What was your first dance image? Whatever your response, it’s most likely that your answer to this question informs the type of dance you consume, and affects which classes and performances will be eschewed because of that perception. Was the decision to first attend dance yours? Or is our interest in dance based on some cultural or familial practice? Is our predilection to move, create, and or watch dance acquired through the societal models of what being a dancer means? Are desires to enjoy dance a form of emulation? Actors often describe a yen to escape, that their artistry provides a forum to inhabit another experience—embodying a character different than their day-to-day self. This otherworld escapism, coupled with the purity of what I describe as talking-through-movement, has from the beginning, motivated my dance life. What motivates yours?
My earliest dance experiences, found me emulating super heroes in tight spandex: body-surfing, playing hide and seek, jumping off the roof of my grandmother’s house, and regularly grooving to a pop song. Depending on the age of the dancer, the decision to study a certain type of dance is not always theirs and yet those first moments of movement exploration absolutely influences the path that defines an ongoing perception of dance.
Good or bad, our choices and assessment of a movement practice, broadly or within one discipline, tell us how to interact with the larger dance community. Even after 35 years of working in this field, I continue to discover my own biases and lack of knowledge for a variety of dance forms. Not always knowing what I am looking at, offers the opportunity to broaden my perceptions of dance, but as I know more about what I don’t know, it is harder for me to judge certain aspects of dance.
Winning, losing, rewards, grants, reviews, and accolades are all inescapable parts of any community and yet when you add art to the mix, we somehow imagine that there should be a purer set of rules to evaluate dance. The current cultural moment is certainly posing the question: should we judge dance and reward those that turn faster, kick higher, smile brighter, react quicker or plan better?
I think we already do. Yet at this time the levels of awards and acknowledgment and winning are being brought into focus in the dance world in larger ways. With shows like So You Think You Can Dance leading the way, there are now local and national presenters that follow the highly successful formula with the audience casting votes to determine the winner. It can be argued that critics have long looked to serve a populist approach to help uninformed or curious audiences choose what to attend based on their informed opinion. Possibly precipitated by diminishing space for art reviews, and in particular dance criticism, is this just part of a natural progression to pass on the role of the critic to the audience? The audience can now play a more active role in voting for their favorite dance or dancer. They can also email, blog, text and tweet their reactions, opinions and ultimately their choices.
These observations and questions are further revealed within this double issue and we hope the conversations on crowdsourcing, judges, award shows, grant news and the new seasons will prompt further dialogue—maybe even a healthy argument or two—on who has the right to judge whom.
No matter your opinion on how better to define the best dance, keep moving, and risk to be seen. Who knows, someone’s first image of dance could be watching your YouTube video. 2011, here we come.
This article appeared in the January/February 2011 issue of In Dance.