Dance doesn’t happen in a void.
New work is influenced by its surroundings, as well as the dances and work that has come before.
You can trace a line throughout history of dancers and choreographers who have influenced future generations. The connections are like thread woven through intricate fabric.
Dance for the masses – what is shown on TV and music videos – which some consider to be the cutting edge of dance, are reinventions or interpretations of older works.
Call it a “rip off” or an “homage.” A piece of vintage choreography fades from our collective memory and is then adapted and reintroduced to spectators unfamiliar with the original.
What was old is made new!
The shame is that many dancers may not be aware of the lineage or relationships that make up the fascinating web that is the art of dance.
So how about a short history lesson?
Let’s start with Beyoncé’s video for “Single Ladies.” Have another look:
Now take a look at this:
And throw in some of the moves from There’s Gotta Be Somethin’ Better Than This from the musical Sweet Charity (also a Bob Fosse number) – start at around 3:40 when the dancing really kicks in:
Want some more? Try this one:
Get Me Bodied, again from Miss Beyoncé
And, again…Mr. Bob Fosse (Rich Man’s Frug – also Sweet Charity)
There is nothing wrong with paying tribute to something that has come before.
In fact, if the past is acknowledged (which unfortunately, doesn’t happen enough), the homage can spark a renewed interest in what may otherwise have been consigned to oblivion.
They say that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I know, it’s usually a quote employed for the discussion of war, politics, or atrocities of humanity.
While it may not be possible for an artist to completely disassociate themselves from the past, dancers, choreographers, fashionistas, musicians, and artists generally seek to make their mark with the creation of something original. But making something unique, without an awareness and study of what has come before, can prove quite challenging.
You’d think the opposite would be true, but history has shown us otherwise. Remember, the past is already woven into the fabric. You inherit much of dance’s history, like it or not… know it or not. And you can’t un-know what you don’t know you know… you know?
Re-hashing the past will always be a popular choice. You can’t go wrong with something that has already been tested and proven.
But, whether you use your knowledge of the past to reinvent it for new audiences, or in order to carve a new direction for the future, exploring the history of your art form is necessary for moving forward!