Often in dance, we can mainly focus on technique and technique alone without any thought for the dimension of expression. It is far easier to teach students in steps and movements, but what separates a good dancer from a great one is the ability to interpret a piece of music in movement. It takes an understanding of the music and how it makes you feel, the emotion it evokes, and how it can be interpreted through dance. To do this well dancers, teachers and choreographers need to have a good understanding of dynamics, what they are and how to use them in their work and performance.
Dynamics in dance describe the quality of a movement or set of movements. There are six main movement qualities in dance that aim to describe dynamics in dance. These qualities are swinging, suspended, vibratory, sustained, percussive and collapsed.
Each dynamic can be performed individually, but to create interesting and compelling dance, we use them in combination to compliment as well as contrast each other.
1. SWINGING MOVEMENT
Swinging movements are one of the most fun to perform because they heavily rely on the pull of gravity to propel your movement from one side to another. Although they can be performed vigorously and aggressively if called for, they mostly remind me of joyful skipping or monkeys traversing from tree to tree!
Swinging Dynamic Definition:
A swinging dynamic in dance is a quality of movement that creates arches or circular shapes. It uses the pull of gravity on the body to create a pendulum-like forward and backward motion. In dance swinging our bodies can also mean oscillating up and down, from corner to corner or round and round.
Words that can describe swinging movements:
sway, shift, pendulate, waving, spinning, twirling, arch, circular, round, oscillate, teeter-totter, swivel, switch, undulate, whirl, rock, roll, pivot, seesaw, fluctuate, teeter, waver, dangle
2. SUSPENDED MOVEMENT
Suspended movement I find harder to perform as it requires a lot of balance, muscle control, and or thrust to be able to hold your body for a moment at the peak of its movement which is why in my video tutorial and examples I focus on suspending walking and body parts. When I think of suspended movement I imagine those dancers who mid-leap seem to be able to defy gravity and almost pause in the air for a second or the dancer who seems to be able to hold that arabesque on pointe right on the edge of teetering over for that extra moment. The suspended dynamic also reminds me of pretending to be an astronaut in space on earth as you try to recreate that sense of weightlessness as you bound from the ground reaching a peak in your walk and then slowly drift back down.
Suspended Dynamic Definition:
A suspended dynamic in dance is a quality that emphasizes the peaks of movement through the effort of holding, lingering, and hovering before pulling back. The dancer suspends their motion in mid-air to create the illusion of defying gravity.
Words that can describe suspended movements:
weightless, hanging, buoyant, float, peak, hovering, rise, defy gravity, levitate, drift, linger, cling,
3. VIBRATORY MOVEMENT
Vibratory movements basically make everything wiggle and wobble whilst performing them. A true vibration is one that moves back and forth at an incredible speed, but because our bodies can move in multiple directions we can also vibrate them in various ways! We can also choose to vibrate our whole bodies or isolate one or several parts or sections to vibrate.
Vibration Dynamic Definition:
A vibratory dynamic in dance refers to rapid movements that are continuously moving to and fro.
The reverberation could be forwards and backward, side to side, up and down – whatever inventive way a dancer is able to move their bodies. A dancer may make their whole body shake and tremble or the vibration could involve quivering an arm, shaking their head very fast, or even thrashing a leg.
Words that can describe vibratory movements:
flicker, palpitate, ripple, stagger, thrash, toss, waggle, wiggle, librate, wobble, vacillate, fluctuate, flutter, quiver, reverberate, shiver, shudder, pulsate, pulse, convulse,
4. SUSTAINED MOVEMENT
When I think of sustained movement I immediately think of tai chi or ballet. I imagine the slowness and steadiness of a group of people in a park, moving in unison, taking time and care with their movement or of the ballet dancer at a barre slowly unravelling their leg into a develope or arabesque and controlling their movement as they bring their leg to the ground and back into 5th position. Sustained movement in these respects seems calming and serene, but remember the quality of the dynamic can also be changed by the context for example someone performing a fight scene in slow motion or pretending to be stuck in honey or glue and trying to get out! That being said it could also be argued that fast movement that is continuous and flowing could also be described as sustained
Sustained Dynamic Definition:
The sustained dynamic in dance refers to a continuous and flowing movement where a dancer’s motion is constant, even, and smooth. Although the sustained dynamic is best observed and demonstrated through slow controlled motion it can also describe fast movement where a dancer is able to keep their movement even, constant, and steady but at an increased speed.
