Music for class

John Sweeney and Anna Gillespie are regular accompanists for company class and play for a variety of other dance classes. They took some time out of their busy schedule to answer some questions about playing music for class.

How did you begin playing for dance class?

John: I was penniless and someone said ‘do you want to play for some children’s dance classes?’ Falling Leaves’ and ‘Stomping through the Snow’ music is still a speciality of mine.

Anna: After graduating from the Laban Centre (1988) I made dances and danced in a small company in Glasgow for a few years. On returning to London I was offered a job as an accompanist at the Laban Centre, who were also supportive of my choreography. It was at this time that I realised that I was more interested in the act of dancing than making dances. How music helps to inform the moving body is still a big interest for me.


Anna, you were originally trained as a dancer, did you know how to play music at that time or did you learn later?

Anna: I had learnt the piano from an early age but with a very traditional classical approach. I had no idea how to improvise but I had an idea of how music ‘felt’....I worked out simple musical solutions.


How do you decide what you are going to play for each exercise?

John: I try and get the music to have a dialogue with the dance. It doesn’t have to agree with the dance all the time, but some sort of a conversation should be going on.

Anna: I imagine what it would feel like to dance and try to create a supportive musical environment.


Do you play pre-existing music during class or do you improvise?

John: Improvise. I think that the process for each person improvising is probably very different.

Anna: Improvise. I agree with John. Often through a feeling of motion, sometimes through a sense of image and sometimes I have no conscious idea.


Do you have any advice for young musicians interested in playing for dance class?

John: Protect your musical soul. In a class situation you are not going to be surrounded by other musicians giving you inspiration or feedback. You have to look after the thing you hold musically dear for yourself.

Anna: Never try to align musical and dance counts!! Dancers count movement units and musicians count musical units. Go with dance units as it’s a dance class.

Find a way to ‘understand’ the movement and then let your musical judgement and imagination come up with a solution. Always ask if you’re not sure - other wise the wroth of an angry dance teacher may face you for not being telepathic.