The other day, I was talking with my favorite teacher, Marisa, about a video of Suzanne Farrell that I have. We both agreed that although she may not have been the most perfect technician compared to today’s powerhouse dancers, she had something that is very rare: an innate understanding and response to music. Even on video, you can tell that she internalizes each musical phrase she dances to, so that she’s almost dancing in the music instead of to the music. Watching her, I’m always reminded of one of the fundamental reasons why I love to dance ballet, which is that moving to beautiful music is such a pleasure. However, I’m also reminded of how important it is to work on musicality and phrasing during class, which subsequently is a big help in performance and auditions. Marisa is always telling us use this feeling and to “dance how the music sounds”, and this simple piece of advice can help you immensely in your dancing. If you allow yourself to respond emotionally to the swelling crescendos of an adagio or waltz, or the staccato beats of a frappe or petit allegro, there’s a very good chance your body will follow your lead. Listen carefully to what the pianist in your class or on the CD your teacher uses is doing for each exercise, and use the rhythms and dynamics in his playing to help you improve your movement quality. I personally love when the pianist in my classes plays the opening of the Lilac Fairy’s variation from Sleeping Beauty for grande allegro—it’s such a beautiful passage, and its majestic dynamics always help me soar.
Music for ballet class is often adapted from famous ballets like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, and if you recognize the selection that’s being played, it’s also fun and helpful to imagine yourself as that character. For example, the coda from the Black Swan pas de deux in the third act of Swan Lake is often used for the traveling turn combinations from the corner, so if you happen to be dancing to it, imagine yourself as Odile during that moment in the ballet. She’s snapping those fouettes around crisply and precisely, with a strong sense of focus and an absolute confidence in herself and her own power. There’s a good chance that your turns will then become sharper and easier, since often a bit of confidence and enjoyment is all it takes to do a difficult step. So make sure that you’re listening to the music just as much as you’re listening to your body, and not only will your technique improve, you’ll also really dance. Which is, after all, the whole point.