It’s in the title, it’s in my brain, and ironically enough it’s in dance. Math. It’s unavoidable. Dance, music, and mathematics are all interrelated. I’m not just talking about counts either. Anybody can count to eight (well maybe not my upstairs neighbors), but I’m talking about the nitty gritty breakdowns of eight.
Music in sixes and fives; measures in music. And yes, even the harmonies in music devices and the sounds they make which can be expressed with sin and cosine waves. It’s all in there, and the best of us in the arts interact with it every day.
I’ve always had a knack for easy math. It took me as far as calculus and differential equations. When I quit engineering and decided to pursue dance I thought I had been rid of all of those numbers. I was wrong. There is as much math in choreography as some long algebra problems. I guess it’s why I’ve always had a strong affinity for hip hop. Hip hop beats are straight forward and hard to miss. Most of the hardest songs keep strong bass and fast moving snares. That’s where all numbers are in their simplest form. 8 counts here turn into 16 beats there, but you can breakdown the 4’s too. You can have 5 hits in a 4 count if you move quickly enough. You can syncopate and completely change around a 4 so that it’s almost unrecognizable. Dancers are not the only people who know this. Musicians, particularly drummers, play with variations on these different numbers constantly. They can feel where beats can go and where beats can’t. In a way they can feel math, much in the same way that a dancers feels the beat that directs their bodies to move with precision. The great thing about this feeling is that we know in our minds where things fit and where they don’t. Math is absolute, it never lies, and it can’t change. 2+2 will always be 4. In music, when we hear a beat that doesn’t belong or a wrong note, we cringe because mathematically the numbers don’t work out. The harmony is unbalanced and we feel the error in math in our bodies. It’s an amazing connection right? We, as humans, can feel math in music.
These mathematics of movement don’t just lie in hip hop for me. They exist in other dance disciplines; they are just more prevalent and more demanding in hip hop choreography. The connection to the beat keeps dancers on the same tempo in ballet the same way that they keep dancers in sync in modern or jazz or tap. The beauty of modern dance, however, is that many times you can move without music or in complete juxtaposition to the music to be artistic and prove a point. Other than that, every dancer is a slave to rhythm. If you try to shove in too much music into a particular measure of music, it won’t work out. If you can’t properly align your movement with the available beats in a measure of music, it won’t work out and it definitely won’t be hip hop.
Is it weird that I have a love for hip hop and modern? Maybe. I can take satisfaction in mathematically breaking down hip hop choreography, or I can say “screw you beats, I’m doing modern now.” If the music is heavy enough I have to make a conscience decision to either follow the beat or not. I guess its the evolution of awareness. Once you know something exists (like a lamp post) you then have to acknowledge it or ignore it completely (walk around it or don’t see it and hope to not run into it).