SMA Zoom Colloquium, 6 June 2024, 6:30pm BST

Please use the following Zoom link: []
Meeting ID: 872 7403 3453


Music Analysis Beyond the Audible: Rhythm Tap Dance, Embodied Syntax, and Visual Musicality

Rhythm tap dance is a musical art form in the jazz tradition in which dancers produce percussive rhythms using their shoes, primarily in the context of solo improvisations. While one might productively transcribe and analyse the rhythms of a tap dancer’s performance, treating the musical instrument of tap as a purely sonic one ignores core dimensions that are equally integral to the form’s musicality. Although tap dance steps are sound-producing actions on one level, they are not merely a means to a sonic end. Rather, the embodied experience of executing these physical movements plays a crucial role in how the dancer conceptualises the music, ranging from rhythmic groupings to broader phrasing. Moreover, the resulting visuals affect how the audience perceives the music. I thus argue that music analysis should treat the physical elements of tap on the same qualitative plane as its sonic elements. Through an examination of the physical-visual aspects of a 2011 improvisation to ‘Take the “A” Train’ by leading tap dancer Derick K. Grant, I reveal how his step choices (ranging from intricate motivic patterning of steps to less easily quantifiable qualities of motion in time) contribute to the compositional process and musical product, even when his movements exceed those necessary to produce sound. In turn, I demonstrate how the physical, bodily, and visual might nuance our analytical insights in other musical art forms.


Rachel Gain is a Music Theory PhD student and Teaching Fellow at Yale University. They hold an MA in Music Theory from the University of Western Ontario and a first-class BMus from the University of Birmingham. Broadly, Rachel’s work analyzes music from the perspective of instruments and the body, and addresses issues of race, gender, and disability. Their dissertation research examines rhythm tap dance, theorizing its musical and physical syntaxes, notation, and the myriad implications of the body’s role as an instrument. Her secondary research interests lie in instrumental timbre in J.S. Bach’s vocal works (drawing on her experience as a baroque flautist), and the music of Gustav Holst.

Rachel has presented their research globally, including at the conferences of the Society for Music Theory, the American Musicological Society, the Society for American Music, the North American British Music Studies Association, EuroMAC, BrumMAC, and Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie. They are currently co-organizing a symposium for Holst’s 150th anniversary and serving as co-chair of the AMS Music and Dance Study Group, co-chair of the SMT Dance and Music interest group, and student representative of the SMT Committee on Feminist Issues and Gender Equity. Rachel’s paper ‘Beyond the Audible: Embodied Choreographic Syncopations in Rhythm Tap Dance’ won SMT’s 2022 Student Presentation Award