Dance Articles > Mickey Mousing: Too Much Musicality?

Discussion in 'Dance Articles' started by Joy In Motion, Nov 18, 2015.

  1. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    I have just published a new article with my thoughts about Mickey Mousing, a somewhat controversial concept that has been debated in both Argentine tango and salsa circles online. It's too long to post all of it here, so I've included the first part below with a link to the full article if you would like to read more. Or you can just read the whole thing here:

    * * * * *

    Tango Immigrant’s recent post, Musicality: Description or Empathy?, reminded me of some thoughts I’ve been wanting to share in the ongoing debate about Mickey Mousing and musicality. Mickey Mousing, Tango Immigrant reminds us, means “mimicking the music while dancing, but in a superficial and automatised way.” In Simba Tango’s 2010 post on the topic, she describes how the term Mickey Mousing comes from the name for a film technique, often used pejoratively, in which the music precisely mimics the movements of animated characters.

    Read both Simba Tango and Tango Immigrant’s descriptions and you may recognize Mickey Mousing from dances you have seen or experienced:

    • Simba Tango: “At times I also get the feeling that the dancers are ‘too clever’, and not conveying any emotional content corresponding with the music I hear… It feels like they are not even listening to the music, which is ironic when in this particular case they are working so hard to match it perfectly."
    • Tango Immigrant: “It was with a leader who obviously knew the music really well – the phrasing was right, every “important” pause was there. Everything was by the book. The tanda had all the stuff one would expect to learn in musicality classes. Yet the dance seemed strangely empty. It matched the music, but it was like everything was pre-programmed. I could have been dancing with a robot.”

    Some dancers deny that Mickey Mousing is a real phenomenon. After all, how can moving in a way that reflects the music be a bad thing? Dancers who object to the idea of Mickey Mousing usually do so because they think that Mickey Mousing means too much musicality. But I’ve come to see that Mickey Mousing is not about too much, but about not enough. Mickey Mousing does not mean there is an excess of musicality; it means there is a dimension of musicality that is missing...

    The rest of this article can be read here:
  2. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    If you're on the music and reflecting the music in your actions, how is it wrong? Expecting/demanding internal things ("robot", "emotional content", etc) seems like policing feelings and emotional responses.
    tangotime and Loki like this.
  3. rain_dog

    rain_dog Active Member

    Interesting. I'm not sure I agree with any of you :). When I think of Micky Mousing, I think of an exaggerated sense of musicality, so much that it comes at the expense of what is normally considered good technique (posture, embrace, etc.). I think of it as more comedic than robotic, with a sense of fun rather than seriousness. But maybe this discussion needs examples so that we can see what we're talking about.

    I enjoy these as performances, so I'm not intending to be pejorative here. But maybe you mean something else. What do you think? Are they Mickey Mousing? If not, can you show examples of what you have in mind?
  4. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    (Sorry, somehow missed these comments until now...)

    This isn't about wrong, or about expecting and demanding internal things from dancers. Shouldn't "emotional content" be a topic of discussion in dancing and musicality? Not to judge people, but to talk about the things that are important to us? Emotional content is one of the main reasons people dance. So is the deep level of partnership we can experience when we seek musicality with them instead of on our own.

    I address this at the end of my article. People can certainly use "Mickey Mousing" to judge people. People can use the concepts of technique and musicality to judge people too. But that doesn't mean these concepts aren't helpful in talking about what dancing is and what we want it to be. It's a personal question, yes, but it's also a community question.

