What do you think is the: Value of Dance?

By In Dance


In Dance gathered responses from various members of our Bay Area community. Our question polled the opinion of dancers, choreographers, administrators, enthusiasts, and teachers. Whether it’s a personal connection to movement, an appreciation about a specific form, or global thoughts on the field–what follows are candid, honest, and spunky voices, sharing thoughtful answers to our question: what’s the value of dance?

Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Emspace
I think for those of us who dance, the value of dance is self-evident, but I realize that is not true for everyone. So. Well, dancing, for me, always has the tantalizing potential to provide moments of deep and simple joy. That potential will keep me dancing for many years to come. But beyond that (and this next part might sound terribly old-fashioned), I think as we live more and more of our lives in front of screens, projecting ourselves into disembodied virtual space, dance is more important than ever. We are still creatures with bodies. We need dance to remind us that our bodies and our brains are not separate things. We are still social animals. We need to come together in the flesh and experience things together–maybe that’s rolling around doing contact, maybe it’s salsa dancing, maybe it’s going to a club and bouncing around with a bunch of other sweaty bodies. And maybe it’s also sitting together, watching real live human animals move and dance, firing up our mirror neurons like crazy, and getting our minds moving and dancing. Whatever form it takes, we need this. We need dance.

Kyoungil Ong, OngDance Company & OngDance School (Korean Dance & Drum)
In ancient times, communities would gather to harvest it at the peak of its season. They would dance in the fields and sing of its glory. Separate into groups to mill it to its purest form, and caravanned to cities to auction in competition with its neighbors. It is boiled upon fire to bloom, and quickly stirred to release the heated spirits within. It is fed to fuel the hearts of revolutionaries, shared between politicians as they hunger for peace, and consumed by families brought together in evening communion. This year I will cry once again, “DANCE IS RICE!!!!”

Philein Wang, ZiRu Productions
Dance is a version of life where the element of time is liberated for varied interpretation. In this space, after discovery and exploration, dance ultimately delivers back healing and a profound sense of existence to those performing and those perceiving.

Naomi Diouf, Diamano Coura West African Dance Company
African music and dance combines sounds and movements to express life in all aspects. The African dancer and musician takes what is natural and incorporates it into their dance and sound to come up with something truly meaningful. Dance expresses the ever changing dynamics of the world. Dance paints a reality that is forceful, yet palatable for most intimidated audience. Dance is where people can make some sense of their world.

The spirit of African dance exhibits the wholesomeness of the natural healing and collective powers; the need for people to be exposed and educated in all aspects of cultural arts; its influences on other cultures and how these cultures are similar to what we hold dear in belief. African cultural arts is the Diaspora of the world, when various groups of people come together to magnify the beautiful sounds, movements, and colors to bring harmony to nature and pleasure to everyone. Dance is the elixir for life! It is the medicine our communities need to progressively move forward.

Shreelata Suresh, Vishwa Shanthi Dance Academy
Dance is a creative expression of one’s self. Just as people value the freedom to speak, I as a dancer, value the freedom to dance. Our dance school is called Vishwa Shanthi which means ‘Universal Peace.’ The purpose of Vishwa Shanthi is to promote Universal Peace through dance, yoga and allied arts. We do this by restoring the sacredness and spiritual significance of these arts, by helping audiences appreciate them for more than their entertainment or physical value. We see it as a means of collective meditation centering on beauty, sacred music, rhythm and harmony. Through dance we create new audience and help them appreciate the higher meaning of spiritual art forms, elevate their consciousness and thus create an atmosphere of cross-cultural understanding. Dancing, teaching dance and sharing my dance helps one individual at a time find Joy and a higher expression of their Self. I believe this will create an atmosphere of cross-cultural understanding, peace and harmony in the world.

Dance grows with us as we practice it over the years; each phase adds a different meaning to it. When we are young it is very physical–we enjoy dancing the pure dance items for its sheer demand on our strength and stamina. It actually energizes us and makes us happy. As we live our lives more fully experiencing more emotions, the abhinaya in the dance becomes enjoyable. It mirrors our experiences and gives us an outlet to our emotions. Dance is finally our worship of the divine that gives us that attachment to the supreme power and gives us strength. It is spirituality–a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself, a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values.

