JEFF ZAHOS

Dance Musician | Audio Engineer | Sound Designer

The Unique Demands of Making Music with Dance

Musical collaboration with dance is different than other types of music making.  The dance studio is simultaneously a performance space and a laboratory.  Music for dance is not absolute music - It exists to serve a purpose outside of itself.  One reason collaborating with dance is wonderful because dancers are necessarily present and engaged. Dance class or rehearsal are the daily rituals where dancers grow the “knowing body”, which prepares them for other modes of knowing.  For serious dance musicians, its no different.  They use these shared daily rituals to build their practice: All the skills, knowledge, experience, and relationships that make them the musician they are.  Making music in dance class requires you to be creative and above all, courageous!

Firstly, playing music with dance requires an entirely different set of criteria for evaluating success or failure.  The dance musician must let go of the ideal of perfection - To be a successful dance musician, you have to unlearn the criteria for evaluating success or failure in music performance that you've learned in traditional music training. There are completely different criteria in the dance studio.  You must begin to understand failure not as an end but as an opportunity to make decisions and continue without hesitation.  It is the perfect arena for experimentation, risk and failure- Certainly the dancers are taking risks and failing daily.  You must do the same in order to give them what they need.  You can no longer be afraid of failure or trying to avoid it.  In order to be a successful dance musician, you have to be able to throw out all the ways of evaluating success or failure you’ve learned your whole life in other musical situations.  I have found that sometimes the music that seemed "wrong" to me (using my old ways of evaluating) was enthusiastically appreciated by the dancers, because it was "right" for the energy in that space, at that moment.

A dance musician must treat their playing with gravity, however simple or uninteresting it may seem to them.  This means a change of focus from executing the skill of playing music to making music for a moment.  

A dance musician develops the ability to make musical decisions very quickly, stick with them and see them through. All of your prior musical training and experience will be employed, with only 4 counts notice.  You basically get 5-6-7-8 and your are making music NOW.  Often, there is little or no time to ask questions and the score is the movement you’re seeing. 

A dance musician must be musically courageous!  If you don’t already have musical COURAGE, you’ll develop it playing for dance class.  Have you ever HAD to play an “adagio” on djembe? Have you ever HAD to improvise as a soloist faster than you can play on an instrument? Have you ever HAD to make music on an instrument you don’t know how to play?  As a dance musician, you'll likely end up having to face challenges like these, and you’ll do so without fear.

Lastly, a dance musician must work as hard to dance the music as the dancers have to to dance the dance.