Lyrical Dance

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Lyrical dance is a fusion of ballet and jazz dance techniques. Lyrical dance challenges choreographers and dancers to use motion to interpret music and express emotion. A lyrical dancer’s movements attempt to show the meaning of the music.

Lyrical dance has a relatively recent history and a genesis based on the coming together of ballet, rock, a variety of jazz dance and modern dance, and to a lesser degree, punk and swing. It is mainly performed to music with lyrics, and the song’s lyrics are a driving force and key inspiration for the movement. Choreography is often emotional, gripping, and exquisitely delicate, all at the same time.

Lyrical dance gained its name not because the lyrics of a song are sometimes highlighted over the rhythm, but because of the meaning of the word lyrical: having a poetic, expressive quality; musical; characterized by or expressing spontaneous, direct feeling; expressing deep personal emotions or observation; highly rhapsodic or enthusiastic. Lyrical dance is expressive, subtle and dynamic, expressing emotions through movement. It is a combination of intricate, highly technical, and pedestrian/naturalistic moves. Lyrical dance is often choreographed to a song about freedom, of releasing a sad emotion, or of overcoming obstacles, but can be choreographed to any human emotion-related song. Depending on the given song and choreography, a lyrical piece may or may not be graceful, but will always be expressive and unpredictable, particularly in comparison to ballet and other jazz pieces which may have a more presentational quality. A solid, ballet-based technique is an essential component of this style of dance, as is a facility with various other forms of jazz, some contemporary dance, and proper placement and bodily alignment. However, lyrical choreography is often peppered with intentionally pedestrian moves to create a simultaneously organic and dramatic feel. Lyrical is based around choreography and the interpretation of the music. Routines are based around feeling and emotion and, though technique is crucial, spirit generally tells where the dance will go.

Musically, the choreography accentuates and/or flows in synergy with a song’s climaxes, but the choreography will also bring out the more nuanced aspects of a song: sometimes a silence between notes in the music, or the breath between words, will be emphasized, possibly with a simple, physical gesture. This may be followed, for example, by a more complex sequence, such as a triple pirouette en cou-de-pied (coupe), or a grand jete, or a series of chaine turns, followed by a cabriole, descending to the floor, only to rise again and perhaps very casually to walk downstage for a few counts before changing direction once again.

Movements in lyrical dance are characterized by their fluidity and grace. Leaps are often executed high, with a soaring quality; turns are airy and flowing. However, in lyrical dance, sometimes less is more. A de-emphasis may provide a more compelling window into a dancer’s emotions: a succession of quick, small leaps may be executed low, displaying the ever-evolving traces of a dancer’s internal landscape. When the music’s tone is angry or frustrated, dancers use sharp, short movements. Anger is also an emotion seen in lyrical dance. In routines with a strong component of anger, it is common for the jazz portions and styles of lyrical to come out. However, a lethargic, drawn-out quality of movement may show a contemplative or hesitant feeling. When the routine is joyful or peaceful, dancers use lighter, more flowing movements.

Of paramount importance in lyrical dance is the continuation of movement, flowing quite seamlessly from one move to the next. The dancer does not simply “finish” a move and be done. A lyrical dancer holds out the move for as long as possible, and has smooth transitions between others. Employing this connectivity of movement, the dancer may periodically stop or incorporate “sharp” moves (such as an abdominal contraction, a sideways glance, or a leg flick) into a fluid routine, for emphasis. In all, the moves are connected to one another, to the dancer’s feelings and to the music.

Although lyrical is stereotypically choreographed to music that is slow or downbeat, melodic and sweet-sounding, it is a very broad form of dance including many dynamic, fast-paced and sometimes strong pieces. Upbeat, aggressive styles of music are used frequently. Music can be of any genre; pop, rock, and even hip hop/R&B styles, are popular for choreographing. Pop selections, including soulful, powerful songs by emerging artists, are often used in lyrical dance.

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Improve Flexibility

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Flexibility is an aspect of dance that will help you improve in many areas. It is something you can work on at home between dance classes. Push yourself to gain a greater range of flexibility. Listen to your body and identify your limitations. Stay consistent and disciplined to overcome them.

Warm Up
Always warm up your muscles before you stretch.

Get Started
While stretching, gradually increase how far your muscles are stretched. Hold each stretch for about 20 seconds (time varies from person to person). Holding the stretch will deactivate your muscle spindles, and you should feel a release in the muscle being stretched. Then, you can push the stretch a little further until your muscle spindles activate, and your stretch is naturally stopped. Hold this stretch for a moment and then relax.

