The role of an accompanist in a dance class can often seem to be a confusing one. Music is an integral part of almost any form of dance, and so the person or people creating that music must also be of importance. However, many accompanists are tucked away into a corner of the room, hidden behind a piano or drums. It can become easy to realize that they are as much a part of a dance class as the dancers themselves—they just aren’t dancing.
I began playing piano before I started dancing and grew up taking lessons at the University of Hartford, and decided last year to start training to become an accompanist myself. My time spent learning how to accompany dance classes has given me a whole new perspective on an art form that I spend every day immersed in.
As a dance major, I take dance technique classes daily, each with a live accompanist. Forming a relationship with the real, living, breathing person playing music for class is often passed over. Dancers take music and, oftentimes, the musicians that create that music, for granted. Recognizing the wealth of knowledge that each accompanist has about his or her art form as well as my own has opened my eyes to many new ideas. Often times, accompanists need to have a deep understanding of dance in order to play for it—they are a constant student, collaborator, and teacher in the dance classroom. Imagine having to learn how to understand playing an instrument just by sitting and watching day after day. That’s how an accompanist learns about dance.
My experience as an accompanist has been challenging, albeit exciting. I had to learn how to improvise to fit each exercise as the teacher gives it. Picking up movement and details quickly is a necessary skill for any dancer, and having to translate those details into a sound score appropriate for each combination has greatly helped my ability to pick up details in rhythm and musical phrasing. It has also helped me become very comfortable thinking of and trusting my artistic instincts and ideas. Having to constantly confront my improvisational habits has also pushed me to expand my musical and movement vocabularies.
Most importantly, my experience in accompanying dance classes has taught me how to not fear failure. In an environment in which you’re required to think on your feet, play something that fills the room, and set the mood of the exercise, there’s not a lot of room for second guessing. Sometimes, oftentimes for me at least, musical ideas don’t pan out the way you thought they would. Learning to accompany classes has allowed me to fail—and to pick myself up, start again, and succeed.