Passion and Pulse

And Mans Pulse stopt, All passions sleep in Peace.—Robert Herrick

there is a music in which the body dances as opposed to a music in which the dance drowns. The first is kinetic and open, the second contemplative and dense...—Elizabeth Sawyer, Dance with the Music

I grew up dancing to rock and roll, and later my wife and I took ballroom dance lessons for a decade—studying dances ranging from foxtrot and tango to salsa and West-coast swing. I love dancing, and I love watching dance performances.

I especially relish dance performances in which intensity, technique, and artistry seem seamlessly intertwined. Similarly, I love music that combines striking expressiveness with a sense of physical motion, especially dance-like motion.

Verdi’s music provides a great example. Choreographer George Balanchine described Verdi’s music as being musique dansante (danceable music) from beginning to end. Music that moves me deeply is often danceable in this sense, with audible pulse, meter, and kinetic energy.

Besides relishing rhythmic energy for its own sake, I enjoy using it as an expressive tool. Various dance rhythms can quickly evoke contrasting moods, changing energy levels, and fluctuating states of passion—the changing states we experience as desire-driven creatures living in time-bound bodies.