Playing with Beat Punctuation (and Pah!)

November 25, 2011 Caroleeena hoopdancePoi

When I dance with my hoop, I emphasize different places in the music with my hoop or my body. If the tempo of the music moves from fast to slow, my movement moves from fast to slow. Where the melody rises and falls, I also tend to rise and fall. And in those percussive places where there is a strong and sudden drumbeat or guitar slap, I step into those places and try to represent them through movement too. I call this “Beat Punctuation”.

Beat Punctuation is about accentuating the percussive beat underlying the music. We hear these places with our ears and we feel them in our body. Beat punctuation is about embodying them in our dance. We don’t have to demonstrate every single one, of course, but the powerful ones make a powerful impact. The crescendos. Because of this, my nickname for these high points in beat punctuation is “Pah!”

Pah! is a powerful, explosive kind of movement (though it can also be very minimal). It is a stepping into that space deep in the beat, inhabiting the beat so that you ascend slowly, like the beat does, then explode to the apex just as the beat does, pause there a moment for emphasis and then continue dancing to the melody. Pah! is kind of like trying to visually and bodily represent a high point in the percussion in a song.

One example of simple beat punctuation is utilizing a lift so that it hits its peak powerfully and right on the beat. Beat punctuation with a lift means you raise the lift with purpose and perfect timing. There are many ways to cultivate this. You can practice, practice, practice until your lifts reach their fullest height right on the beat. Or you can experiment with any song and simply try to stop all movement on the powerful beats. Experimenting allows you to figure out how to create a “ta da” stop in any moment. And this is the basis of pah!

Put on a song, preferably one with a tempo and melody that changes, and practice stopping on the percussive beats. The first step is developing an ear for them. You can often hear a build up to them, even if you don’t know the song. Wherever you are when a strong beat happens, pause. Then move on. Feel how that feels in your body. Check it out in the mirror and see how these pauses look. Really exaggerate each pah! and then subtly hone it until it’s perfect. With our lift example, this might mean that you not only end on the beat but you’re standing tall, your arm is straight and your gaze is directed deliberately. Use a mirror or a video camera to give yourself feedback. If you notice the move looks better with your feet together, take note and practice it that way so your technique is as good as your timing.

As you play with these ideas, they will begin to happen naturally in your dance. You won’t even have to think of them. They just flow out of you as you interpret the melody and the rhythm with the movement of your body and/or the manipulation of your hoop.

Practice freezing in “pah!” Figure out a bunch of ta-da stops and punch into them. And know that you don’t always have to do it with your hoop. You can do it with your arms! “Pah!” Or your gaze. “Pah!” Or a finger or a knee or even an elbow. Think roller derby! “Pah!” You can also move into “pah!” while doing footwork or pause in the midst of a traveling step. And when you combine footwork with either hoop or hand, “Pah! Pah!” Explore space. Experiment.

Now I realize this is a concept that is hard to explain in words so I have taken one of my videos and annotated it to show where some pah!’s happen. Hopefully it will help demonstrate this point. Here is a link:

You’ll notice a little box appears around some of the pah! moments. This annotation only denotes the beat punctuation, not the melody punctuation. This move is about embodying percussion. And you’ll notice that punctuating a beat does not always require stopping the hoop. Sometimes it is a matter of making it land exactly where you want it, exactly when you want it – like in the chest roll about half way through where the “pah!” happens right when the hoop is on my heart. Or a toss where the pah happens at the high point in the air.

Once you have started adding beat punctuation to your repertoire, pick your very favorite moves and figure out how to punctuate beats with them. You can do it with pretty much any move so you already have the skills you need to get started. And you will freaking love it! Play around and have fun. Beat Punctuation comes naturally to us. If you already understand this idea, take this opportunity to be conscious of it and really explore it. You’ll find yourself accentuating parts of the music right on the beat, right when you want to, without even thinking about it, with either your body or your hoop. Or both! Your love for your dance will grow exponentially. As an artist, you will be able to create in a whole new way in your dance. Beat punctuation is powerful! It’s also really fun.

Enjoy.

 

beat punctuationcaroleeenadancehoopdancepoi dance

2 Responses to “Playing with Beat Punctuation (and Pah!)”

  • Kimberly says:

    I love your slow flow and how you incorporate levels and body movement to accentuate and add diversity to tricks.

  • Clair Ching says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Caroleeena! I still have trouble with emphasizing the beat depending on the melody of the song. Still working on the learning the counting.


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