Consumers of Dance

I've talked about this before. How I feel that, to varying extents, people know how to watch movies, read books, look at paintings and listen to music. Granted, for everyone to get it, even these things have to be pretty accessible-- there are still many books and movies and songs that most people think are too "abstract" or "weird". I've felt that way myself.

What I also feel is that somehow dance is not on this list, and somewhere along the way it became just an accessory for people in music videos. Or broadway. Or whatever. I would wager most of the general public can't name even one professional dancer, and fewer still could name three or four. I don't see this issue with singers and actors, and although there are a lot of logistical reasons for that (the permanence of a lot of music and film via cds, dvds, etc.).

All the same, right now if I had one overarching goal for my dance life (and this is subject to change in a week or two) it would that I'd like to help make people better consumers of dance. And that probably means acknowledging and thinking about some of the reasons people are generally poor consumers of dance.

Whenever I go down this path, eventually I start to wonder why dance is not studied in public school like music and art generally are. In theory, it makes a lot of sense--it's art, it's exercise and it generally requires little equipment. It exposes kids to most of the same basic principles of music and art and theatre in one go. On a limited budget, this sounds great! Kids get to run around and blow off steam, move their bodies creatively, play characters, count music, form shapes and learn about design principles, at least insofar as they apply to dance. Why aren't we doing this? Is this all it would take to foster an essential understand of what dance is? And maybe even inspire more people to continue to dance, professionally or recreationally or to become fans of dance?

I went to see the Dance Ontario showcase a few weeks ago and while not every single number was my scene, I enjoyed the event thoroughly, and recognized the artistic merit in each piece. It gave me a lot to talk and think about. Despite this, I got the impression a lot of the people in the audience were dancers, and while I love that the dance community was supporting their own, it was great stuff and I also wished more of the general public was taking it in.

I honestly don't believe it's a lack of interest, I think people are intimidated. Dance is pretty closed off, so maybe people honestly feel like if they know little about dance or aren't dancers themselves, they can't be enthusiasts. This is where I circle around and go back to thinking dance would be great in public schools. In the meantime, the more I think about dance as a career, the more concerned I become about this one issue. But it won't change overnight, and maybe I can't change it at all.

I've seen lots of belly dancers whose goals include elevating the public perception of dance, or educating the public about the middle east, and I guess my goal is a little more broad than that. If I could teach the public one thing, it would be how to watch dance and how to enjoy it because I think these issues plague all disciplines of dance, and even though I do feel isolated from the larger dance community, I think it applies to everyone.

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. I think that you have to remember that dance is under the larger category of entertainment, and that under that category, people's tastes change from generation to generation and from place to place. It`s not that long ago that a variety of dance forms were popular. In the 70's, the North American public was fascinated by dancers like Baryshnikov and disco stars. In the 80`s and early 90`s people formed breakdance crews. I'm sure that Bollywood has some dance celebrities in India right now.
    You`re right in that dance has lost some of its popularity, but shows like 'dancing with the stars' and 'So you think you can dance' are certainly raising the public's awareness of newer dance forms and partner dancing. I don't know. I feel like the Dance Ontario showcase is the smaller, independent side of dance. And no matter what section of entertainment you work in, the smaller, independent side of the industry will always have a smaller audience than say the National Ballet, the Mirvish musicals or a dance-based television show. It would be great if smaller dance shows suddenly became popular again, but it's ultimately up to the culture we live in.
    (That being said, the Montreal Fringe this past year was FLUSH with small dance shows, that sold out a bundle. So it may simply be a question of location.)

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  2. I do feel that what you're saying is true, but I don't think that those changes in society that dictate the overall popularity of dance occur in a vacuum. I think dancers have a major impact. And while what I do is definitely on the smaller, more independent side of things, I want to see it grow and be understood, even if only on a basic level.

    I am also allll about Fringe :) And Montreal treats dancers really well, the show I did there in January was so warmly received, it was really overwhelming!

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  3. I think acutally these thoughts not only apply to dance, but also to many other forms of art. I'm a printmaker, but usually that means I need to inform people what a print acutally is (Maybe I just go for those abstract and little known fields??)

    M, I do think that a lot of dance is entertainment, but dance can also be art as well. Not necessarily both, but can be.

    Dance that is art, will always be fringe... we're just not a culture that highly values art in that way...

    Must my two cents...

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