“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?

Sunday Snapshot: Midst of a Late Winter

IMAGE A ballet dancer balances on her pelvis against a veiled window. On a reflective surface with a reversed image, there appears to be four of her. IMAGE

You may remember Melissa K. Dooley, her work, and background in dance and photography from our Sunday Snapshot last month of her photo: Ballerina Lounging in Central Park. When Melissa added this recent shot to our Flickr photo pool, I couldn’t resist showing off another of her lovely photos. I find what Melissa calls a ‘kaleidoscope’ effect (achieved with Photoshop) reminiscent of a Rorschach ink test… and equally as mesmerizing!

Melissa took this self portrait in April of this year (2011). “After a long day at the ballet studio, I was [Read more…]

Sunday Snapshot: Ballerina Lounging in Central Park


IMAGE A ballet dancer lounges on a stone wall in Central Park, New York City. IMAGE

© Melissa Dooley

Melissa Dooley started taking pictures because photography offered her a visual representation and artistic way of remembering her life. Though a ballet dancer herself, it was not until 2009 that she began photographing dancers. “We usually find that the average photographer does not choose flattering angles and correct positions,” she says. “We want to look longer and leaner but still with a grand presence.”

The dancer in this photo, Julia dances with Houston Repertoire Ballet. The photo is one in a series Melissa took while on a trip to New York City. After watching American Ballet Theatre’s dress rehearsal for Swan Lake along side Ethan Stiefel and Jared Matthews, the girls were inspired to dance (naturally), and Melissa suggested they head to Central Park. “By the end of the afternoon,” Melissa remembers, “we had a small crowd following us from location to location just watching the girls pose on their toes.”

Still relatively new to photography, Melissa notes that she is constantly learning. “I have two photographers in my family so I really eat up all of their help and tips. I find this is something I aspire to do in the future along side of my ballet career.” Melissa is currently dancing in the Graduate Program with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater and awaiting replies from recent auditions to find out where she will be next season.

See more of Melissa’s photos in her Flickr portfolio and connect with her on Facebook.

Photographers, get featured in the Dance Advantage Sunday Snapshot. Click here.

Sunday Snapshot: Let it Snow

Anna-Mi Fredriksson in Queens Park; London, February 2, 2009; Photo by Ben Hopper

© Ben Hopper ; dancer Anna-Mi Fredriksson

Ben Hopper started photography after ending a 3-5 year stint as an import manager in Israel. He was handling imports of photography equipment and when he quit, he bought a DSLR camera and started photographing for fun. “Very quickly I realized it’s something I can do quite easily and naturally,” he says, “and decided to try and do it properly.” A year later, in October of 2008, Ben moved to London and has been pursuing photography for just over 3 years.

This photo of Anna-Mi Fredriksson (former English National Ballet and solo performer) was taken in Queens Park, London on February 2, 2009. London city was shut down due to the snow which, as you can see, blanketed everything. “Anna-Mi and I lived next to the park,” Ben explains, “so the whole thing was a ‘let’s go to the snowy park to take fun pictures’.”

Ben’s younger brother is a circus performer based in Madrid and Ben says that he is deeply inspired by him and by his good friend Mayka Finkelstein Amrami who works for The Royal Opera House in London. “She got me familiar with ballet dancers from both British Royal and National ballet companies,” says Ben. “I find dancers very interesting to work with. I love the shapes, movement and compositions I can create with their abilities.”

About the photographer: Ben Hopper is internationally known for his remarkable captures of scenery, movement and mood. His editorial work involves the creation of conceptual fashion images, portraits of dancers, circus artists, musicians and more. Ben is currently In-House Photographer for The Last Days of Decadence club as well as WHITE MISCHIEF (London, UK).

You can see more of Ben’s work at THEREALBenHopper.com or in his Flickr photostream. You can also connect with him via Twitter (@BenHopper) or on Facebook.

Please be aware that some of Ben’s fine art photography may not be suitable for younger viewers.

Photographers, get featured in the Dance Advantage Sunday Snapshot

Sunday Snapshot: Shadow Eclipse

A dancer, her face and form eclipsed by shadow, arcs her body

© Paul O'Rourke

For Paul O’Rourke, photography was initially just a hobby, a way to express that side of himself that needed to make images. As a kid he used to paint and draw and learned to play guitar in his mid-teens. “Music and images are both very important to me,” Paul says. “When a friend introduced me to photography in my early twenties I was hooked immediately and have become quite obsessive about it.”

His interest in capturing dance was borne out of an ongoing personal project to explore the theme of movement in his photography. “Since we naturally move around in our clothes,” Paul explains, “I am interested to capture an aspect of movement in my work, mainly from a fashion point of view. The natural extension of that was to incorporate dance – a more extreme form of movement – into the developing project.”

The model in the shot is Lauren O’Donnell. Lauren trained as a ballet dancer but damaged her left wrist, requiring more than one operation. She is also a makeup artist and model. “The perfect credentials,” says Paul.

About the Photographer: Paul O’Rourke works part-time as a photographer. He mainly shoots portraits and portfolios but creates commercial work as well. His images of jewelery have been published in Making Jewelery Magazine and his photograph of a barn owl touching down has been displayed in an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

You can see more of Paul’s work at his website www.porourke.co.uk, or in his Flickr photostream.

Photographers, get featured in the Dance Advantage Sunday Snapshot