The Importance of Movement for Singers

Embracing choreography and dance is vital for singers, as it helps with body awareness and music’s connection to movement. Read on to learn more about movement and its relationship to your voice.

 

 

Movement is extremely important for singers. Just from a technical point of view, voice teachers are constantly asking their students to use their bodies to physicalize movements that free the voice. You grow as a singer through using your instrument, and that is your entire body—so I encourage all the singers that I work with to embrace movement as a part of their craft. It will serve you in so many ways. 

First of all, music automatically connects to movement. For all of time, as long as there has been music, there has been dance. Rhythm is inherent to the human species. It is a part of our rituals, our ceremonies, our traditions, and our celebrations. If you are going to be a student of music, then embracing your inner dancer is key. It is natural to move to music. Even instrumentalists move to the music as they play, so as a singer, it is expected. Fighting the natural instinct of moving your body leads to awkward performances. You need to understand that it is a part of your training. 

Secondly, bringing movement into your performances creates body awareness. Body awareness is key to growing as a performer. As mentioned before, it will help with the technical aspect of vocal training, allowing you to tap into parts of your body to create new sounds and stretch your tone and range. But it will also help with how you carry yourself onstage. The way you use your body in a choir performance is different from how you would sing in an intimate cabaret, and even more different from how you might sing a solo on a huge stage like in an opera hall. Starting to bring movement into your training regularly will improve your awareness of how your body can respond to your environment. This will help you when working with others in a cast or preparing an audition. 

This body awareness will also improve your ability to warm up your vocal cords and larynx. When the entire body warms up, so do the parts of your body used for singing. The cardiovascular aspect of movement will also improve your stamina as a singer. Just in looking at your body as a tool, movement will also help with balance, control, and coordination. These may not be the most vital things to a singer, but your voice teacher will tell you it helps with your entire instrument. 

Movement, importantly, also helps the performer tap into emotion. As a singer, it is your job to interpret the pieces you are performing. It is expected that you are acting in character and connecting to the emotion of the piece. The lyrics help tell the story. The score provides the tone of the piece, but your interpretation through movement will elevate your ability to connect emotionally with the audience and further the storytelling. Emotions live in our bodies. When we move, these emotions can release. We see it with athletes all the time—an Olympian moved to tears at the end of a huge physical exertion. This is true for artists as well. By moving our bodies, we are able to bring a greater emotional release within ourselves, and this translates to our audiences. 

Part of being human is movement. It is how we communicate, how we celebrate, and how we express our emotions. It is part of the human experience, and since we, as artists, are reflecting the human experience, we must include movement. Not to mention how important it will be to your career! Very few singers have a career where movement is not necessary, with the exception being studio recording artists. But most of us don’t go into the performing arts to sing in a small room alone. The vast majority of singers will find themselves telling stories, either in operas, musical theater, or a master chorale work. When we tell these stories set to music, they will inevitably include choreography. Just by stepping into the role of a singer, you must embrace the fact that you will be faced with choreography in your career. 

Let’s get started with that idea—embracing choreography and dance. I can’t tell you how many young artists I have worked with while teaching college who tell me they are a “singer who can move.” I don’t know where this term came from, but I hate it. It is already limiting yourself before even beginning to explore of what you are capable. The stories we tell ourselves in our heads become true. When a student tells me they are a singer who can move, I immediately ask, “Well, do you move while there is music?” and the answer is always yes. “So you’re a dancer—say it—you’re a dancer!” And so I tell you, reader: you need to stop compartmentalizing yourself as an artist and start seeing yourself as a dancer. Do you dance at weddings? Do you dance in your car? Have you danced in a show? Then you are a dancer!

With that settled, it is crucial to be comfortable with choreography for a singer. It makes you vastly more castable. That ability should be trained and nurtured as much as your voice. This means you need to take dance classes. I know you knew that advice was coming, but it is the best advice I can give to young singers wanting to up their comfort with choreography. You don’t have to take five classes a week, but you should spend at least a few months every year in a consistent class. The great thing is that it doesn’t really matter what dance form you engage with. I know there is a perception that you have to start with ballet, and I do recommend every dancer should take ballet at some point (and, remember, you are a dancer!), but your goal is to get comfortable with choreography. Any dance form helps with that: hip hop, salsa, tap dancing, swing dancing, theater jazz. Any of these forms will improve your skills, so I encourage you to start with something you love, something that you will enjoy. By choosing something fun, you will be more motivated to stick with it.

Starting a new class can be a scary thing. It is extremely vulnerable to move your body in front of people you may or may not know. Some people prefer to have the comfort of companionship; if that is you, take a friend. Some people prefer the anonymity of strangers. The most important thing is just to start. I remind my students all the time that being self-conscious is normal but, in reality, most people are not thinking about you or watching you. They are thinking about themselves. Just find a class and go. It gets easier each time and it will truly improve your auditions. The ability to learn choreography is a skill that can be developed. The more you do it, the faster you get at picking it up, so give yourself some time and some grace. I promise you will see improvement. 

Now that you have accepted that choreography is going to be a part of the life of a singer and you are willing to add that training to your schedule, you will next see the greatest part of bringing movement into your singing life: your growth as an artist. Every time you tap into your creativity, you are developing as an artist. Your creative expressions in dance class will add to your abilities to make creative choices in your music. Yes, as singers we often provide the melody, but our bodies can respond to the score. All of these little acts of creativity will add up and guide you into making more creative and more bold choices in the future. Creativity is a muscle we can strengthen and flex. The more you engage with art—any art, not just singing—you build that creativity muscle that will propel your performances into deeper and more connected spaces. 

Finally, do it for the joy! Dancing will bring joy into your life. Experiencing joy will open your heart, which will allow yourself to access your feelings and will connect you to those around you. When we are in connection with others, we are observing our common humanity, which is the whole purpose of art, to reflect our common human experiences. Dancing, just by giving you a space to be joyful, will deepen your understanding of others and thus contribute to what you will draw upon when creating characters and telling stories, which is ultimately your goal as a singer. 

There is no music without movement. Your job is to embrace this idea, train and strengthen the skill, and grow as a creative artist. Lucky you!

Kelly Todd

Kelly Todd is a professor in the theater department at Pepperdine University where she runs the musical theater emphasis. She is also a director/choreographer based in Los Angeles for musical theater and has won numerous awards for her work including the 2014 Ovation Award Winner for Best Choreography for Lysistrata Jones and L.A. Drama Critics Circle 2012 Special Award for Fight Choreography for her work on West Side Story. She was named Southern California’s Choreographer of the Year in 2011 and 2012 by Stage Scene L.A.