As a dance technician and as a choreographer, I have found it necessary: to develop a range of rhythmic concepts and terminologies and to be able to describe the effects of rhythm. I have found it essential to understand rhythm as both a tool for movement production as well as choreographic creation. I have also found it useful to divide these into two subcategories. One is Rhythm Physics, and the other is Rhythm Reception. This has made it possible for me to break rhythm down into components and tools and made it possible to describe the effects of its multiple applications. The combined impact of Rhythm Physicsand Rhythm Receptionis what I call Rhythmic Power. I will unpack these concepts below.
Rhythm Physics is a term I use to describe the direct physical effects that rhythm has on movement and movement production. The concepts organised under Rhythm Physics are Rhythmic Momentum, Rhythmic Coordination and Rhythmic Capacity.
RHYTHMIC MOMENTUM and RHYTHMIC COORDINATION
I use the term Rhythmic Momentum to describe rhythm as a technique to increase movement momentum and or force. Rhythmic Momentum is the result of using rhythm to coordinate the application of various rules of physics (weight, velocity, angle, etc.) to cumulate desired outcomes towards a specific movement goal. Rhythmic Momentum is when the coordination of multiple movements lends itself to increased power to move. Like when we swing our arm and drop our body simultaneously. The upward thrust of the arm will increase as the speed and weight of the body coming down is transferred into increased upwards swing for the moving arm. Coordinated expertly the power needed to rotate the arm decreases because the rhythmic coordination of the use of the weight is in perfectly timed with the movement of the arm. The physical events Rhythmic Coordination lends itself and translates into increased momentum or force.
When dancing rhythmically, it is not enough to contract the knees to make the body a spring which can recoil into upwards thrust to execute a jump. This must be perfectly timed, for the recoil, the rebound, the hang-time, and the landing to all happen on specific rhythmic cues. This would be Rhythmic Coordination. When the Rhythmic Coordination is layered in such a way as to coordinate multiple forces of physics, the movement will increase in power or speed, and thus have an increase in Rhythmic Momentum. I believe we now have a basic understanding of how these terms can apply to movement and technical analysis. Specifically relating to what rhythm can yield as an impetus for movement and movement coordination.
Expert execution of Rhythmic Coordination, can result in additional power, smoothness, movement economy and desired visual result. K.R.U.M.P is an example of a style where exact build-up and release of power creates a “whip” like effect giving power and speed to the movement without causing damage or unnecessary exertion of energy. In Sabar (Wolof, Senegambia) dancing the coming down and raising up of the feet need be perfectly timed with not only the rhythm of the drums, but also the rhythm of the bodies placement, the rise and fall of ones weight in order to achieve the combination of ease, power, explosiveness and groove which are juxtaposed in this style. These are two styles where the power and speed needed to execute the movement correctly (Rhythmic Momentum) is yielded by the Rhythmic Coordination of multiple actions with the effects of rules of physics like gravity, angle, velocity etc
The layering of various movements (poly-movement) must be in perfect time with each other as to not having one move cancelling out another. When the Rhythmic Coordination is of the Rhythmic Momentum decreases or is disrupted. It is also possible to coordinate in such a way that our movement increases in intensity or speed. This still needs to be in sync with rhythmic events if it is to be considered dance. We use Rhythmic Coordination and Rhythmic Momentum every day all the time in our movements. Other sports like sprinting, boxing, jumping etc. all also require an understanding of these two concepts. However, in dance, the effects too are coordinated with the desired results of either Rhythmic Creation or Rhythmic Representation.
Rhythmic Capacity is the ability to integrate Rhythmic Momentum, Coordination, Creation and Representation. Our ability layer these in such a way as to produce a desired result. A result which would r as “good” dancing. Rhythmic Capacity determines how many qualities of movement, levels of rhythmic engagement and the number of rhythmic layers we eare able ad to represent and create, often simultaneously. In this way, we can describe which level of Rhythmic Capacity a specific style of dance requires or to what degree of rhythmic virtuosity the dancer is using to execute the particular approach. Swing dancing can be performed by someone who can tap their feet and guide their partner around on the dancefloor. The balance of these layers is what I would consider Rhythmic Virtuosity. This understanding of Rhythmic virtuosity can explain why an elder executing a low energy groove, can be perceived as more virtuoso than the youngster eagerly layering exited movement. Rhythmic Virtuosity is in the balancing of these factors, not in merely displaying the mass of them. Expert balance can be portrayed through simple groove as well as through explosive movement.
