JEFF ZAHOS

Dance Musician | Audio Engineer | Sound Designer

SETTING UP THE MUSICIAN'S AREA IN THE DANCE STUDIO

I've gotten to play music with dance in all sorts of situations, surroundings, locations, and physical arrangements.  I've accompanied dance in gymnasiums, from behind bushes next to a busy (and very noisy) street, and in a barn.  I've played sitting, standing, walking, running, and dancing, in grass and on dirt, on stage, in the audience, and under the stage of a theater.  I've played in parks, parking lots, and plazas.  And, of course, I've played in dance studios, where things really should be ideal for making music with dance.  But, even in the studio I've found that it usually takes some thought (and sometimes some politics) to get your musical equipment arranged for successful collaboration.

COLLABORATIVE CONSIDERATIONS

There are a few important musician-centered priorities when situating the musical area.  From where they're situated, the musician must comfortably/easily be able to:

  1. See the dance from the point of view which it is intended to be seen
  2. See and hear the teacher when she's demonstrating movement
  3. Play their instrument correctly/optimally while doing #1 & 2
  4. Hear what they're playing
  5. Enter and exit the music area to access the dance area  

I prefer to have my music area set up in the "front" of the studio, by the mirror, so I can see the dance from the intended point of view, and so I’m near the teacher when she's demonstrating - It’s important that I can see and hear her vocalizations while demonstrating or direct verbal communication. If the teacher is concerned that you'll be blocking the dancers' view of themselves, the musician can be off to the side, tucked in the front corner to minimize the amount of mirror space they take up. A pianist who reads music during class will need to be able to see the dancers and the teacher over the piano’s music tray, and will need to have the piano oriented such that the teacher and the dancers are visible while the piano lid is open.  This usually means that the piano is "Downstage Right", with the pianist's back to the mirror.  My setup is usually built around a drum set, I have found it effective to have the drums face the dancers at 45 degrees and the piano face the mirror at 45 degrees, so I can see the dance no matter which instrument(s) I’m playing.

"WEATHER"

I have had a studio that "rained" on my drums (leaky roof - it got fixed ... eventually), but that's not what this is about.  It's about HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning).  It's helpful to keep pianos (and drums) away from radiators, heating/AC vents, or doors which lead directly outdoors.  Changes in temperature and humidity, especially rapid/drastic changes can wreak havoc on tuning of drums and pianos, and very dry conditions can even cause splits in a piano's soundboard.

TECHNOLOGY

Don't forget power!  If you use computer or mobile devices, electric/electronic instruments, you'll need power nearby, and if you send signal to a sound system, you'll need to be near an input.  For computer and mobile device-based sound sources, monitor speakers can allow you the potential to set up in more places, but if you don't have a monitor, you'll need to be positioned so you can hear the main loudspeakers.