Do Not Overstretch
If your muscles start to quiver at any point during your stretching, back off a little. Quivering means your muscles are being overworked.

Watch Your Range
If your range of motion starts to decrease, you have stretched too far. Let your muscles rest and heal.

Young Dancers
While you are still growing, your range of flexibility will probably vary. It is normal to experience a loss of flexibility during growth spurts. Bones grow faster than muscles, and it may take some time to regain your full range. Your body will even out, just keep stretching.

Basic Types of Stretching
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
The method of contacting and releasing muscles to gain flexibility.

With a partner: Lay on your back, or stand up against a wall. Lift one leg, and have your partner hold it. Then, contract your muscles as your partner pushes your leg toward your chest. Hold this for a few seconds, then relax, and have your partner push your leg closer to your chest. You can repeat this several times, moving the leg a little higher each time.

Caution: This method of stretching is effective but can cause injury if not done properly. Your partner should be credentialed as a personal trainer or physical therapist.

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
This method of stretching is similar to PNF, but is safer because you control the range of motion.

Lay on your back, pull your leg toward your chest with your hands or an exercise band. Contract and release muscles, then push, stretch farther, and repeat.

Caution: Pay close attention to how your muscles are feeling so that you don’t over stretch. You can pull a muscle, so use caution. Never yank on your leg.

Method of holding a stretch for a long time.

Method of repeating the movement of a stretch.

Example: reaching forward to touch your toes, then pull back and repeat.

Caution: Keep your movements smooth and controlled, or you will activate your muscle spindles-which is the opposite of what you want.

*Always consult a medical professional before starting a new type of exercise.

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Lyrical Dance: A Complex Fusion of Ballet and Jazz

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By Jill Swenby

With only a few decades of life, lyrical dance is a relatively young form of dance. Quite literally, it is a form of dance that depends on a piece of music to create movements that express a certain emotion or idea. Because of it’s malleability, lyrical is a dance form that is difficult to define. At times loving, at times mournful or even exuberant, lyrical can be interpreted differently by both choreographers and dancers.

Having performed lyrical dance for the past 20 years, Scott Drikakis, a teacher for Legacy Dance Studio in Oakdale,Minnesota, calls lyrical a “hybrid-cross mix of ballet and jazz.” He sees lyrical as having “the best of both worlds.” In dance terms, “the best of both worlds” means lyrical not only requires a lot of stamina and strength like ballet, but also requires dancers to use their bodies to display emotion.

Teaching students of all ages, Scott stresses that it is important to choose music that correlates to the students performing the dance. Younger children often perform lyrical dances to songs focused on love and caring about their family, since those are the main life experiences they’ve been exposed to. Conversely, older children perform to songs about relationships and trials and tribulations. “When you talk about words and lyrics,” says Scott, “they can relate to it.”

As far as form goes, lyrical dance requires much of the technique and strength needed for ballet. Pirouettes are turned out, grand jetes are leaped gracefully, passé is held taut at the knee.

Unlike ballet, lyrical dance embodies a more fluid movement style. While ballet is rigid to the beat of the music, lyrical movement often does not correlate exactly with the music. Some poses may be held longer than the beat, and others are cut short. This contradiction between rigidity and fluidity make lyrical dance a great insight into how good a dancer really is.

“It is the most diverse form of dance,” according to Scott. He has observed in recent years, that lyrical has become prevalent at dance competitions. In fact, because of its dynamic mix of technique and artistry, Scott has noticed that lyrical performances win competitions time and time again. The dancers that really stand apart are lyrical dancers who are clearly talented technically and exuding a lot of feeling with their performance.

When choreographing, he does not always interpret the song literally from the words. More often than not, he takes the idea in the song and choreographs to it, always keeping in mind the students he’s choreographing for. Having danced lyrical for so long, Scott has trouble remembering each specific piece he’s choreographed or danced. In lyrical dance, according to Scott, you build on your own life experiences. Looking back on lyrical choreography he’s done, he notes, “I can see what was going on in my life at that time.”

Photos courtesy of Legacy Dance Studio

1) Ashley Downs, Elizabeth VonSchmidt-Pauli, Samantha Falde, Renee LaViolette and Bre Fuss in Angela Barrette and Kelly Nichols’s piece Hide and Seek. 2) Lauren Vasilakos in Angela Barrette’s piece Somewhere Over the Rainbow. 3) Bobby Johnson in Scott Drikakis’s piece Zero.

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