“Black or White” to Black and White: Dance History and the Music Video

IMAGE Toe Stand in Black Boots IMAGE

Photo by Travis Person

“The only thing new in dance is you.”

A friend shared that quote from an Ohio University professor years ago and it has stuck with me.  Every year I find myself chuckling to myself as I listen to kids claim movements as “their” choreography when really many are sampling from the limited palette of movement they’ve witnessed, usually music videos.

The question inevitably becomes- How do I get them interested in expanding their bubble?

In grad school, I had the privilege to study under Beth Genne, a dance scholar who says music videos are our most current examples of ballet d’action, a story “ballet” told through a collaboration of arts although not necessarily in the style of dance known as ballet. I don’t think all music videos support the comparison but the style of video made popular by Michael Jackson in the “Beat It” and “Thriller” era do, just as Genne discusses in her writings.

When working with kids, one particular challenge is inspiring them to see the benefit and value of learning about what came before- even, or perhaps especially, if it occurred in black and white.

Who better to draw them in and inspire rich dialogues about many topics in dance than Michael Jackson? Who can resist Michael Jackson’s anthems of 1980s American culture, his powerful use of film to bolster his hugely successful pop songs, and the influence he’s had on music and videos of today.

The “King of Pop” alone illustrates how the past influences the future in a way kids can easily follow and discuss. The beauty of this example is that you can trace influences forward as well as back, and this is how dance history can be introduced.

Here’s how you can expand the conversation:

Check out Nichelle’s tribute to Michael Jackson from 2009.

The following categories introduce conversations on the dance topics based on but not limited to “Beat It” and “Black and White”. Included in the categories are links to other Dance Advantage articles that may also offer additional insight or points of view.

The Development of Theatrical Dance

The Development of Dance Technique and Performance Philosophy

Presenting Dance and Relating Topics

  • Dance in film: using dance to propel the narrative story.
  • Dance in film: the directing and choreographic choices of such artists as Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Jerome Robbins, and more.
  • Dance on Camera: presenting dance in ways not possible in a traditional theatre setting.
  • Dance on Camera: introducing the work of artists such as Maya Deren, Charles Atlas, and more.
  • Sharing Dance via Youtube and Social Media
  • Are You Followin’ Me? How to get Twitter to Work for You
  • Influence versus Improper Use: Intellectual Property and Accessing Rights

Dance Ethnography

Where might this lead you?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southward specializes in connection and community building. She offers project-based learning in K-12 and healthcare contexts, pedagogy consultation, and creative-self-care experiences. Heather formerly directed dance programs in Higher Education and K-12 settings and danced professionally in Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and through-out Michigan. She represents Dance for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), serves as a columnist for Dance Advantage, authors the blog EducatingDancers, and was invited to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Dance Education. She is a national conference presenter in the fields of dance and movement pedagogy and is completing a comprehensive pilates certification through the McEntire School. Heather currently serves as Director of Health and Education Services for Happendance, Inc., a non-profit dance organization based in Michigan. Heather is married to author Scott D. Southard and has two children who seem to be in perpetual motion.
Heather Vaughan-Southard


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