Words that can describe sustained movements:
Controlled, smooth, held, even, constant, continuous, uninterrupted, steady, endless, connected, unfaltering, unceasing, unbroken, gradual, heavy, delayed, flowing, maintained, non-stop, unbroken, connected, seamless,
5. PERCUSSIVE MOVEMENT
I find using the Percussive dynamic in dance requires a high level of cardio vascular fitness, especially if you intend to use it for long periods of time compared to using any of the other five dance dynamics. This is because to produce this quality in your movement you need to exert a lot of force and energy throughout your body and limbs.
Some styles of dance that use a lot of percussive movement are commercial jazz, jazz dance, and hip hop. Tap dance by nature is percussive as the dancer creates staccato beats and sounds with their feet, but a tap dancer’s upper body movements are not generally percussive in style, rather they are fluid drawing from the suspensed, collapsing, and sustained dynamic forms. Ballet also uses percussive movement – think battements – and there is much repertoire that uses the dynamic when called for!
Percussive Dynamic Definition:
The percussive dynamic in dance refers to movements that are performed in a sudden, abrupt or sharp way. They have a strong and often assertive, quality as the dancer exerts energy and strength to produce stacatto like moves with their body.
Words that can describe percussive movements:
Strong, sharp, strike, beat, sudden, bang, choppy, jagged, abrupt, hit, tap, staccato, assertive, forceful, vigourous, energetic, bold, fiesty, thump, thwack, punch, whack
6. COLLAPSED MOVEMENT
Collapsed movement could literally be named as one of the most recognisable elements of modern and contemporary dance. Well ok, so there are a lot more to those two styles of dance than just the concave body shape or the rolling of the spine but it is a heavily used element in these styles. This is mainly due to the fact that modern dance in particular was developed with an intention of being an alternative and contrasting style to ballet. In ballet you stand in turned out positions, aligned with impeccable posture, where as in modern and contemporary dance you stand in parallel, and although upright the tendency is to incorporate collapsed movement to emphasise concave or vexed positions of the upper torso and body – which is in stark contrast to classical dance.
Collapsed Dynamic Definition:
The collapsed dynamic in dance refers to movements where a dancer lets go of tension in their body to produce a noticeable quality of release in their motion. The collapse can be performed in any downward direction and by the whole body or in isolation such as letting an arm fall from a raised position.
Words that can describe collapsed movements:
falling, release, concave, convex, cave in, sag, slump, flopping, crumple, crumble, faint, give way, sunken, incurved, incurvate
OTHER ELEMENTS OF DYNAMICS IN DANCE
The six qualities of movement dynamics described in this article help us to define the type of movements we can perform. But the element of dynamics in dance can also refer to things such as:
- Direction – Does the movement travel towards or away from the audience?
- Length – How long is the movement?
- Speed – How fast and quick is the movement?
- Rhythm – What kind of regularity? Does it reflect an upbeat or a downbeat, or other patterns?
- Weight – Is the movement light or heavy?
- Energy – Is the dancer’s energy high or low?
- Force – Is the movement in general strong or soft?
- Quality – What characteristics are within the movements? – swinging, suspended, vibratory, sustained, percussive, collapsed.
Dynamics are generally a topic that can be both demonstrated and discussed in an educational setting to develop a greater understanding and awareness of the elements that make up a dance piece. Not only can one use dynamics to describe or analyze movement, but also dancers themselves can use dynamics to describe their own style. This gives them a better understanding of their abilities within their art form.
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