“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-Southard is a dance educator and freelance choreographer based in Michigan with rich teaching experiences in higher education, K-12 public schools, and private studios. With an approach of teaching dance as a liberal art, she draws from her experiences dancing professionally in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles to create experiences that move beyond the boundaries of a studio, producing well-rounded, thinking dance citizens. She is author of the blog EducatingDancers, where she chronicles her perspectives on dance and dance education. Heather holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Michigan, BFA in dance from Western Michigan University, K-12 Dance Certification from Wayne State University and is the mother of two small children whom never seem to stop moving.
Heather Vaughan-Southard


  1. Hi can you please help me with the following. I am looking for dance dvd’s to order. It can be a dance movie, dance instructions or anything about dance. Modern / Jazz, Contempary, Freestyle and hip hop. Can you please send me some names. And I am opening my own studio so if you can please help me with info on doing this right from the beginning.