Music and Dance Part 3: Repertoire Examples

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Part 3: Repertoire Examples

Using Dance to Explore Phrasing:

Applying it to real music (some examples where we explore this together)

We have been working on this with small examples, but let’s try a longer one together. You have everything you need already so feel free to jump on to choreographing a piece all on your own if you want. If you want so more practice together, keep reading!

Review: Dance and Phrasing

Dance can help you be attentive to every note in your phrase and to be very exact, purposeful, and confident in your phrasing. This is the last installment of this series, and this post is for people ready to explore movement with repertoire.

Most of us have had a teacher ask us what the high point in a phrase is. That is on the right track, but much less detailed, and much less helpful than having a precise energy for each moment. Below I walk through my thought processes in exploring movement with pieces.

This is for people who are ready to apply it to a specific line of music.

Below is an example from Fear a Bhata (a contemporary piece you can see here) and then from the very standard Mozart clarinet concerto. I take you through the same process I use when approaching these pieces.

Fear A Bhata

This piece is based on a folk song and is about a women in love with a sailor she may not see again, and we know our emotion is generally sad.  It is also fairly easy to see there are basically two peaks here. The composer pretty much gave that to us with dynamics. But now let’s be more specific in how we interpret it. Play or sing it a couple times in a comfortable key for you. Now think about the energy of each note and the overall phrase.

You can start choreography anywhere that speaks to you, and for me that is the first note.

I think it begins fairly still and grows. But let’s define our stillness. Are you absolutely still like suspended animation or is more like slow motion? Is your slow motion a struggle against heaviness, tired, cautious, or gentle exploration? The first note is over 2 beats–do you want to reflect that or is it really one elongated beat? Do you have a gentle movement like an inhale or exhale? Or maybe a gentle sighing downard feel?

Play with moving and holding your body in a way that reflects the energy you want to convey. The size and speed of your motion will reflect the sound you want.

Even better, can you position your body in a way that fits the character? Are you lying on the ground? Standing? Kneeling?

What about your head and gaze? Are you looking at the ground? Or out in the distance? Where in the music will your gaze change?

There are tons of answers that can work, and more important than what the movement is, is the way it is done and the relationship between that movement and the ones around it.

Look how powerful Lauren’s’ pose is here. Her face and energy are more important than the position–that is where her power and energy come from.

My first note was fairly still and on the ground, but you could probably convince of other poses depending on where you take them. Maybe you stand while gazing with longing out to sea. (I don’t think that you could convince me to actually step or move during it, because the energy of the note is too still in my interpretation to match that.)

The actual pose matters most in its relation to the poses before and after it–that the movement and energy changes parallel the music.

As the phrase grows with the next three quarter notes, how much does the energy change? Enough that your pose changes? Is it steady growth? Where does your gaze go?

Does each note warrant it’s own motion? If so, do they 3 different motions, or 1 motion repeated 3 times? Or are they part of one larger motion?

How does this stillness compare literally and physically to the first note?

These are tough and exhausting questions to consider, but hopefully also fun and rewarding. The stillness that I chose is what I draw from in the silence before this measure.

Now we are (finally! haha) in the second bar, where our first climax is. What kind of arrival point is it? How can you move your body so that it feels the way that should sound?

How do you come out of it?

At the end of those three notes are you in the same sad place or a different one, emotionally. And then how can your choreography reflect that?

For me, I end up back in the basically same lost state of shock at the end of the bar that I started in, trying to pull myself up and out of it, but crashing as I failed, still in shock.  And my pose reflected that interpretation.

As the phrase grows with the crescendo how much energy are you really conveying? Enough to take a step? Several steps across several notes? To move across the floor? To stand up or fall down? Look at the slur markings. How does your movement reflect that phrasing while recognizing the changing notes and faster energy? Should you take a step for each note? Or a motion that changes when you rearticulate?

We can track the growth of the rest of this phrase using Chelsea’s dynamics and see that it slowly builds until ff. But again, let’s be more specific. Does it grow at a steady rate? How do you transition from the stillness of the B to more energy without overdoing it?

This is clearly a long a slow process, but these are the types of questions we should always be considering. Adding the layer of movement gives us another avenue to explore our artistic interpretation.

