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  • Lisa Lumina

L2: Call & Response

I like to start teaching phrasing with call and response because I think the change between the call and the response helps to draw attention to the end of one "sentence" and the start of another. There are three main types of call and response, but the lines between them are blurry and the categories are more guides for understanding that call and responses can sound differently, they are not hard rules.

Call and Repeat

A call and response can have more than one sentence in it, like the sample below, where the lead singer does a couple lines and the chorus repeats them. Listen to your favorite MENAHT songs this week, and try to notice when a call and repeat happens. Then, think of ways you have learned to do variations on a movement/movement family, use that to change a combination that fits the call, to better suit the response. Is the response more orchestrated than the call? You might make your movement bigger, smoother, or take the shape and travel with it. Is the call coming from an airy instrument but the response sounds earthy? In that case, how can you ground the movements used to translate the call, so they better reflect the response?

Again, remember that these things are not meant to nail you down to a single right answer, they are there to help you generate ideas, to feel confident in your choices, and to help you become acquainted with music, incase you didn't grow up listening to it.

Call and Counter

This is just like call and repeat, but instead of repeating, the response is a different melody of roughly the same length. Again, this is a distinction I use to make learning easier and, as far as I know, not an official musical terminology. Listen for it in your favorite songs, and play with ways you can use your movement categories to create a sort of dialogue in your body, to reflect the musical dialogue. This might be between upper and lower body, between an early movement and an airy one, between traveling and stationary moves, or anything else that the music says to you.

On the topic of call and response, here's one of the songs we danced to, you can see two types of bands (a "hassaballa" brass band being conducted by a man in a uniform, and a traditional "tet ensemble" being conducted by the lady with the flower) go back and forth.


This is the only real musical term here: a lezma is a short, punchy response. Again, it is shades of gray between a call and counter vs a call with lezma. You can use some of the same strategies as a call with counter, such and contrasting movement families or switching direction. You can also let one or the other pass by, for example: let the call go with a simple sway then punch the response with a big hip drop, or fill in the call and use a "stoptional" for the response. There is usually a section like this in a beledi progression, after the opening taxeem and before the rhythm really kicks in, but this type of call and response can also be found in most sorts of music.

One reason for going over individual instruments in class, and for practicing phrasing (and why I make y'all improvise) is that I want to, proverbially, "teach you to fish" rather than just "giving out fish". When you learn to hear what the music is telling you to do, you will be able to dance to any song you enjoy and not have to depend on anyone else for choreography. Metaphorically, you can feed yourself, and have the option of expressing your own feeling through your dance, rather than having someone else put "words" in your mouth. Hopefully, focusing on the music like this helps you understand what the music is asking you to do, so you don't ever have to worry about coming up with something interesting. Just dance to interesting music, and translate it to movement!

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