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David Mills spearheads Guilford’s talented teens-and-teachers improvisational DoSo Dance Band. Together with Guilford teen DoSo Dancers led by instructor Karen Pfrommer and assistance from Guilford Parks & Recreation and the Guilford Foundation, David invites local teens to come out to enjoy social dancing to live music at the next DoSo Dance Band event on Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at Nathanael Greene Community Center. Tickets are $5. (Photo courtesy of David Mills )
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This is not your grandfather’s dance band. In fact, there’s really nothing like Guilford’s DoSo Dance Band—except for other DoSo projects led by musician, music teacher, and DoSo Music founder David Mills.
On Saturday, March 2 from 7 to 9 p.m., this talented teens-and-teachers improvisational dance band returns to play for dancers at Guilford’s Nathanael Greene Community Center. Among those there to take the floor will be Guilford’s own local teen DoSo Dancers (think line dancing) instructed by Karen Pfrommer, owner of Branford’s Dance in Rhythm studio and a social dancing educator at Yale University and Quinnipiac University. David also teaches music with Neighborhood Music School and Co-Op High School as well as providing music education to students through special programs at shoreline schools.
David, Pfrommer, and Guilford Parks & Recreation also invite all local teens to come out to the community center on March 2 and experience a social dance and live music event like they’ve never known. Tickets are $5 per person; to register or for more information, visit www.guilfordparkrec.com.
A Guilford resident, David has gathered local students and teachers to play in the Guilford DoSo Dance Band, which he leads pro bono. In addition, through Guilford Parks & Recreation, and with assistance from a grant provided by the Guilford Foundation, free weekly teen DoSo Dance classes have been offered through Parks & Rec, with Pfrommer teaching the basics, and beyond, of double line dancing.
Guilford’s DoSo Dance program was a Parks & Rec offering in fall 2018, with dance classes on Fridays and weekly dances on Saturdays. In January 2019, David took the winter program into the spotlight by promoting the DoSo Dance Band’s Feb. 2 event on his DoSo Music website (www.dosomusic.org) and by contacting local media to spread the word. Now, David is excited to see if the number of teens who came out in February will grow when the DoSo Dance Band and DoSo Dancers come together again on March 2.
His intent is to continue to be able offer Guilford teens a new DoSo Dance Band event on the first Saturday night of each month, at the community center. Updates are available under “Events” at the DoSo music website.
Making the Band
For David, the fact that so many teens don’t often get the chance to experience the joy of improv on a musical instrument due to performing with a more traditional concert or jazz band is one reason why he began his grassroots DoSo Music organization in 2010. The other reason was his hope to help resuscitate a dwindling cultural phenomenon: social dancing. David left his Yale administrative position to establish DoSo Music and develop an entirely new style of dance band and dance offering for teens.
“When I left being an administrative person and decided to go full-time back into music, I said, ‘Nobody is sort of concentrating on music as something to do socially, that enhances life,’” David says.
David, who specializes in improvisation, ensembles, and guitar, holds a B.A. from Colgate University and studied jazz at Berklee College of Music (as well as Indian classical music, playing sitar, with Susanto Banerjee in Mumbai). The talented guitarist, composer, arranger, producer, and instrument designer (he designed the M4 guitar) was able to gather a team of musicians, teachers, and students with the mission of reuniting live music with social dancing as a music education initiative through DoSo Music. Among other programs DoSo Music offers is DoSo Elementary for children aged 7 to 11, designed to inspire youngsters to learn an instrument and experience the cognitive benefits gained through taking up music early in life.
First, the Music
“I sort of had an epiphany one day,” David says. “I teach improvisation to musicians, and I had a girl who played flute, and she was doing really well.”
When David suggested she play in her high school jazz band, he found out she already was doing just that, as a saxophonist.
“I said, ‘That’s great—you can improvise,’” he recalls. “She said, ‘Oh, no. We only have two concerts a year, and there’s only three or four students that do the improvised solos.’ So I thought if you played all the time for a social event, you’d get practice doing that. And what’s great about the dance band is when the students improvise, it isn’t like standing up in front of audience and everyone’s totally focused on you, and you need to dazzle them. You can just improvise something that’s very simple, and goes with the beat, and watch the dancers [respond], and not be so much on the spot.”
David’s DoSo Dance Bands are smaller than typical jazz bands, and he likes to combine instruments such as reeds, strings of all manner (electric violin and bass guitar, for example), and drums. Because both students and teachers are very familiar with their instruments, and the music David frames for them has been written “very simply,” the sound comes together quickly. During Guilford DoSo Dance Band dances, David changes over musicians at the half-way mark of the two-hour event so everyone gets a chance to play.
“The [Feb. 2] group, many of them had never played together. Some have never played as a dance band before,” says David, who gives plenty of credit to Guilford’s school music programs for producing talented teens. “Guilford has extremely good teen musicians. They have very good programs in the high school. And the music that’s written, I write it very simply, so the musicians can pretty much sight read it.”
While several teen players have recruited other talented friends to take a spin with Guilford’s DoSo Dance Band, David also offers occasional auditions and welcomes contact from interested students (email email@example.com).
Another benefit for players of DoSo music: The unique improvisational collaboration opportunity can inspire students to “stick with their instruments, even when a future in classical music seems unlikely,” David explains. “Once you learn the concept of improvisation, it lends itself to all forms, not just jazz improv.”
DoSo can help to “keep people in music,” he says. “Especially teenagers who are doing well in music, who all of the sudden say, ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to be a classical musician, or make it into a classical orchestra in college.’ They just give up instead of realizing, well, no, you play the clarinet, you play the violin—keep playing. And once they’ve learned how to improvise, they can be with friends that are playing guitar to some song off the radio, and the violinist realizes, ‘Hey, it’s in the key of C—I can play that.’”
David’s goal with DoSo Dance was to offer teens a type of social dancing that’s socially appropriate. Check out DoSo Music’s website www.dosomusic.org to see Pfrommer working with teens on this type of dance.
Social dancing “is really nothing new,” David says. “On the website, you’ll see a video of Karen doing things with double lines that hails back to [British/French] contra or country dancing. We call the lines the Alphas and the Betas. You’ll see Karen is dancing lead with a young girl, and they come together and dance down the line, and the [next two] move to the top of the line. Even in the ‘50s and ‘60s, there was a dance like it, called The Stroll.”
David also hopes bringing teens into the DoSo Music, DoSo Dance Band and DoSo Dance world will help to continue a cultural and social experience that is dwindling away in the modern age.
“Everyone should dance,” he says. “People say, ‘I can’t dance.’ Everyone can dance. Some people dance better than others, but yes, everyone should dance,” he says. “And all musicians should improvise. Nobody plays your instrument like you.”
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