms. Ballroom dancing has survived many changes in musical styles and became a popular entertainment for all people of all classes, shapes and sizes.

In the 20th century couple dancing emerged in many styles. Broadways shows and Hollywood movies featured dance music and some dancer couples became famous such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Popular tunes in the 1950's (Motown) became the new dance music intended for young audiences. Rock and Roll emerged as frantic dance music. Disco emerged with radio and recorded music. DJ's appeared in dance halls, spinning their disc collections into collages of danceable tunes. Discos became commercial dance, nightclubs, singles meeting places. Discos and bars merged into the new nightclubs where noise, alcohol and cigarette smoke dominated and often prevented the meeting place opportunities that patrons sought. By the 1980's electronic dance music proliferated in several styles – techno, trance, house, jungle, and electro dance are examples. Raves featured trance dancing with the addition of ecstasy and other drugs. The notion of romantic, skillful couples dancing was lost in the noise, confusion and intoxication of late 20th century dance venues.

Performance Dance and Gesture

Music performance is a visual spectacle that sometimes features gesturing and dance movements. In the age of erotic music videos, dancing singers are almost a prerequisite of success. Singers, like public speakers, use performance gestures as part of the drama of song presentation. A relatively controlled singer may limit gestures to arm and head movements. A frantic rock and roller will jump up and down, run around the stage, and gesture wildly. Frantic movements go with devouring the microphone and distract the audience from the performer's lack of vocal accomplishment. There is a gigantic credibility gap between a Rolling Stones megawatt concert and a performance of the Nutcracker suite by exceptional dancers and musicians.

Even well dressed and polite symphonic players will impress the audience with their display of strenuous movements. The string players are usually busy throughout the performance moving their bows with great vigor. You can appreciate the skill of a vigorous performer more when you witness their involvement with the music and can admire the conspicuous effort involved in performing complicated music.

I admit that singers who indulge in exaggerated and strenuous gesturing and frantic dance steps offend me. In contrast, I am enchanted to hear and watch Andrea Bocelli, the blind and eloquent Italian tenor. Because he is blind, he stands motionless on the stage with his eyes closed. Bocelli sings with a perfect composure that is consistent with the mastery of his art. He is a Buddha.