By Thelma Goldberg
Merriam-Webster defines counterpoint as “the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.” How can we use counterpoint in our choreography and classroom exercises?
Counterpoint exercises help beginners strengthen their understanding of music theory and challenge their clarity in playing the right notes. Here’s a simple exercise: have one dancer or group of dancers play the rhythm 1 [hold 2] 3 [hold 4], while another dancer or group simultaneously plays 1 2 [hold 3] 4. Having both groups play the 1 is important in establishing tempo, and it encourages the dancers to listen to each other. Clap and say the counts before demonstrating the rhythms with your feet. Even young dancers can experience success if the footwork is simple; try using just heels and toes.
To increase the difficulty, have one group practice playing quarter notes (1 2 3 4) while the other plays eighth notes (1&2&3&4&). Then vary the rhythms to 1 2 3 [hold 4] and 1&[hold 2 3]&4.
For advanced dancers playing more complex rhythms, make sure the volume of each counterpoint section is equal—otherwise one rhythm will drown out the other.
In Tapping the Source, Brenda Bufalino, a great counterpoint artist herself, writes, “It is . . . imperative in a counterpoint for the toe to be the melody and the high notes, and the heel to be the bass and low notes. A strong bass heel is what integrates the multiple rhythms [overlaying] each other.”
Overlapping a variety of sounds such as brushes, toe and heel drops, and digs requires careful planning and will challenge your dancers to listen carefully to one another—resulting in rich and diverse rhythmic phrases.
Thelma Goldberg, teacher and director of The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, since 1983, is the author of Thelma’s Tap Notes: A Step-by-Step Guide to Teaching Tap: Children’s Edition.