When you’re auditioning CDs and clips for selecting some new ballet class music,here’s a listening tip that will be helpful. Pay attention to the use of beat placement, particularly the downbeat, the first beat of each bar.
I found in the studies I conducted back in the early 80s (yes, in the previous century) that the use of the downbeat placement and width impacted the dancers and the effectiveness of their performance more than any other single factor in ballet class music.
How to Picture a Beat
To understand that, you need to think of a beat in music not as a thin line at a specific position in time, but rather as a wide space (depending on the tempo) in which the thin line (the actual beat) can be placed in any location and even made “thicker.” In other words, the beat can take up the whole space available for it, or only small part of the space. If it only uses part of the space, it can be “pushing the beat,” “dragging the beat,” or “in the pocket” of the beat. It can even steal space from the less important beats that surround it. This is one of the keys to effective ballet class music.
A Wide Beat
A wide beat that takes up the entire space available and even steals some space from the previous or next subsidiary beats is extremely effective for broadly phrased, emotional selections such as plies and adages. You can visit the CDBaby website where my music is available and listen to the adage on this page for an example. This creation of a “wider” beat gives a push to the phrase and inspires broad sweeping motions in the dancers.
Dead in the Pocket
If you doubt what I’m saying, let’s take a look at the other extreme of beat usage. For those ballet class music exercises that require a sharp clean motion, the beat must be placed dead on in the pocket every time. It’s a strong and reliable beat when done this way and this gives a crisp clean feel to the dancing and creates a sense of confidence and security in the dancer. It also creates a lot of empty space on both sides of the beat though you’d have to slow the music down to hear that space. That effect heightens the ability of the dancer to react with sharp clean accuracy in the exercise. For an example of this hop on over to the CDBaby page and listen to Degages or Frappes.
I hope this helps a bit and best wishes to you in your teaching and dancing and especially in your choices of ballet class music.