A Time to Dance recently featured a post titled “What is dance and what makes it art?.” In the post Maria asks a lot of questions (of herself as much as her readers) that relate to the divides between what we consider art, entertainment, dance, and not dance. I recommend you read her post. She provides some excellent YouTube examples to get you thinking!!
One of her commenters, Anna, offered a great quote in her post that I want to share:
“I recently read somewhere that entertainment tells you what you already know and art is about what you don’t know.”
She also described dance as a “gigantic container.” I appreciated that too because it suggests that dance is unlimited in its appearance and objectives.
Art vs. Entertainment
In my view art can be entertaining and entertainment can be artistic, but it is sometimes hard to say when one crosses the line into the other. This may largely depend on an individual’s perspective. Sometimes the setting (on a respected concert stage, with imaginative lighting and costumes, and even a name with credibility on the program) has fooled me. As if in disguise, this art is actually presenting me with “what I already know.” Alternatively, I’ve been deeply affected in the past by something I guessed would have been “merely” entertaining. It’s always a pleasant surprise to find I’ve learned something about myself, about others, about the world, and so on. But, again, this takes us back to the subjective nature of classifications. Something that is revealing or revolutionary to one may be familiar territory to another.
Though art and entertainment do not have clear delineation, successful (or good) art usually blends these two modes of expression. If a choreographer (artist, or entertainer) sets out only to draw attention with spectacle, to water things down trying to appease the masses, to rely on cliché, the dance comes across as a series of tricks without substance. This can occasionally be entertaining despite a lack of subtance – seeing humans do amazing things can be fun, for instance. However, I think we have a threshold of tolerance for this. Perhaps increased exposure to that which operates above this baseline is a factor. (i.e. Is it less interesting or harder to stomach that which seeks nothing more than to entertain?) Likewise, I would say that some may have a low tolerance for art on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps finding it impossible to learn or discover if there is nothing within the dance that is familiar, relatable, or something we “already know.”
Aesthetic Principles and Critique
Because art/entertainment lines, aesthetic principles if you will, are different from person to person, group to group, and sometimes alter over time, it’s easy to begin to exert your principles on others in the form of snobbishness or exclusivity. I’m guilty. But, sometimes “watchdogs” of an art form – those that are critical when our art is too “entertaining” or our entertainment too “artsy” – are needed to keep the makers of dance (be they classified as artists or entertainers) reaching and striving and creating.
What is Dance and What is Not
Those that dance or move have always, and are continuously, expanding what seems possible for the human body. That means delving into gravity defying, jaw-dropping spectacle at times. Remember, at one time a dancer on pointe shoes seemed revolutionary. Humans strive to reach beyond what’s come before.
I’m not sure that something can cease to become dance if this was its aim or goal (no matter how much we push its boundries and mix it with other things). However, there are occasions that someone starts out with one thing (gymnastics for example), infuses it with dance elements, and then re-labels it dance. Would you take a dance, add a bit of martial arts to it, and then call what you are doing martial arts?
In conclusion, I’d just like to remix that initial quote a bit. What do you think?
Dance art seeks to expand the already giant container of dance, to push or blur our notions about dance or movement. Dance which is entertainment oriented often stirs up or remixes what’s already in the container.
What makes something art? What makes something entertainment?
What is your threshold of tolerance for either?
How can you tell when something is dance and when it is not?
Have you ever been surprised or confused by labels in dance?
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.