Dance: To Whom Does It Belong?

Over the last few months, I have been re-examining my philosophy of dance and dance education. A few experiences have brought my attention to how the general public accesses dance and stakes claims to it outside of the discipline of dance- freely, confidently, rightfully.

As an undergrad, I felt it belonged to the most committed; those that made the most sacrifices in order to be in class and in rehearsal.

As a professional dancer, I felt it belonged to audiences by way of the trained dancer.

As a grad student, I felt it belonged to the dance-makers.

As an educator, early in my career, I felt I was offering dance students the gift of dance.

Now, I offer the gift of language but dance, and movement, belongs to everyone.

In the past, I took it upon myself to bring dance to other disciplines, wanting to expose connections and inspire new thinking for those working in dance, the other area, and everything in between. Now, I am stumbling into people that are non-dancers and yet using dance for their own purpose- in collaboration with dancers but largely independent of the field of dance. I find it to be a relief as well as an inspiration. Dance is alive and thriving even though I spend a fair amount of time waiting for its place to be diminished such as program cuts, minimizing, and etc.

My life in dance hasn’t been concrete. I started with a serious plan, a plot- even. Yet life has had a way of shifting my paths right in front of me, brought me to landmarks and guides that were unexpected but completely worth the detour, and changed my outlook completely.

I find myself asking, who am I best prepared to serve? Dancers with plans and plots? Dancers disguised as movers- with great attention to the function and purpose of dance in a myriad of contexts but without the contact hours or intent of dancing with technique as dancers perceive it? All of the above?

Anyway, this is what I am pondering these days. Hope fall is treating you well.

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One thought on “Dance: To Whom Does It Belong?

  1. First, thank you for sharing your thoughts and allowing us to travel your journey with you.

    I have, and I’m sure many, many others, have had similar questions about their place in dance, dance education and the place of others. In my case, I come into dance as an adult. My college degrees? Nothing to do with dance. My qualifications to teach dance? Some would argue: none. Philosophizing with mature dance friends, I have heard two ideas that broadly opened my eyes. On friend, approaching 70 years old and a modern dancer, performer, choreographer all his adult life helped me to see that we are all dancers. Dance does not belong to people who have had ballet training. If we have bones and muscles, even very, very week muscles, and we move, we dance. It took me a while to fully believe this idea because I would see aesthetics that I did not like and think, “that person sure can’t dance.” But who defines what is a beautiful aesthetic? Why do I get that luxury? Why does ballet define that aesthetic for so many people?

    Another friend began discussing history and talked about who had power during certain eras in history and what they influenced. He talked about how circumstances allowed the French to have great influence over art and that ballet was one of those influences. He suggested that had things “happened” differently, maybe another area of the world would have been of greater artistic influence and the norms we define as “technique” could have looked quite different. I’m no historian and don’t know if his idea has weight, but I like the notion. It reinforces for me that we are truly all beautiful dancers, even if we move little, move sharply, etc., and it isn’t for me to decide who “can dance.” At this point in my own journey, I take issue, politely and respectfully, with your use of the term “non-dancers” because of the ideas I’ve shared above. So, I now teach dance in my own studio and in the schools. I do not teach ballet because I am not a ballet dancer. For that, I have a qualified teacher. I teach creativity, language, as you point out, and connections between movement and just about everything; and I teach students that the movement choices they make at any given moment are dance, and are wonderful.

    Last, I know you already know all of what I’ve written here, so thank for reading this and by doing so participating in MY journey for a little while. You’re wonderful! I’m so glad to have found you.

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