Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fittingness of One Art Form to Antother: A Need for Greater Artistic Compatibility on DWTS

I don't regularly get to watch it, but when I do, I enjoy watching Dancing With the Stars (DWTS for those initiated). The show seems to have done a lot to spur a resurgence in the popularity of more traditional couples dancing. My father teaches ballroom, and many young adults as well as folks a little older have taken lessons from him in the last few years. I danced a little bit myself when I was younger.

Despite the positive aspects of the show, I have one bone to pick with DWTS. It pertains to how they match music and dance together. I am not enthusiastic about some of their music choices for particular dance routines (and I understand that the dancers do not pick the music so they have to work with what they are given). Sometimes, the style of the music does not coordinate well with the dance style.

The effect, especially if you have an idea of what the more traditional music sounds like, can be oddly incongruous. It can seem like the dancing and the music have no significant connection with each other. By contrast, the music that is traditional for the various dance styles is traditional because it fits so well with the movement of the dance. The dance movement and the music developed together and they correspond well--one could say they were made for each other (indeed, the type of music and the type of dance have the same name; e.g. "rumba" is both a dance and a type of music). And not only does the dance movement fit well with the traditional music of the same name, the "personality" of the dance, also, is very harmonious with the character of its music.

I understand that DWTS wants, and needs, to be contemporary for the sake of a young audience that was not raised on the music of Bossa Nova, Tango, etc. However, I do think it would be possible to find better contemporary music choices than some of the choices they have made. Whether the music is traditional or not, it needs to be compatible, even better--well fitted--to both the movement of the dance and the characteristic "personality" of each dance. Otherwise, we viewers have to endure watching something with our eyes that does not fit with what we are hearing with our ears.

This basic artistic principle, the need for a proper compatibility between the experience of what is happening visually on the one hand and the experience of the music that is meant to accompany it on the other, is something that has been honed to a fine art by musicians who compose and direct music for film. They are masters at matching visual (physical) form with musical form. DWTS could do better at this. Perhaps they should get some tips from composers who write music for the visual medium of film.

But, then, perhaps they do this mismatching deliberately because it tends to make a terrible lack of rhythm in a celebrity dancer much less obvious to the average viewer.

Here are two videos of the same type of dance to demonstrate what I mean. They are both Tango dances.

In this clip from DWTS, Apolo Ohno (celebrity) and Juilianne Hough (dance pro) dance to music that is definitely not Tango music. The dance begins at 1:47. They dance pretty well, but the music and the dance just do not go well together and the overall effect is thereby much diminished.

Now, here is a clip of a couple dancing the Tango in Buenos Aires, to Tango music. What a difference! To my eyes (and ears) this one is far superior because the dance and the music are harmonious. It is also striking to see the beauty of a dance like this in the context of its native cultural home.

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