Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dance as language.

I've been encountering the metaphor of dance as language recently... Mira Betz told us during one of her workshops here in DC that performing is like telling a story. Every movement should add to a cohesive whole. It's one thing to have beautiful technique, but if the movements don't flow well together and if they don't fit the music, then all you're speaking to your audience is gibberish.

Performing lots of beautiful technique without a story or without flow is like going up to someone and saying, "Conceptual lucrative implement ameliorate."


Sure, those are all difficult words that are cool on their own, but when you put them together, they don't mean anything. They're just a string of difficult words.

It seems that recently in the tribal fusion community dancers have been praising other dancers who speak individual words very well (i.e. executing particular movements cleanly and precisely) without tying all of them together into a larger, complete performance. It's like applauding someone giving a speech because they said, "ameliorate" really really well. But what did the word "ameliorate" have to do with anything they were saying? Were they saying anything at all?

This is, of course, not to say that clean technique isn't important. Of course it's important. But technique alone is not the essence of dance. One must look at their performance as a whole, a complete presentation that flows seamlessly from beginning to end.

I leave you with two articles from two dancers and artists I respect very much: Shems and Tempest. Both have written eloquent articles on the importance of a cohesive performance.

"Learning the Language of Belly Dance" by Shems

Learning to belly dance is like learning a new language. Just like a baby learns how to shape her mouth to create new words, a dance student learns how to shape her body to express herself through dance. A child masters language as she grows and as she matures to adulthood eventually uses language to communicate more fully and even inspire.

"The Age of Storytelling" by Tempest
Really, it comes down to every dancer has a story to tell. And if they can stop for a moment and consider what it is and what it means to them before they get on that stage, then it will show in their dancing.

Having a good vocabulary is one thing... knowing how to use it is another thing entirely.


platts42 said...

Have you taken West African Dance?
From what I was told, first came the story, then came the dance, then came the drumming.

See this video by a guy I know http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvmo6uDSekQ

It's the real deal from the dawn of civilization.

CapnMarrrrk via bonnypapillion via from what I can tell, a random comment.

Unknown said...

Yes, I love this concept. Incidentally, Zoe was teaching this concept in one of her workshops as well, although I think she was teaching the more initial step of having better flow and not just having staccato movements that seem unconnected (as they often do when people are learning). She was explaining it as creating sentences out of words, which goes along with the language theme perfectly. So each 'move' would be a word, but the movements should flow together as a sentence...which I think is an effective way of teaching the first steps to better flow. I realize this is slightly different from telling a story in your dance, but it's part of the picture, right?