    I don't see nearly so much sensitivity to talking about these things in the music world. Musicians are always talking about whether something has feeling or not. If we only talk about the technical side of music, we're no longer talking about music. I think the same is true of dance.
  5. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    What you have described is something different from what is usually meant by Mickey Mousing, although I can certainly see how the term sounds like a good fit with what you describe. (The definition might fit if by "exaggerated musicality" you mean "at the expense of one's partner," for example.) An essential part of any discussion is making sure everyone is talking about the same thing :). So I would consider "an exaggerated sense of musicality... at the expense of what is normally considered good technique (posture, embrace, etc.)" a different topic altogether. But it's certainly a fun one. I like the videos you shared. Sometimes Mickey Mousing gets mistaken for "literal musicality," but literal musicality - including fun and exaggerated - can be highly skilled and enjoyable. And the exaggeration part seems more like intense involvement, excitement, and not feeling like a slave to form or seriousness :)
  6. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    My point is that as long as the audience believes there's something, worrying about the internal emotional content (if it even exists at all) is irrelevant. Performance is manipulating the audience's emotions, and most are easy to fool. As long as the partner/viewer thinks something, whatever's going on in the head of the performer seems beside the point.
    tangotime likes this.
  7. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    I write for social dancers, not performers. But I'm sure many if not most performers care about their internal emotional content and how that comes across to their audience. I don't believe that performance is about manipulating emotions but about evoking them. I also don't believe that most are easy to fool, though certainly what is happening inside a performer is not always directly communicated to the audience for a variety of reasons. I believe that in performance there should be inner alignment with what is being projected externally; otherwise it will feel off or incomplete, to the performer at the very least if not to the audience. This isn't to say that a performance can't somehow be effective without it, but why would you want it to be?
  8. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    Because emotion's just chemistry. Not the nonscientific kind, the biochemical kind. Certain movements and manipulations of the body provoke endocrine responses. If you know what they are, you know how to manipulate them to provoke the response you want. That's what the "rush" of performing is--your adrenal gland. A good performer evokes the same response if they're dancing to music they like or music they hate and the audience never knows the difference.
  9. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    If you ask any performer whether they want to "manipulate" or whether they want to "express" something when they perform, I would hope the vast majority would say they want to express something. In which case what is happening internally definitely matters, to the performer if not to the audience. But I believe an audience cares too, and what happens inside a performer has a direct effect on their body even if it's too subtle for an audience to consciously notice. The rush of performing, the chemistry of emotion... these are complex things, influenced by motivation and not just the physical direction of bones and muscles into pleasing lines.
  10. tangotime

    tangotime Well-Known Member

    The critical word here, is, "performer " It's difficult enough to analyse, "dance " with objectivity, between a "Performance " and a "Social " activity.
    There are set standards in dance, that are taught, and subsequently, many base their perceptions on pre conceived ideas/theories.

    Emotion is very intangible (Like sabor ), it is usually in the eye of the beholder.
    danceronice likes this.
  11. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    And with social, emotional policing is even worse. If you're in a dance culture where you swap partners a lot faking it is 90% of it--I do NOT want to suggest to some random guy who asked me for a rumba that I'm genuinely into him. That can lead all sorts of unpleasant places. And it's entirely possible to fool onlookers socially--a passenger on my cruise asked me for a rumba (I have to assume he saw I was mostly dancing with the hosts and sitting by myself so figured it was okay) and he was a WONDERFUL lead, so I could use body action, arm styling, proper footwork, etc. Some of the other passengers I was talking with afterward couldn't believe I had no idea who he was, I didn't think we'd exchanged names. They assumed we were together based entirely on a fun little dance between a lead and follow who knew each other's dance language. The external sent a completely different message than the internal.
  12. Joy In Motion

    Joy In Motion Active Member

    I think one can acknowledge that emotions are important in dancing without emotional policing. To leave emotion out of a discussion about dancing or musicality seems incomplete to me. And I do agree that what comes across physically can differ from what someone is feeling emotionally. Ultimately everyone is their own judge of what is inside emotionally. But hopefully considering what is inside emotionally is part of how someone evaluate's their own musicality, based on their own values of course, not somebody else's. And if I want to communicate or share emotions with my dance partner(s), it's worth discussing with others whether what I want to express or communicate is what's actually coming across.

    Emotions are always physical realities internally; getting them to manifest externally in musical movement is not automatic but takes thoughtful practice. I won't speak for everyone, but this is definitely a goal of mine and it's a goal I hear from many if not most dancers. So I definitely think emotion deserves to be part of the discussion, not to judge each other but to find the maximum expression, communication, enjoyment possible in our dancing.

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