Musicality and Creativity Are Best Buddies

I just finished re-reading Rebecca Brightly’s post, Musicality Is Overrated, started to respond with a comment, and decided to write a post instead.  I recently wrote a bit about what I mean when I discuss musicality in Musicality: Macro and Micro, so my thoughts on the issue are fresh.


I think there are some strong comment responses because of the strong oppositional statements against musicality (“sucks”) and driving toward a new paradigm of creativity.

I don’t quite agree with the premises:

Ambiguity of Definition

I think this is easily combatted by thought, discussion, and definition of personal terms.  I mentioned how I use micro- and macro-musicality, but I could have used rhythmic- and expressive-musicality (Darn, those might be better terms since they imply their definitions).

Is it a problem that other people have different definitions for the same or similar phrases?  Not as long as we all know each others’ definitions.  What I think of as macro-musicality seems to closely align with Rebecca’s expression of creativity.  I think it might come close to a linguistic difference.

Impossibility of Teaching

I’ve used the exact same creativity exercise referenced in the original post, packaged as a musicality exercise.  I’ve gone through the process of walking through different variations and points in music where rhythm changes match up to the variation.  It doesn’t feel that difficult to me.  It does require more time, effort, and students ready to be receptive to the ideas (learning where best to apply existing knowledge as opposed to learning new material doesn’t feel like a good value to some people).

Intuitively Difficult to Understand

I think this probably flows from lack of definitions.  If I can define a thing more clearly, it’s able to be understood by other people more clearly.

Doesn’t Go Far Enough

I think this flows from a lack of definitions but might also come from a mental model of musicality that is limiting rather than embracing of new things.

Best Buddies

If, to this point, I sound like I don’t like what Rebecca Brightly wrote, I apologize.  I think I disagree with the framing, but we probably think about musicality differently and have different existing paradigms in our heads, which lead to different expression of ideas (Actually, that’s a great parallel for expressiveness in dancing).


Ultimately, I think that musicality and creativity go hand in hand.  If Rebecca Brightly says “creative expression” and I say “musical expression” and we mean about the same thing, is that so terrible?  I don’t think so.  Do I think it has to mean the exact same thing?  Probably not.  Creativity could cover a large number of meanings, as could musicality.  There could be musical parts of dancing that minimize creativity and creative things which aren’t musical.  So no, there isn’t 100% overlap.  At the end of the day, when I read about this phrase “creative vision” as applied to Lindy Hop, I think to myself, “Those are my words for an aspect of musicality.”


It’s apparent that another source of stimulation for Rebecca Brightly is the presence of sources for stimulating the creative process.  I really love this too, and am checking out a number of the sources she references.  I’m obsessed with process.  I’m convinced that a big difference between dancers who improve and dancers who don’t improve is the processes they use (if any).  The pedagogy of teaching musicality is a subject that’s rich for mining, I think.  I’d looove to have that discussion!


One of the main reasons that I started writing about how I think about dancing was to get contrasting views, and for this reason alone, I loved reading the post.  I got some pointers to cool resources and got a peek inside someone else’s thought process.

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3 thoughts on “Musicality and Creativity Are Best Buddies”

  1. I love contrasting views, too! Thanks for this post.

    I liked this: “I think this probably flows from lack of definitions. If I can define a thing more clearly, it’s able to be understood by other people more clearly.”

    I think that musicality (defined as awareness of music & rhythms) is a tool of creativity in dance. But not the same thing. And in modern dance, musicality isn’t even necessary.

    But I think you and I have similar ideas. And no, I don’t that’s that’s so terrible. 🙂

    1. Hey Rebecca, thanks for responding! I dropped a note about this post on your comment thread then saw that you’d already come by.

      You’re defining musicality differently than I, and that’s interesting. When you discuss musicality as being tools to express creativity, I know exactly what you mean. I fall back to the language analogy. We have a pretty strong, formalized process for teaching people language. But we don’t turn everyone into novelists or poets. So what you might be describing as musicality, I might term the vocabulary of musicality.

  2. Hey John, just read Rebecca’s article and followed it through to this one. An interesting response, was a good read. Just thought I’d comment with something I responded to in Rebecca’s thread as well in regards to the difficulty teaching. Essentially when I started considering musicality I found actually dancing kind of got in the way since I can’t multitask that much, so I came up with this exercise instead:

    So put on any bit of music, preferably one you enjoy and know well. Now hold your hand out flat in front of you, and gently wave it up and down in time to the beat. So this steady motion up and down ain’t so interesting, and to me is how many people look when jiving. Instead, play about with the motion, put in speed change, make the movements more stocatto/unsteady, occasionally pause to match a break, whatever the hell the music seems to be doing. Now carry on and try to react to the different layers of the music (vocals/guitar/piano etc), and hopefully it should be somewhat more interesting than the steady waving you started with. It’s this variation in pulse that I see as the first step in actually dancing to the music, not just the beat, and therefore as the start of the progress in to musicality.

    Am not sure if that makes sense typed out, but hopefully you might get what I’m trying to say and find it interesting.

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