Katharine Hawthorne, Dancer & Choreographer
I am a thrill seeker. Through dance I live intensely, feel strongly, and experience vividly. I love the sensation of the body in motion, both my own experience and the joy of watching others move.

I am also a thinker. I make dances because I am curious and critical. I use dance to ask questions about the natural world, physical structures, and relationships around me. Dance is an incredibly porous art form–through our bodies and our movement we filter everything from the political climate to philosophical investigations on the nature of reality and love. Dance acts as a discourse on other disciplines, using ideas and concepts outside of the arts as raw material to shape a thoughtful response through performance.

Dancers are people of action. We ask, how are we defined by what we do? How does my perception of my environment change based on my movement within it? Whether as a formal investigation or a political manifesto, there is something radical about a life lived in pursuit of motion.

Michelle Fletcher, Here Now Dance Collective
Simply, dance is just more interesting and reveals more possibilities to me than most anything else. What if we replaced dancing with speaking, called people to the dinner table by a special elbow, elbow, jump, drop-swing spiral, bam…dinner. What geniuses we would all be had we grown up with that sort of communication!

Lex Leifheit, SOMArts
In my role as Executive Director of SOMArts, I often consider the value of dance–how it benefits the artists and the audience, how it draws people in and connects them to each other. Dance was an inseparable element in seven of nine exhibitions we produced this year, whether it was exploring masculine/feminine roles in Man As Object, connecting strangers in Avy K’s The Book, or illuminating international perspectives at Night Light. SOMArts’ audience has grown, and one reason is that San Franciscans are hungry for a butt-out-of-seat, active, social performance experience.

It’s clear that dance brings the SOMArts community together. But I rarely pause to consider what I personally get out of dance. Dance and I have a complicated relationship. I love to watch, but I’m a little afraid to do–and not for lack of trying. In ballet class my toes never turned out enough, in college my nickname was Elaine (Seinfeld, anyone?).

Like many people, my inner dancer was squashed early and often. So when I consider the value of dance and look ahead, I think about the benefits of transforming an active watching-audience into an active dancing-audience. What would that look like? Would an active dancing-audience at SOMArts be happier? Healthier? Would they connect cultural learning with the positive emotions experienced through dance? Would their confidence improve?

This year, SOMArts will be adding game design to our combination gallery /performance space and taking to the streets with our curatorial partner Come Out And Play. My hope is that our games will break down barriers and inhibitions by providing structure, achievable goals and fun ways to “level up” one’s dancing skills. That we will, in fact, transform our audience into dance do-ers. I’m telling every choreographer I know to get involved. And hopefully, I’ll be there–dancing.

Eric Solano, Parangal Dance Company
To set self at ease and freely
A relaxation of the mind
Power of movement
Celebration of spirit
Heart speaks
Abundance of joy
Expression of love and passion
Movements are Tears of joy or
Sorrow and pain
Fiction and inspired of many people
A travel around the world
Transcending in the universe at one place and time
My story, yours or theirs
Voice and comfort
My music
Dream or reality
An Inspiration

Lily Cai, Lily Cai Dance Company
Dance awakens the human spirit. It is the one true way to express the human soul through motion and emotion. Dance is joy and happiness…and so much more.

When I was little, I remember being amazed that dancers could move in such a beautiful way. What long-time dancers know is that the personal experience of dance grows, becoming increasingly powerful each year. Through the years, dance brings deeper self-expression, more truth, and deeper satisfaction.

For the individual dancer, the value of dance is self-creation and fulfillment–using your body to create art and to access your inner beauty and strength. For the dancer in a company, the value of dance is launching your energy, passion, and creative spark across the stage to the audience, in an explosion of power or a poetic stillness. The movement: honest and direct. The focus: to fight and break through the physical barrier of the proscenium–piercing the consciousness of the audience like lighting and thunder bursting through the sky.

As a teacher and choreographer, my personal experience of dance and its value has expanded in many directions. In teaching, dance brings me the experience of discovery, as I develop new techniques and invent new tools to help dancers gain strength, stamina, and grace, in their chosen profession.