Rhythm Reception is a term I use to describe how various rhythmic manoeuvres are received or perceived by participants and or spectators. It is the return on your Rhythmic Investment. These concepts initially developed when analysing viral YouTube video content and Facebook videos with my students, and as a way to start to describe reception with various context. We have then moved on to using these concepts to analyse Street-dance Freestyles and artistic, rhythmic performances. It provided us with a language and ideas through which we would engage in discourse and comparison. The concepts organised under Rhythm Reception are Rhythmic Value, Rhythmic Investment and Rhythmic Capital. Or you could say that Value, Investment, and Capital measures Rhythmic Reception.
Rhythm Reception is about how spectator or collaborators receive our rhythmic activities. Our use of the Rhythmic Creation and Rhythmic Representation as well as how we are applying Rhythm Physics to do so would yield different results which would again determine how these activities will be received. We need concepts to talk about this, as often virtuosity in the use of Rhythm Creation and Representation could yield quite differing receptions. These would not necessarily coincide with the difficulty level of the execution. This also goes a long way to describe the difference in reaction when two people who are read differently from an identity perspective would get different responses from the same activity. For example, in the previous cases from So You Think You Can Dance. We expect a higher level of Rhythmic Capacity from the Hip Hop dancer than we do from the ballet dancer. Therefore, the Ballet dancers rhythmic activities could be received with more awe than the Hip Hop dancers. Our expectations determine how we receive or perceive their rhythmic activities. This describes why White people engaging in Africanist Dance could seem to receive much more attention for their dancing, than an African person, doing the same movement.
Even when they are at a higher execution level, I do not believe in reading virtuosity through a lens of ethnicity or level of melanin. However, I acknowledge that implicit bias, discrimination and racism also affects how dance is read. The interpretation, description and framing of Africana dance have a problematic history in the West. A past where Africana dance modes have been interpreted to prove that Africans are somehow more primitive. They have sought to legitimise racist activity towards them. I, therefore, view it as necessary for us to develop more precise language, concepts, and parameters. This will allow us to assess levels, skills, effect, and mastery, irrespective of who is executing the movement. This is one step towards equity as well as a step toward realising the potential offered by Africana and Africanist approaches to movement, which I believe to be anything but primitive.
Rhythmic Investment is The Visual Representation of Rhythm combined with our efforts of Rhythmic Personality, our use of Rhythm Physics and how much of our Rhythmic Capacity we engage.
Rhythmic Investment describes the amount of effort we are investing in the rhythm/dance or choreographic activity and how these efforts arrange across the above-mentioned activities. This way, it is possible for us to assess where we are putting our efforts and where we need to put more. It also serves to asses how these efforts are perceived or received in a different context. Our return on investment, so to speak. It is my experience that full evening artistic productions, commercial work for YouTube, and dance cypher activities, benefit from different mixes of Rhythmic Investment across the various Rhythmic Activities. This because the context changes the reading and or perceived value of the activities.
In this analogy, I also speak of Rhythmic Value. Value is often understood as the perceived importance, worth usefulness of a given object, activity or thing. I use the term Rhythmic Value to describe not only the perceived worth of our Rhythmic Investments but also our ability to produce or control the rhythm of value. A clarifying example could be; If you tap out a rhythm using Body Percussion, this rhythm could have little to no effect on my spectators. If so, I offered up a rhythm or activity with low Rhythmic Value. However, if I tap out a rhythm which highly affects and engages us, then I produced or reproduced something with high Rhythmic Value. What is perceived to have Rhythmic Value could depend on my efforts/investment or cultural proximity, trends, environment, identity politics and multiple other factors. To many anglophone Caribbean of a certain age, the “heavy, heavy, sharp” beat of Bashment Dancehall could be perceived to have a high Rhythmic Value. It communicates identity, engages with nostalgia, encourages rhythmic activity and urges us to engage and move. A maybe even better example is the effects SoCa is known to have on any Carnival patriotic TrinBegonian (Trinidad and Tobago native). Culture, association and context here add to the perceived Rhythmic Value of the rhythmic suggestion in addition to the performers Rhythmic Investment and perceived abilities.
This suggests to us that to ensure Rhythmic Value, we should be aware of and be able to brand our Rhythmic Investment according to the context in which it is presented. As mentioned identity, expectation and perception could play a role in how spectators or audiences value our Rhythmic Investments.
