Part One: Recognizing Patterns
The recognition and manipulation of patterns in the art of dance is among the most important skills to achieve mastery. Making patterns that occur and elements or building blocks of a choreographic sequence transparent and explicit during instruction is very important for students to comprehend and be able to execute a sequence, particularly one involving group patterns and formations.
This need for students to be able to recognize patterns within a dance sequence is further complicated when the group is divided or the choreography is tiered or patterned in such a way that not all dancers are doing the same thing at any one given time. This is referred to as, "non-unison" choreography, and it often provides the most interesting and intriguing patterns of movement for the spectator and the dancer. However, beginning dancers often struggle with non-unison choreography since they lack confidence, and often try to follow others when they are not sure of what to do next, or which way to execute a given movement.
For these reasons I chose to analyze Renaissance dance sequences, and one particular sequence in detail, to attempt to discover and focus on all the pattern elements, the ways they are combined, and the resulting meta-patterns that can be discerned based on repeated elements within the whole sequence. I chose to use a historically relevant dance to the Renaissance period, which uses a simple combination of basic steps to explore a variety of patterns of movement using lines, circles, and other group formations by repeated and combining a very few steps.
Included in the basic pattern elements within this sequence (video example below) are the following basic dance movements:
1. Step - (taking weight)
2. Touch - (touch of the ball of the foot, not taking weight)
3. Promenade - (a series of traveling steps, alternating feet)
These simple steps are combined and used in a formation of lines with other dancers, and the group of six dancers is also subdivided into three pairs, so each dancer has a partner.
Dance elements of space, time, and direction of travel are also present and used in the sequence, to provide variety and interest. Forms such as lines and circles also represent familiar patterns which can be recognized in the dance sequence. Rhythms form singular and traditional patterns, with each step occurring on a downbeat of one, two, three or four. Although the sequence is "mirrored" by partners, most of the patterns in the original sequence are unison in their visual effect, since the lines move the same direction.
An example of the original patterns in the "Grimstock" Renaissance dance sequence can be seen in the video below:
"Art is pattern informed by sensibility." - Herbert Read
Part Two: Creating Patterns
In order to provide beginning students with a greater challenge and an experience in self-reliance within a non-unison choreographic sequence, I decided it would be interesting to take the basic patterns and steps of the "Grimstock" sequence and create "Variations on a Theme" which could allow for more complexity.
My re-mixed version of the original patterns is not only more interesting, but it is also a great way to help the beginning dancer to understand patterns and their function within a sequence. Although it is simple in terms of its basic elements, this dance is actually much harder than it appears to be, since the same patterns of movement are repeated but in a slightly different way each time--such as with a different foot, going in a different direction of travel, or using a syncopated rhythm in which beats are subdivided beyond the quarter note equivalent of "one".
Creating these variations was easy once the elements had been identified, and I was able to see how to connect and invert the basic patterns and meta-patterns.
The video below is intended to highlight the individual elements and building blocks of each pattern as it is being explored, discussed or demonstrated by the students. If you can visually "remember" the first pattern established, then it should also be clear when the pattern is reversed, inverted, repeated, or otherwise altered to create a new pattern.
BE SURE to check out the very end (the last 50 seconds or so), where there is a hi-speed version that makes the meta-patterns within and among the pieces perhaps even more evident since your perception is limited by the fast viewing.
Video Below: Patterns in Renaissance Dance
"Grimstock" Sequence Inversions & Variations on a Theme