Collective Wisdom | Classroom Connection: Teaching Musicality

Ideas and advice from teachers

As dance teachers, we can elevate our students’ performance quality by developing their musicality. Incorporating a few simple exercises into class can help your intermediate/advanced dancers become more aware of the relationship between their movements and the music.

Start with a definition. Mine is: “Musicality is a dancer’s ability to be both receptive to and creative in interpreting music and its components.” Many students do not fully understand that dancers’ sensitivity to music helps them connect to and interpret that music through movement dynamics. A dancer needs to have a working knowledge of musical concepts such as rhythm, tempo, phrasing, and mood. Simply put, musicality is a dancer’s physical interpretation of a song.


Exercise 1: Have your students lie on the floor with their eyes closed. Play a musical phrase several times. (The more familiar they are with the music, the better they can connect movement to it.) Ask them what they heard. For example, can they identify the instruments or describe the mood of the song? What did the lyrics mean?

Exercise 2: Have the students improvise to the music. Afterward, see if they can recognize when they changed their movement quality or tempo. Did they add breath? Were their movements fluid or sharp? Did they pause or hesitate? How would they describe their mood while dancing: Joyful? Wistful?

Exercise 3: Teach choreography to the same piece of music using both counts and lyrics so students will have both a musical and lyrical reference. Incorporate different dynamics and rhythms. After running the choreography, have students watch each other in groups. Ask if they can identify specific moments when the movement highlighted the musical components. —Debra Danese


Debra Danese is a full-time teaching artist who holds multiple certifications and degrees in dance.