About Kara Yoo Leaman

Lancaster, PA

Kara Yoo Leaman (CBA ’20 & ’23) is an independent music theorist and a co-founder of the Dance and Movement Interest Group of the Society for Music Theory. Her work on music-dance relationships has been awarded the Theron Rockwell Field Prize by Yale University, the Outstanding Publication Award by the Society for Music Theory, and an NEH-Mellon Fellowship, during which she will create a series of analytic videos to be published on the website of The George Balanchine Foundation. Leaman’s research can be seen in Music Theory Spectrum, the Journal of Music Theory, and SMT-V: The Society for Music Theory Videocast Journal.

Musicality in Dance
Forty years after his death, George Balanchine’s ballets continue to be acclaimed for their exceptional musicality. While many people may agree, there have been few attempts to explore the bases for such judgments. What specific details cause a ballet to seem musical? What elements of the style or structure of a Balanchine ballet might cause dancers or viewers to value its musicality differently than that of another ballet? Are there different types of musicality? If so, do they share any core qualities? How do the qualities that create a sense of (any kind of) musicality interact with the enjoyability or memorability of dancing or watching dance? More broadly, what does it mean for choreography to be musical, and to whom? In consideration of what has already been said and written on these topics, her project explored these questions further through in-depth studies of Western theatrical dance choreographies, starting with ballets by Balanchine and then expanding to works by other dance makers. Through collaborations with dancers, choreographers, stagers, musicians, and scholars, the project aimed to bring together multiple perspectives to shed light on some of the many facets and types of choreographic musicality.


Kara Yoo Leaman was a 2019-20 CBA Fellow for the Study of Russia and Ballet. She examined George Balanchine’s choreographies to the music of Bach, Bizet, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky in order to explore Balanchine’s expression of musical artistry through choreography. During this time, CBA featured her work in the first Project Spotlight, available to view below.

In April 2021, Leaman published an article related to her fellowship project in The Journal of Music Theory. Read Music and Dance: Special Issue on Choreomusical Analysis here. In May 2022, she published the article “George Balanchine’s Art of Choreographic Musicality in Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,” in volume 44 of  the Music Theory Spectrum which is available here.



Headshot of Kara Yoo Leaman.

Rosen-Jones Photography

Headshot of Kara Yoo Leaman.