FootSpring…

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FootSpring…

A burst of musical energy that compels the foot upward.  Gravity takes over, and the cycle begins anew.

Perhaps you’re only tapping your toes along with the band.  If you’re a dancer, you know the feeling: When you feel that driving pulse, the urge to move is irresistible.  You can’t stand still.  Insistent rhythms trigger synapses connected directly to the Achilles, the flexors.  Your body is propelled into motion, and music is the fuel.

The second beat of the tune delivers the power.  That is the moment that communicates the message, “Go now”.  The first beat is only an instantaneous thud, a single boom, standing alone.  Your sole is firmly grounded, tensed, waiting for the signal to move.  Without that second pulse – the upbeat – there is no sense of timing, no cadence, and ultimately, no energy.  You’re waiting.  A fraction of a second passes, and then it appears: the semaphore, that backbeat tock to the downbeat’s tick, the tight snap that reveals the tempo.  As the rhythm suggests, you release the tension and raise your foot.  Boom-CHICK, boom-CHICK, boom-CHICK…

I attend dance musician seminars whenever I can.  It was at a contradance musician beginner’s session in Asheville that awesome violinist and fiddler (and “eat-local” farming maven) Laura Lengnick first clued me into the power of the backbeat.  It was an epiphany.  Of course, I thought.  Just like a heartbeat: the low-frequency systolic thump followed by the sharp diastolic peak.  I get it!

French-Canadian and New England tunes are widely respected as contradance favorites.  You’ll find that many of them – especially the best loved ones – exhibit a strong musical syllable on the second beat of the first phrase.  Perhaps no contradance tune illustrates the concept better than “Flying Home to Shelley”, by Paul Gitlitz**.  It begins with a low tone, quickly jumping up to the highest note of the whole piece on the second beat of the tune.  When I hear that clever cue, my feet respond reflexively.  The tune continues repeating that lilting pattern, over and over.  Raise that foot.  Put it down.  Up, down, up down, step, step, step…

And isn’t that perhaps the most fundamental job of any contradance band: to ignite that clean, powerful recoil in the dancers’ footsteps?  Whether by choice of tunes, or by the way they are played – or most preferably a combination of the two – we animate the dancers with our rhythms and melodies, leading their feet into a compression phase, then exciting a lively, synchronous upward release of energy…

…FootSpring.

 

** “Flying Home…” is a gem that may well be described as the most perfect contradance tune ever.  It is a compendium of a half-dozen different elements that should be present in any contradance tune.  More on some of those later.

 

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