Why Transitions Are Like Punctuation

Friday, July 29, 2011

Without punctuation reading would be really hard you'd have no way to know when one idea began and ended and the words would all just flow into a big sticky unintelligible mass of letters on the page you'd also have no way to know which statements should be emphasized which should be questions and which are just regular sentences if you've gotten this far you probably have a headache from all the squinting a lack of transitions can also create headaches in your dance


Transitions Are Punctuation For Your Dance

Transitions serve the same purpose in dancing that punctuation does in writing. It separates your dancing into logical "chunks", just like commas, periods, and exclamation points separate your writing into chunks.

Why Do I Need to Separate My Dance Into Chunks?

Ask yourself: why do we break our writing up into paragraphs, sentences, and clauses? We do that because "chunking" helps the reader understand where one idea begins, and the next one ends. That helps them understand what you're trying to say. Similarly, separating your dance into logical chunks helps you communicate your movement ideas to the audience, so they can understand and enjoy your performance.

How Do Transitions Accomplish That?

Transitions break your dance into chunks in the same way that commas, periods, and exclamation points do.

A comma groups things into a single idea. Comma-style transitions are unobtrusive transitions that make it possible to include more than one element in a single movement phrase. You would use them when you want to link different movements into a single, cohesive movement phrase.
Example: "cheating" your foot out to the side to open up your stance before you begin a big hip circle.

A period tells the reader that your current idea is ending. Period-style transitions are noticeable transitions that tell the audience that you're about to change to a new idea. You would use them to close your movement phrase.
Example: Bringing the hands in to the heart before changing to a new arm position.

Exclamation Points:
An exclamation point tells the reader that not only is your idea ending, but that it was important. Exclamation-style transitions are bold, dramatic ways to signal the end of an idea. You would use them when you want to end your movement phrase with a bang.
Example: an unexpected pivot turn, ending in a pose or accent.

Don't Overdo It

It's really tempting to use lots of exclamation points when you dance! They're flashy and fun! But when you overuse them, they lose their power! They're much more effective when used sparingly! So save them for when it really counts.

But I Just Follow the Music - I Don't Think About Punctuation!

You may not think about punctuation when you perform, but musicians do! They just have different names in music theory. (Ever heard of a "crescendo"? It's a musical exclamation point.) If you listen closely, you'll find that the music you're dancing to is full of commas, periods, and exclamation points.

The more you practice punctuating your dance, the more aware you'll become of the punctuation cues the music is giving you. Even better, you'll learn to use it in the moment, so your brain will easily supply the punctuation that you hear in the music.

But you have to fill your idea bank before you can make a withdrawal. For that reason, I recommend practicing punctuation separately, before you try it in concert with the music.


Transitions serve the same purpose in your dancing as punctuation serves in writing. It breaks your dance up into logical chunks that help you communicate your ideas to the audience. Transitions can act as commas, periods, or exclamation points. Choose your transition type that is most appropriate to the idea you're communicating, and resist the temptation to use lots of exclamation points. As you get more comfortable using transitions as punctuation, you'll start to hear the punctuation that naturally occurs in the music, so you can respond to it naturally.

As naturally as adding a period to the end of your sentence.

What You Can Do Right Now

Make a list of the transitions you know, and sort them into commas, periods, and exclamation points. Then pick your favorite transition in each type, and practice the heck out of them.

Photo copyright Horia Varlan, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.


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