Mutual relationships of music and dance

Nketia, J.H.K., 1979: Die Musik Afrikas. Heinrichshofen’s Verlag: Wilhelmshaven. Pp.: 251-267

Abstract by Anne-Kathrin Horstmann

Music, as a dramatic representation of different life-areas, is always influenced by its connection to activities and movements and therefore uses mostly contents which make movements possible or plans them. The emotional reaction of music can be expressed verbally or physically and dance should therefore be seen as a possibility to free emotions.

The basic movements in traditional dances can either be simple or complex but they are never used in the same order of movements from different groups. In addition to the basic movements of the legs, arms, shoulders, chest and intensive movements of the hips and other striking movements like jumping, stamping, shaking, bending, falling down etc. can be used and combined with the basic steps. The differences of the dances show the single specialisations and the preferential treatments of the different dancing groups who perform them but very often it is generally distinguished in male and female dances as well as in professional and non-professional dancers. A song always influences the dance in its movements and that is why for example dynamic moments in the song cause changes in the movements. A basic dance pattern can be given or dancers change their positions according to the rhythmic changes in the song in which case the dancer usually orientates his movements on the beats of the drums. Sometimes bells, gongs or whistles are used to introduce changes in music and dancing structures. But it is always important to know that next to the basic movements or musical “guiding line”, dancing is always a personal expression and improvisation.

Some basic rules for the relationship between music and dance are given in the following:

  1. Recognition of the basic beats in a song
  2. Movements of the different parts of the body according to the rhythm of the song
  3. Speed of the movements according to the musical character
  4. Paying attention to irregular rhythms of a song
  5. Structuring the movements in single phrases according to the single phrases of a song

These rules show that dancing is multiple dependent on music in many ways and therefore demands high qualifications from the musiciens because the musical structure often guides the dancers. But is is also important for the dancers to provide themselves first emotionally for the dance before it starts e.g. by introducing songs. The length of a song depends on the musicians or on the dancers themselves who determine the end of a song. In spite of the diversity and contrast of the dances and music, music usually creates the right atmosphere and cares for the rhythmic basics. Fundamentally it is necessary to distinguish between music which is meant for traditional dances and music which has nothing to do with this. Therefore African music in its contents and forms has always been seen in its connection to traditional dances!


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