University of Limerick
Melin 2008 Observations of Communication DRFI 2nd International Conference Proceedings.pdf (68.64 kB)

Observations of communication between dancer and musician in the Cape Breton community

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conference contribution
posted on 2014-12-02, 16:02 authored by Mats H. Melin
The connection between dancers and musicians are very strong in the dancing communities of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. At many social events where music features dance is a natural companion. At musical sessions in halls, pubs and other venues on the island it is the norm that dancing features to some extent. This is only natural as most locals refer to their traditional music as ‘dance music’. In the middle of a pub session a square set may form or solo dancers take turns sharing their selection of strathspey and reel steps. In Inverness County, on the west coast of the island, where dance and music predominantly takes place in Cape Breton, the local parish, community and fire halls run weekly square dances during the summer months. At these late night dances, the dancing of square sets commonly takes a break to allow local (and visiting) exponents of solo step dancing to share their steps with the crowd. It is this particular event of solo dancing that I am taking a closer look at in this paper. The music tradition for this particular event is predominantly fiddle based (with piano accompaniment) and the tunes types, strathspeys and reels, are both in 4/4 time. What are the connections between dancer and musician in this context? What elements of the performance by both dancer and musician are essential to make their symbiotic relationship work? In most cases the musicians are competent, if not excellent dancers themselves, which inherent a deep understanding of both sides of the equation. Are there occasions when it does not work? Lázló Felföldi sums up research in this field in his paper Connections Between Dance and Dance Music: Summary of Hungarian Research published in the Yearbook for Traditional Music 2001. Felföldi outlines the research in this field by a number of Hungarian folk dance researchers, in particular that of György Martin, but also refers to the research of Hoerburger (1960). Certain aspects of Martin’s research can be adapted for the analysis of the Cape Breton context. Martin used morphological analysis to “acquire a deep insight into mechanisms of dance and music connections.” (Felföldi, 2001:161) and preferred “concrete analysis of the structure of dance and music rather than making general remarks about relationships” (ibid). I will use some of these analytical methods when looking at a selection of examples of this particular dance tradition.



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