Good Singing vs. Good Dancing

May 29, 2008 at 11:23 pm (Don't Touch That Dial, Miscellaneous Meta) (, )

Recently I checked out So You Think You Can Dance at the behest of this dude because yes, I am easily influenced by others to try new things over the internet. I started out with the US season 4 (since it just started) and it really is better than (what I remember of) American Idol. Watching it (and thinking on this) got me thinking about how identifying good singing vs. good dancing is different.

I think identifying a good singer (at least to the average joe in the audience) is tougher than identifying good dancing. Don’t get me wrong, the average viewer probably will not catch the nuances of say, personality and energy and clean lines and extensions and musicality and whatnot that a professional will keep an eye out for and make note of. But your average viewer could probably distinguish a bad dancer from the better half of the talent pool. Dance is in many ways considered a performance first and foremost, so the audience has that expectation of a dance–that upon watching it, they will be entertained. So something that doesn’t entertain is not a good dance. I think the average person could easily make these distinctions.

But with singing…singing is tougher to judge as good. Yes, you have the physical package–the face, the movement, etc. But vocal technique is tougher to grasp and it’s harder for someone who doesn’t know what to look for to find it. People can be considered good singers (good enough to publish records) but have terrible vocal technique. It’s harder for someone who doesn’t know what good vocal technique is to say what is and isn’t technically good singing. Yeah, somebody could pick up on singer X was entertaining/unentertaining, that they had personality and good facial expression–but they wouldn’t know whether singer X was, say, forming the vowels correctly (it makes a huge difference in tonal quality) or using appropriate phrasing (debatable; this might still be pick-upable even if you don’t know what a phrase is).

I’m not speaking entirely academically–I know two years of choir class is not exactly a high recommendation for my expertise in singing, but I will say that after two years of being taught vocal technique by teachers who know what they’re saying, I can listen to a song and like the song and enjoy the lyrics and the melody and what have you, and still know that the singer I am listening to has crap technique. But prior to those two years I could not make that differentiation, not until I heard the difference between good vs. bad technique, and not until I knew what good and bad vocal technique was.

So I guess what I am saying is that good dance technique is easier for the layperson to pick up on, whereas good vocal technique is much more subtler and therefore much less so–making it harder for people to tell whether or not they themselves are good or bad singers, which means the number of people who aren’t good singers but still think they’re good enough to audition is exponentially higher for a singing competition like American Idol than the number of people who aren’t good dancers but think they’re good enough to audition for a dance competition like So You Think You Can Dance.

Oof, it’s late and I’m tired; I don’t know if I’m making any sense here. But the shape of the idea is there in my head, and hopefully I’ve managed to write it down in at least semi-coherent form.

ADDED: Another difference–there’s a much wider range of what can be considered good singing. Re: what I said about now being able to identify good vs. bad technique, singing can still be “good” even if technically bad, because for singing good also entails personality, musicality, stage presence, engagement of the audience, facial expression, etc. If you have all of those (plus killer song writing) you can still be classified as a good singer even if your vocal technique is shit.

The same thing applies to dancing too, of course. But with dancing there’s a much smaller range of what is acceptable as good; you don’t have nearly as much leeway as you do with singing. If you want to have those other unquantifiable things that make a good dancer–stage presence, musicality, entertaining, etc.–then that must include at least some technique. Not necessarily professional training caliber technique, but you have to at least know what the hell you’re doing. Because watching someone who doesn’t flail around on stage is only entertaining if you’re into schadenfreude, and otherwise just plain painful. And you can’t be engaging and have stage presence and show your personality when people are too busy cringing to watch you.

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