As a Choreographer, I strive to make exciting art, making every new piece better than the last, giving the dancers and the viewers a unique experience with every performance. Choreography is exploration, creativity, and collaboration. My creative vision is only possible with the intense effort and brilliant performance of the dancers in our company. And therein, I find one of the most important values in dance – the creation of a shining, memorable, and lasting experience for the dancers and the world.

Tonya Amos, Grown Women Dance Collective
While training in the 1970s at the three most respected ballet academies in San Francisco, I was barred from performing Nutcracker due to my brown skin (yes, they actually said that). I grew up believing that I was one of the only Black dancers on the planet. After being asked to not come back to class because my hair was “too ethnic,” I finally quit dance at age 13. In college, I laughed, then cried, then laughed again in the audience when I first witnessed the power and beauty of Ailey. I sat in tearful awe during Bill T Jones’ Uncle Tom’s Cabin, thinking “I have to do that.” I realized at that moment that the arts had the power to change who we are as human beings. I had just witnessed dance creating cross cultural bridges and dialogue. I saw it push boundaries to explore painful topics that, in another medium, may make observers close their ears and hum loudly. I quickly went back to class and moved to New York two weeks after graduating, equipped with $200, no place to live and no job.
Dancing 12 hours a day, I was often depleted, injured, flattened by the choreographic process, but I was obsessed. Sometimes I was able to slide into that other-worldly place, the place that we are both present and somewhere else, all at the same time. I discovered that dance is our connection to the earth, to the air, to culture, to the universe. It’s the physical embodiment of story, texture of sound and emotion, human strength, weakness, confusion, vulnerability, trial, triumph, ecstasy. When we are able to tap into that universal power, we become its channel. We seem to defy gravity for short moments and the spirit moves through us, in us, around us. We are moving griots, keepers of the human story, which is passed down through us to future generations. The hundreds of thousands of perfected tendus (our technique) frees our body to express what our spirit dances. And the spirit? Yes, it dances.

Jorge Rodolfo De Hoyos Jr.
Dance is a way to embody the universe and remember ourselves as nature.

The vessels we call bodies are materialized from this world, and they get reintegrated back into the cycle when we die. They are a tangible and intangible constellation of energies–bones, muscle, fluids, thoughts, histories, mysteries, paradoxes, the endings and beginnings of things, ideologies, economies, spirits, food & water, etc–and they provide us with all the information we need to survive and thrive if we can risk to embody ourselves. Conversely, our bodies can also kill us while we still might be wanting to live.

But what is dance? And when might we say that we are dancing as opposed to not dancing?
…we feel, we think, we do, we try, we listen, we eat, we shit, we destroy, we create, we kill, we save, we fuck, we lie down, we stand up, we boogie, we love, we hate, we laugh, we cry, we want…
And what is value or what is it to value?

Me and a table are alone in a room. My hand points to a friend who is pointing back at me across a crowded bus. A breeze passes a tree in Golden Gate Park. A person hopes to get hired at a job. A puddle reflects the sky, and the newspaper reads that war is happening in another country. Perhaps dance is a way to build a tall structure of reality, tear it down, suck it into the pelvis, shoot it out into infinity, return to where we got the building blocks from, turn the building blocks into butterflies and start a whispering contest…

Jim Tobin, Bay Area Dance Watch
Dance allows me to stay creative in many ways and for me, that is more important now than ever before, as I grow older.
Dance also shows me how beautiful the body can be in movement–no other art form comes close.

The SF Bay Area dancers and choreographers, through their performances, allow my imagination to come to life; allow new and old emotions to resurface; allow me to get involved in many part of the creative process of designing dance; and allows me to travel down new paths with new discoveries–like discovering Pina Bausch and her spirit.

I also love the fact that our local dance scene in both dancers and choreographers dominate the field. The women are the true leaders in this field of art.

And the most important thing dance does for me, is it allows me to use all those experiences and turn them into words–into stories. I write the blesses (blog essays) at BayAreaDanceWatch, which end up being stories about either dances or stories about the choreographer and dancers themselves.

This article appeared in the June 2012 issue of In Dance.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.