Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

The singer as dancer, the dancer as singer

The Great Northern Border Morris team had a really fine danceout on Tuesday night, at the quirky and quite promising pub called Merlin's Rest on East Lake Street in Minneapolis. We danced for about half an hour on the sidewalk, then a little bit inside the pub itself. Here's one set, all blocked up to dance:

There were many things that contributed to the success of the gig. It was an unusually warm night for this time of year, it's that time in the season when dances are coming together, the pub management loved us, the light was good -- just lots of things. And that may be why that night when I sang for three Molly dances the singing and dancing came together as well as it ever does and I felt just wonderful.

I say "may be" because honestly, I don't know what makes for those times when I, as the singer-musician, feel like one of the dancers to the extent I did that night. It's not a question of being in voice -- one of the best times we ever had was when I sang for the Molly very late on the last night of one Midwest Ale when my voice was reduced to rough-hewn dregs and you could barely distinguish one note from another, and yet I pounded out the rhythm and belted out the volume and we practically collapsed in joy when it was over. At a minimum you need to provide volume and rhythm and steadiness, and you need to respond to what the dancers are doing, but sometimes there is an extra rhythmic twist, a touch of syncopation, a series of collective surges, and something comes alive. You want to analyze this, to try to make it happen every time, but if you could isolate the factors and reproduce them it would kill the dance dead.

One thing that I do like to bring to the Molly singing, one of the key reasons I do not like it at all when somebody joins in with me in the song, is that I immerse myself in the words and story of the song. This could tend towards schtick, to overdoing things, but there are times when I'm singing the same story I've sung a thousand times (of the lady who happily runs off with her gypsy lover, of the gentle tailor who loses his sweet love to a macho sailor, of the jolly sailor who charms a willing lady) and I am there inside the story. I literally see the scene as I sing. I can't always do this and I can't make it happen, but when the dancers are moving and they are moving to the music made only from my voice box and lungs and I am inside my story I am on another plane. That, I think, is what makes for those times when it happens for me.

Always at the end of the dance -- always, without exception, at performance and every practice -- Derek or Temple, or Matt, always somebody, will make a point of thanking the musician by name. You'd think I would expect this, but at times such as last Tuesday I find myself surprised, drawn back to reality, because when the dance is over (and I end the dance with the same final arm gesture as the dancers) I am still lost in that other place.

Here's me singing for the Molly dancers, who are clearly dancing too fast to be caught on film:

Here, later, is Denise playing for a group dancing inside:

Doesn't it all look like fun? Line up folks, it's time to dance:

[Photos courtesy of Amy Muldoon's iPhone]
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