This week is National Dance Week in the United States! Given the mission or intent of this grass roots movement is to “bring greater recognition to dance as an art form,” I thought I’d take a moment to encourage dance teachers and students to attend (or plan to attend) a live dance performance this week.
Live Dance Challenge
Seeing dance live is a completely different experience than seeing it on television. In live performance you choose what to watch on stage, taking in the entire picture or letting the movement (rather than a camera) draw your attention. The energy between performers and the audience is palpable, making it a more exciting way to see dance. And, live performances showcase diverse dance styles and dancers that you might not otherwise encounter.
For all of us devoted to dance training and helping others develop a passion for dance, I feel it is important to leave our homes and participate as members of the dance audience whenever possible! There is much to be learned from those making dance art and from the experience of absorbing and witnessing a wide range of movement vocabularies, aesthetics, and perspectives. If you happen to be a regular attendee of dance concerts or professional performances, consider trying a style, artist, or company that is new to you, something that may even push the boundaries and definitions of dance itself!
Distance — I realize that for some, getting to a performance is tricky. There are studios without direct or nearby access to professional dance companies or venues for dance. However, most of you are probably within a day’s drive of a space that occasionally houses dance productions. Get on their mailing list! It would likely be exhilarating for a group of your dancers to make a special “field trip” once or twice a year with their fellow teachers and students to see live dance. For myself, having grown up in a small town three or four hours from any major city, these occasional excursions are counted among my most memorable dance experiences.
Uncertainty — Though distance or logistics may sometimes be a problem, often I feel it is uncertainty that deters even those interested in dance from attending live dance concerts, particularly contemporary dance works. This is understandable! It is sometimes hard to know what to expect from an unfamiliar or untested choreographer or dance troupe. Attending something familiar, like The Nutcracker or Swan Lake can be engaging and inspirational experiences, however learning to appreciate dance art requires exposure that spans the spectrum. Unpredictability can be intimidating. Will I feel dumb if I don’t get what the artist is trying to say? Will there be images or situations that will make me or my students feel uncomfortable? Will it challenge what I believe about dance? Will I feel like I wasted my money? These concerns are normal. Whether you are looking to ease the minds of parents or simply familiarize your students, here are a few things you can do to prepare for your dance experience:
- Look online for past reviews, previews, or essays that pertain to the dance artist or composition in question. More than just criticism of a work, reviews often provide some context with which to view the dance.
- If you are unsure of the content of a performance, visit the company’s website and look for production notes on current or upcoming projects. Call or email the box office or venue office and ask questions. As a last resort you may try sending a brief e-mail inquiry to the contact address provided at the company’s website. In all cases be polite and be sure that you’ve at least attempted to research the work yourself. If age appropriateness is a concern, it is okay to ask if there might be anything within the performance that could be considered unsuitable (more on this below) for students ages ___ to ___.
- Search YouTube or try a Google video search for the artist/company name or the work itself. Many artists also have video at their website. What better way to preview a work than to see some of it!
Recognize and share with students that generally contemporary dance choreographers do not aim to express a “message” that the audience will need to decode. Like other forms of contemporary art, the role of an audience member is to participate by observing and experiencing. What each person takes away from or sees in the work will vary. There are no wrong answers! I recommend viewing and sharing this 14-minute video found at ArtsAlive. Featuring Canadian athletes and actors, including Grey’s Anatomy star Sandra Oh, the video is designed to show that we all have an innate ability to relate to and appreciate dance.
Negative Responses — Because everyone interprets dance differently, know that occasionally, and despite all best efforts, some student or parent may see something inappropriate or take offense to the material. Preparing students and parents for what they might see can sometimes improve or soften negative reactions. Rarely, have I ever seen anything worse on stage than what one might see in a PG-13 movie. However, viewers invest themselves in a live performance in a way they would not when viewing something on screen, enhancing the emotions and reality surrounding certain situations. This is why seeing live dance (or theatre) is a unique and important experience but also why there is an increased chance of complaints or concerns. Provide opportunities to debrief following any live performance. Allowing participants to calmly and openly discuss their reactions to the dance provides a forum to digest, rather than stew over, a particularly evocative or displeasing work.
Embrace the challenge! Art may at times invite us to look at something in a new way or shine light on aspects of life, or humanity that make us uncomfortable. Occasionally, the movement or the way it is presented may seem strange, disconcerting, and unfamiliar. I can’t guarantee you’ll like everything about the performance you attend. It may not be your personal preference or you may simply need further time, exposure, or discussion about what you’ve seen to interpret and appreciate it. After all, many people don’t particularly enjoy coffee the first time they taste it! Experience is a great teacher. The more you see, the more connections you’ll make. You won’t feel intimidated going to see what some may consider “high art” because you’ll recognize its relationship to the other performances you’ve seen. And, you know what? Seeing all this dance, in person, will make you a more aware and inspired performer yourself.
If you can’t see live dance this week, be sure to check out some of the other National Dance Week events happening in your area. Don’t see something listed? Contact a local delegate, or find your own unique way to highlight or recognize dance art in your studio, school, or community.
Participating or organizing an event this week? Big or small, we want to hear about it! Share your NDW experience in the comments below.