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Topic: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

  1. #1

    What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    I was emailing the director of my musical about our 3 major production numbers in the show. He was asking me to include 3 - 4 minutes of music for dancing within these songs. These would be full out dancing sequences, not just some simple choreography. Later I have a song "Only the Irish" that will have an extended dance section - now that I had planned on making longer.

    That sure seems like a long time for dancing.
    Is that typical?
    The original song I am working on is about 3 - 3.5 minutes long and would be 6 - 7 minutes if I add in that long of a dance sequence.
    I can do it - I will just have to write some variations of the main melody and maybe a secondary melody to get it accomplished.

    I have seen a fair number of musical over the years, but my memory does keep track of how long scenes or songs were. Now I care!
    I would appreciate any guidance.

    MacPro 2.66 - Tiger & Snow Leopard / 16GB RAM / several TB of HD space/ Garritan Libraries / EWQLSO Platinum PLAY / Omnisphere/ Kontakt 2 & 3 / Finale 2010 /DP5/ a VERY patient wife!

  2. #2

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    That really isn't unusual at all.

    Typically, however, the "dance music arranger" is the rehearsal pianist. The choreographer will ask for, say, 16 bars in a fast waltz, or whatever, and the pianist will improvise the music, based on the melody of the song. They they'll give it to the orchestrator.

    Of course, if the musical is on a smaller scale, the composer will probably arrange the dance music when he writes the score. That's how my shows have always been done, since I've never had a major production of one of them. That's kind of cool for the composer, because he can just use his imagination and write whatever he wants, as long as it's danceable.

    Good luck with it.

  3. #3

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    I suppose it depends on the style and period of the show you are working on, but one thing you should consider is not merely extending the musical content of the number itself but trying to inject as much as possible to inspire the choreographer.
    Gustov is right, use your imagination - I'd say visualise how it might look. Orchestrational accents, builds, sudden diversions, changes in dynamic levels and use of different band sections for contrast and many more tricks will have the choreographer excited and full of ideas.
    You probably know all this but it's worth saying! Nothing duller than a repeat chorus or two without any fireworks - unless of course that is dramatically called for.
    I must say that, in my experience, 3-4 minutes of dance only seems long to me, unless it's telling something of the story of the piece or summarising it somehow.



  4. #4

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    I think the best is, as Barrie has said, concentrate on the dynamic levels.
    maybe you could think of a "dance in the dance" having two different times exchanging each other.
    Mix two parallel themes. (chorus + solo),

  5. #5

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    Thanks for the suggestions - right now I am keeping the same chord structure and creating alternative melodic lines. I am also alternating between instruments or groups as I always do.

    3 - 4 minutes of dance is way too long for this song and scene. It is the first big production number (3rd actual song) of the show, but 3 - 4 minutes would be overkill. More likely I will have a dance sequence within the song of 2 or so minutes - that will be plenty.

    Later in the "Only the Irish" number, I plan on having an extended dance sequence.

    I like the reminders about accents, builds, diversions, etc. Very helpful.
    It is easy to get bogged down and discouraged. I got home after church, took a nap and I am determined to get 7 - 8 hours of work done today.
    OK, I may drop in on the chat for a break! OK, coffee . . .

    Oh - our creative team consists of me - lyrics, music, orchestrations - a director/designer (he is an excellent artist - he designs all sets plus directs all theater productions at his high school - script writer. So I have no one to pass off to for arranging and dance music. Would be nice and a lot less pressure!

    MacPro 2.66 - Tiger & Snow Leopard / 16GB RAM / several TB of HD space/ Garritan Libraries / EWQLSO Platinum PLAY / Omnisphere/ Kontakt 2 & 3 / Finale 2010 /DP5/ a VERY patient wife!

  6. #6

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    I had a few more thoughts on this. A dance section can really create a lot of excitement in a song. A couple of my favorite examples of this are "Mame" from Mame and "All I Need Now Is the Girl" from Gypsy. They both show how a dance section can really build for a spectacular finish. The latter also shows a variety of styles. This kind of variety is very common in dance numbers and lets you write an extended dance without becoming repetitious.

