Episode 8 - the limits of swing dance
Swing dance can be many things, but where exactly does it begin and end? We ask four swing dancers who push it to the limit.
contributors to this episode
Ksenia Parkhatskaya, Russian-born dancer, singer and performer
Jean-Charles Zambo aka Joyss, swing and hip-hop dancer and composer from Paris
Ann Mony, San Fransisco-based dancer and instructor, and partner of...
Ryan Calloway, dancer, instructor and visual artist
Pushing the limits: Dancing to Bebop Music Christiane Beinl
In a research paper written at the department of musicology at the University of Vienna, IG Hop’s Christiane Beinl seeks to explore the relationship of music and dance in the field of improvised dance to the jazz music of the early bebop era, exemplified by the live performance of Alina Sokulska to the bebop song “Salt peanuts” (Gillespie/Parker/Clarke 1942) played by the band “The Cotton Lickers” in Vienna on 3 June 2016. Under the title of "Dancing the Undanceable - An Investigation into Improvised Dancing to Bebop Music", Christiane uses the video recording of Alina’s final performance after a two-month residency with IG Hop as the basis for a tentative analysis aimed at specifying a set of parameters necessary for dancing to a type of jazz that arguably moved away from the earlier, more dance-oriented traditional forms (Lott 1988: 603).
Christiane conducted an interview with Alina prior to the performance. Following the notion of Giurchesco and Torp (1995: introduction, para. 14) that “[t]he interplay between dancer and musician in the process of improvisation is very intricate and subtle and […] constitutes an attractive theme for future investigation”, particular attention was given to Alina’s understanding of improvisation as well as the question of whether a sound anchorage (both literally and metaphorically speaking) in the cultural tradition of the target community is a prerequisite for engaging in a performative process that all participants will find to be a convincing representation of its kind. Here, we have chosen for your reading and viewing pleasure parts of this interview-based analysis which deal with Alina’s approach to working with a band; note how her answers about improvisation are visualised in her own performance.
Approach to the music
In the interview, Alina talks about her approach to the music, especially live music. She talks about a sense of partnership and a feeling of collaboration that exists between the artists on stage:
„[...] The performance captured on video clearly shows that Sokulska opts for [...] the (live) music being the colleague of the dancer, an inseparable part of the process without which the performance would not be the way it is. [...] Sokulska mentions her understanding of music mainly in this way and her role as a dancer as that of a co-creator, as another member of the band. [...] she physically shows when she trades solos with the band’s drummer as can be seen from minute 2:20 to 2:59, marking herself as a member, said colleague of the band. The last evident feature of embodying this same self-perception is represented in the common vocalising of the song’s only verbal element "Salt peanuts, salt peanuts" as can be observed from minute 0:48 to 0:56 as well as at the very end at 3:04.“
A few passages later, the paper addresses the importance of being knowledgeable about the individual arts:
„[Sokulska] has a profound knowledge of the syllabus both musically as well as regards the dance and its individual inventory. This [...] is what frees her to improvise to this kind of music. Equally, the musicians have a similar kind of expert knowledge, allowing them to collaborate. A glimpse of this can be seen in the gestures exerted by the band’s saxophone player to indicate various stages of the piece, for example indicating the individual solo parts as well as, thereafter, the sign for returning to the song’s form at minute 2:54.“
Different dimensions of physical expression
In this chapter, the paper again places Alina's answers in context with what we see on the screen. Alina comes up with what Christiane calls "a small catalogue of features" and different possibilities of expressing the music; Christiane relates this to certain moments in the performance. Here’s an excerpt of some of the points addressed:
“[W]e can dance the ground beat, the bass and the drums with our footwork"
This can be seen throughout the video, [...] for example from 0:46 to 1:14. Over this period, the dancer applies various ways to show the rhythmical elements of the drums and enhance their perceptibility.
"[W]e can express trumpet solo with arms and body movement"
This can be seen for example at 0:19, from 0:42 to 0:46 as well as from 1:20 to 1:26. Also 2:01 to 2:07 shows the dancer enhancing the trumpet’s solo with her movement. 2:13 to 2:20 actually shows Sokulska follow the up and down movement suggested by the trumpet at the end of every phrase.
"We can be ironic and use extreme body isolations."
This can be seen particularly in the signature phrases of the song in the opening at minute 0:07 to 0:13, as well as in the closing, 2:59 to 3:06. Yet also small moments throughout the performance show these elements, for example the isolation of the head in a somewhat ironic gesture in 1:08/1:09. Another notable ironic moment is Sokulska’s direct look at the audience at 1:00. [...]
"I can skip some parts in music and do nothing"
An example of this can be seen from 2:07 to 2:13. Sokulska mentioned [...] that moments like this [...] are sometimes necessary in order to catch one’s breath after very exhausting parts of the choreography.
"[I can] add an accent which is presupposed by the music time but is not directly expressed with musical instrument"
An example of this can be seen from 0:28 to 0:31, where Sokulska adds a rhythmical element through the canonical footwork pattern [...] which is not in but fits the music. Also her accentuated leg movements reminiscent of the Charleston vocabulary from 1:53 to 2:00 can be regarded an example of this technique. Also, her walking in time during the break she takes after 2:00 can be seen as adding an element of the ground beat of the song.
As mentioned initially, these excerpts from Christiane's original paper represent merely a sneak peek of its actual content which gives the reader, next to the transcript of the entire interview with Alina along with a more in-depth analysis of the performance, a discussion of other questions such as the possible differences in the process of listening versus the process of interpreting and how a dancer co-relates the two, especially in an improvised context, as well as Alina’s perspective on what traits a dancer must possess in order to be considered a successful participant in the creative process. If you would like to have access to the original paper, feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Giurchescu, A. & Torp, L. (1995). “Dance – Music Relationships: An Introduction.” Dance Ritual and Music. Proceedings of 18th Symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology of the International Coucil for Traditional Music. Introductory keynote.
Lott, E. (1988). “Double V, Double-Time: Bebop’s Politics of Style.” Callaloo No. 36. 597-605.