Our Rhythmic Capacity and mastery, in combination with our ability to control and affect the Rhythmic Value of our Rhythmic Investment, could be perceived as our Rhythmic Capital. When we can create and make rhythmic deposits which grow into something more, this Rhythmic Capital. Like a beat which encourages us to move, or create more movement or Rhythmic Capital is assets that can enhance one´s power to perform useful work. Roads can be considered capital to a city, and tools to a carpenter. Capital is described as distinct from land (or non-renewable resources) in that capital can be increased by human labour. Capital is usually used to describe something which we believe will yield a return on investment.
Someone with high Rhythmic Capital or which engages in an activity which already has “stock” could expect a higher return on their Investment. An example of this could be a dancer initiating The Electric slide on the dancefloor. For little effort/investment, the dancer will most likely, if in the right setting, engage the audience with this activity and be appreciated for it. The Electric Slide is a rhythmic activity in which many people already have stock and are willing to re-invest in. Rhythmic Value of action could also go along trends, and thus behave much like a stock. For a period, all a dancer had to do, would be to “dab” or do the “Naenae”, which are both viral dance movements, to get a high affect audience response for little effort. The thing about viral or trending movement is that they have a tendency to decrease in value quickly and could eventually cause your work to be read as dated. Using trending high Rhythmic Value movement, songs or genres to get social media likes seems to work as a temporary strategy. However, it could be challenging to make sure that it is you and your unique investments that are receiving the likes as opposed to the activity alone. Along with this analogy, we could call this “Brand Loyalty”, but this paper will not dig deeper into that. However, it is my experience that the concepts of Rhythmic Capital and Value does serve viral dance content analysis and provides grounds for discussion.
We love drummers, tap dancers, jazz musicians, music beat producers for their Rhythmic Capital. They create rhythmic projects for us to invest in. They make what can eventually become rhythmic capital. Dancers creating viral movement also heighten the value of the rhythmic investment. Increases the stock value, so to speak. The electric slide is an example of this. Only when enough people have invested in the rhythmic stock, movement and sound, does it become a monument? The electric slide, mashed potato, Kid and play. Foundations become architecture, which helps us navigate the terrain — these form what we call foundations. By navigating the foundations, we can know where we are in the rhythmic landscape. Like if we are in Hip Hop, in Dancehall, in Waacking, in Vogueing. We must continue to invest in the rhythmic monuments to know where we are and to clear new terrain on the map. Only by mapping and defining our borders clearly can we keep others from squatting and eventually owning our entrepreneurial endeavours.
Rhythmic Power is the capacity or ability to influence the behaviour of others or the course of events through the use of Rhythm Physics, Rhythm Receptions and Rhythmic Investment. Power is often described as the ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way. Like the power of speech or the power to move. Rhythmic Power could mean; the power to move rhythmically or the power that comes from moving rhythmically. However, Power also has a more political meaning often described as; the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events. Commercial value, ability to monetize, ability to copyright, therefore, enters this concept as these factors also determine your power to influence behaviour and events.
A broad reach as in YouTube, Instagram and Facebook followers, reputation, the prestige of the venue one is performing in, the “stock” of the movement used, the number of people who are re-investing in your rhythmic contribution, all of this together would determine your Rhythmic Power. Meaning to what degree you influence the behaviour, reality, or events that spring out from your contribution. Beyoncé’s Single ladies video, for example, affected pop culture, became a long-lasting reference, created a series of events, acts of more significant people or men doing the choreography made money the world over, and hundreds if not thousands of people in the entertainment industry were able to make money from her initial investment. As such, you could say that Beyonce has a very high Rhythmic Power even if she would not be considered the most virtuoso. This Rhythmic Power is what Beyonce leverages in her business deals and interactions. You could call it celebrity, and it is, and part of that celebrities’ capital, stock, value and power stems from her rhythmic activity.
Rhythmic Power is an interesting parameter through which to analyse influence, reach and effect. Black musicians and dancers have been able to contribute and influence our references, even during slavery. However, our ability to monetise and influence events at a large global scale are more recent. I would posit that Michael Jackson and Prince were central in changing the game and increasing black artist Rhythmic Power. Both artists broke the barrier of MTV and other channels for spreading their art. They were able to maintain more control of their expression, contributions and audience, business partners and mass behaviour than previous generations of Black artist. Prince could, through his increased Power also influence how black athletes were treated and amongst other things, contributed to the Air Jordan deal. Prince flexed his muscles and showed his understanding of power, leverage and influence multiple times during his career and is both loved, revered and hated for it.