    If you don't have these albums and don't want to buy them (and I can't understand anybody in musical theatre not wanting to own these two gems) you can download just the songs from iTunes or some similar service. Just make sure it's the Original Cast Recording of both. Never, ever listen to the film version of either. You will be summarily excommunicated from the Brotherhood of Musical Theatre Aficionados if you do.

  7. #7

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    FWIW - In my musical I am writing all the dance, underscoring and incidental music myself -- though, in a first class production, I know they will probably be replaced in rehearsal (probably by the orchestrator or musical director). My goal is to deliver a complete score and book to use as a starting point for the first production. That's way more than most productions get from the authors.

    A show really doesn't begin to take shape until you try to stage it, and it really isn't done until you get through previews and give audiences a chance to react. In theater, just as in film or TV, the best strategy is to try to plan everything in advance - but be prepared for a lot of it to change. Drama is a collaborative art. I've seen many shows killed by an author unable to let go of one precious word of his manuscript and others ruined by performers who weren't given enough to work with.

    As for dances, specifically: You can certainly do a musical without dances. (Most operettas don't have them.) Or you can do a very dance heavy show (a la Fosse, Michael Bennett or Jerome Robbins). But expect them to change a lot, since the main thing about dances is they need to move the story forward. Trust me, putting them in just to have some dancing, is the quickest way to bore an audience to tears. Be prepared to have your music cut, expanded, and/or restructured throughout rehearsal - especially in the dance sections.

    But remember, too, that the audience is not coming to the theater just to hear your music. It is only a part (albeit a vital one) of the whole experience. Shows work best when all the various elements (music, book, dance, peformances, scenery, etc.) all come together to effectively tell a story. That's the key to all drama: telling a story. It's an amazingly simple idea, but very hard to get a whole group of people with different talents to do it together effectively. The most beautiful music in the world won't help if it doesn't advance the story, develop character, and carry the audience along with it every step of the way.

    Here are some good links about writing and composing for the musical theater, which I have found helpful:



  8. #8

    Re: What is "standard" in musical dance sequences?

    My show is a commissioned piece I am writing for a small town's bicentennial. I will not have the luxury of previews or any "out of town" pre-productions. The show will be performed by high school students and some younger kids as well. Once I complete the show - my part is all things musical - all songs, overture, dances, underscoring, lyrics - everything - it will not really change too much. And for sure cannot change once we hit rehearsals - the kids will be learning their music over the summer via demo CDs from me.

    We will have a sort of workshop reading with the kids in May and cast the show before school is out. In June there might be some slight tweaking, but that is about it. There will be no big revisions once we hit rehearsals - that just will not happen. I am a full time music teacher and I won't be writing all new songs and orchestrations In August and September for the debut on October 9. I know all about how it is done in NY with other people writing the dance music and orchestrations, etc., but our budget does not allow me that luxury. It is all me music-wise.

    I may find in auditions a voice that inspires me to write one new song in the early summer or to make slight changes. That would be doable. The dances we have planned do fit in the show well and I don't think will bore the crowd - well I sure hope not!

    This is a unique situation and that is the way it will be. I would love to have arrangers and preview shows and all the traditional ways of doing things in the "big time", but that is not the way it will be. The three of us will complete the show - the kids will learn it - and off we go to a hopefully appreciative hometown crowd.

    If the show has legs and is performed by other high schools, THEN I would expect to make revisions - maybe enormous ones. But during rehearsals with high school kids at the last minute - nope. It is exciting and terrifying all at once. I am learning so much through this process and I am getting worn out too.

    I have written 5 musicals for my elementary 4th and 5th graders, but this is my first foray into a full production of this sort. My elementary musicals have been very well received and a couple are being performed all Indiana and Ohio. Actually, I was asked to do this project because the town knew about me by one of their schools doing my Indiana musical. I look forward to next October and I am also looking forward to some time off too! If this goes reasonably well, I have plans for other high school/local theater musical productions.

    I do appreciate all of your comments!

    MacPro 2.66 - Tiger & Snow Leopard / 16GB RAM / several TB of HD space/ Garritan Libraries / EWQLSO Platinum PLAY / Omnisphere/ Kontakt 2 & 3 / Finale 2010 /DP5/ a VERY patient wife!

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