Lyrical dance is very similar to ballet, combining the many technical elements of classical ballet with the freedom, fluidity, expressiveness and airier aspects of jazz, contemporary and modern dance. It is typically considered a sub-category of jazz and/or contemporary dance, the latter itself being an emerging category. Lyrical dance is expressive, simultaneously subtle and dynamic, focused on conveying musicality and emotion through movement. It is a combination of intricate, highly technical, and pedestrian/naturalistic moves. It is commonly set to popular music with vocals as well as rich instrumentation are often emphasized over the song's rhythm, but because of the definition of the word lyrical: having a poetic, expressive quality; musical; characterized by or expressing spontaneous, direct feeling; expressing deep personal emotions or observation; highly rhapsodic or enthusiastic. Choreography can be gripping and exquisitely delicate, at the same time. That a song's lyrics are a driving force and key inspiration for the movement accounts for why a sizeable number of dancers are unaware of how the style's name was derived, erroneously thinking it came from the word "lyrics".
Musically, the choreography accentuates and/or flows often in correspondence with a song's climaxes, but the choreography will also bring out the more nuanced aspects of a song: sometimes a silence between notes in the music, or the breath between words, will be emphasized, perhaps with a simple, physical gesture. This may be followed, for example, by a more complex sequence, such as a triple pirouette en cou-de-pied or coupe, or a grand jeté, or a series of chaine turns, followed by a cabriole, descending to the floor, only to rise again, and perhaps very casually to walk downstage for a few counts before changing direction once again.
Due to its demand for intermediate to advanced technical skill and emotional focus, the style is popular primarily with passionate dancers who want to combine technique with musicality. Lyrical dance has often been choreographed to a song about freedom, of releasing a despairing emotion, or of overcoming obstacles, though the palette of choice is unlimited.
A solid, ballet-based technique is an essential component of this advanced style of dance, as is a facility with various other forms of jazz, some contemporary/modern dance, and proper placement and bodily alignment. Lyrical choreography is often peppered with intentionally pedestrian moves, amid the more challenging movements, to create a simultaneously organic and dramatic feel. It also often has more floor work than other types of dance, using moves such as a Calypso. Lyrical is based around choreography and the interpretation of the music. Routines are based around feeling and emotion and, though technique is crucial, spirit generally tells where the dance will go.
Of paramount importance in lyrical dance is the connectivity of movement, flowing quite seamlessly from one move to the next. The dancer does not execute each successive move in isolation from the next; a lyrical dancer holds the move for as long as is musically possible or relevant, and transitions smoothly into the next, connecting the motion and emotion. Employing this connectivity of movement, the dancer may periodically stop or incorporate "sharp" moves (such as an abdominal contraction, a sideways glance, or a leg flick) into a fluid routine, for emphasis. Connection to breath—and making sure to breathe—is essential. In all, the moves are connected to one another, to the dancer's feelings, breathing, and to the movements in lyrical dance are often characterized by their fluidity and grace. Leaps are often executed high, with a soaring quality; turns are airy, flowy and continuous.
However, a de-emphasis on grace may provide a more compelling window into a dancer's emotions: a succession of quick, small leaps may be executed low, displaying the ever-evolving traces of a dancer's internal landscape. When the music's tone is angry or frustrated, dancers use sharp, short movements. Anger is also an emotion seen in lyrical dance. In routines with a strong component of anger, it is common for the jazz portions and styles of lyrical to come out. However, a lethargic, drawn-out quality of movement may show a contemplative or hestitant feeling. When the routine is joyful or peaceful, dancers use lighter, more flowing movements.
Although lyrical was originally choreographed to music such as ballads that are slower/downbeat, melodic and sweet-sounding, it is a very broad form of dance including many dynamic, fast-paced and sometimes thrashy pieces. Upbeat, aggressive styles of music are used frequently. Music can be of any genre; pop,even hip hop/R&B styles, are popular for choreographing. Pop selections, including soulful, powerful songs by emerging artists, are often used in lyrical dance.
The emergent lyrical style has a relatively recent history and a genesis based on the coming together of ballet with rock/folk/pop/alternative music and a variety of jazz dance styles and modern dance. Dancer, teacher and choreographer Suzi Taylor, who holds regular class at Steps on Broadway in New York City is considered by many to be an early mother of lyrical dance, having emphasized a unique brand of musicality and expressiveness which influenced many future teachers and choreographers.
Some key dancer-choreographer-teacher notables within lyrical dance include
- Suzi Taylor
- Tracie Stanfield
- Mia Michaels
- Brian Friedman
- Blake McGrath
- Dan Karaty
- Doina Botiș
- Eleo Pomare
- Travis Wall
- Cherice Barton
- Abby Lee Miller
- Allison Ale
- Matisse Dance with Joyby Susan Goldman Rubin
- Dance Teacher, The Practical Magazine of Dance
- Jones, Jen. "AMERICA'S Sweetheart." Dance Spirit 13.9 (2009): 64-68. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 31 Jan. 2010.