This was my choreography, but it’s just one example


In performance, I was on the floor for this section because I liked the falling and standing before and after.  As with our musical interpretation, our physical interpretation can constantly change and adapt as you move through the line and develop a better concept of the overall piece. The same way you may need to start a phrase softer to build a better crescendo, you may need to adapt a beginning pose to fit the movements that you choose later, and that’s great! This is exactly the right process.

Experiment with different movement until you find one that feels like what you want people to feel when you play.

Mozart: Another example

I also find this activity helpful for re-accessing pieces I have had for a long time. The Mozart clarinet concerto is the most standard piece in clarinet repertoire and it can be hard to keep those pieces fresh. I like taking small sections and rejuvenating my interpretation with these exercises. Adding movement works well for me in pieces I know really well already anyway.

Here is a link to the sheet music to follow along

After listening to and playing through it a few times, the first thing that spoke to me was the F in measure 5. I think it should have a little more emphasis to it, and decided a lifting feeling was what I wanted to convey. There are many ways to emphasize a note, and I narrowed it down to a lifting feeling. Let’s clarify that by experimenting with different ways to feel that energy. Try it.

Shown below, I arrived at lifting my leg (one of many options). My leg can lift straight up or bent. Do I want to turn slightly while lifting? Or just lift in place? What is the difference between those interpretations? This is a mini climax in my choreography and in my musical phrase.

Now what about the rest of my body. Where is your gaze? I found mine gently up as a way of expressing joy I wanted to express.


Next I thought about releases. There are quite a few in these opening measures and it can be difficult to make them sound clean and appropriate for the style. So rather than thinking about technique, think about phrasing.

As I mentioned above, there are lots of different ways a release can feel


After experimenting I found I like to leave the last note with my leg in motion that gently slows. I wanted to continue the energy of the line to the accompanying orchestra rather than finish it separately like my own sentence with a simple light step on beat one.    

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Now contrast this release (8) to the release in measure 4. How do the releases differ? How does the difference come across in your movement?

I interpreted this as a mini ending, closure for the tension earlier in the phrase (maybe you don’t). Look at the difference in movements between these.

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I went to the opening to help give me some context for that movement. The simplicity in classical pieces is what makes them difficult and this opening has always been a good example for me.

I found choreography that reminding me of bowing. This is the introduction where my innocent character happily greets the audience and humbly bows. The bow here helped me make the E slightly smaller than the opening G while still keeping the energy of the line building, just as your energy builds when you rise up from a bow.

This is me (really in a practice session) experimenting with variations and improvisations on that bow.

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It’s not just bowing though, it’s greeting the audience with my gaze, feeling like I am smiling, having an open and inviting posture with my upper body. All of that is important to access the emotion and line we want to convey. Then gently bending to excitedly push up from the bow. This is the energy I want to experience so that I can channel into my playing. It was through this that I found the release that I liked here (with my leg bent in the air). I like the way it interacts with the energy of the rest. Once I clarify my bow, that is likely where I will devote my time.

When I go back to playing without movement, I still call on this feeling before I play the first note and as I continue the phrase.

This is still in the works, but this where I am currently in using movement for phrasing with this piece.

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I have been and will continue working through this piece, dealing with one note or note group at a time.

This also took several sessions of experimenting with movement, and it is important to balance dealing with small sections of music at a time while being patient and giving yourself a chance to be inspired. Do not create a motion that does not match your interpretation.

This is a very long process, but don’t be impatient, rushed, or stressed. Like the exercises above, it is important to keep yourself in a playful, judgement-free, exploratory mode to get the most out of this. It’s a slow process and involving our full body can be a scary new experience, but also very fun and rewarding. It is at least as much about getting yourself to experiment as it is to actually find a good movement.

Congratulations on making it this far!

Let me know what you think, what was useful, any advice you have, or any questions.

To be in touch, leave a comment or email me at

If you want to learn more, I recommend taking some improvisation classes (comedy) or other art and performing art classes that get you used to being in the present, reacting to your environment, and using your full body. But most of all, reach out to any acquaintances you have in other arts fields so that we can all help each other learn.



Jessica is a classically-trained clarinetist based out of Florida and Ohio who loves cats, vegan chocolate chip cookies, psychology, and working with as many different types of artists as possible. She has a BA in psychology and BM in clarinet performance from Northwestern University and began her MM in clarinet performance at BGSU in fall 2017.

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