Friday, February 01, 2008

The Art of Dance

As some of you well know, I am a dancer. I haven't actually danced a choreographed dance in quite some time and since having kids my body doesn't move in quite the same way that it did when I was a teenager, but nonetheless I still consider myself a dancer. I feel music and I express myself through dance.

This last December I went to a performance of the ballet The Nutcracker and it was then that I realized that I don't really like ballet. This is significant because ballet was my first introduction to dance and I took ballet lessons for several years. So I started thinking about dance and what it is and what its purpose is. And now I just have a bunch of questions about dance and no real answers. Is there an ideal form of dance? Are some forms not as "true" as others? Does dance have to be visually appealing?

I thought it'd be interesting to search YouTube and see different styles of dance. I wanted to share my findings with you all. I realize it would be quite time consuming to watch all these videos in their entirety, but I do hope you'll watch enough of each to get a real feel for that dance.

First, right here is why I don't like ballet. Yawn. If I were to watch or dance ballet I'd much rather it be more like this. It looks much more fun and much less stoic.

Something that I have been enjoying lately is break dancing. My one qualm with it is that it tends to get very "show-offy" and the performer ceases to dance and just starts to display his skills. I think any type of dance can fall into this and it really, really, bugs me when it does.

Here is one example of this showing off mentality. I don't think this Chinese ballet counts as true dance, but if you skip to a little before the six minute mark you'll see a woman balancing on one leg- on pointe- on top of her partner's head. Wow. I have to ask why anyone would want to do that, but hey, it's still impressive.

My search for dance led me to a kind of dancing that I had never heard of until a few months ago. It's called house dance. When I first saw it, I totally didn't get it, but when I saw this video, it made much more sense to me. It is a freestyle sort of dance that seems like it would allow the dancer to feel the music and flow with it. When someone house dances well they are intimately involved with the music. This video show several different house dancers-each with their own particular style.

Just how would you describe this type of dance to someone? It's a Japanese tribal hip hop thingy, I guess. I don't know what to say about it except that I like it. I think.

Gaby introduced me to Parkour- The Art of Movement. (this video gets very good at around the 2:45mark.) These people are celebrating the joy and freedom of moving. They don't use music, but does that make a difference in dance? I think parkour is the closet thing I've ever seen to man learning to fly.

And now we come to Robam Joun Por. This dance is so foreign to me that I have trouble appreciating it. But if you look closely at the way the dancers move their heads ever so slightly, you see that they are dancing to a strange melody that is almost beneath the music we hear. It looks so stiff to us Americans, but in watching it a few times I was able to see how that, too, is a beautiful style of dance. Though that doesn't mean I like it.

So now you've seen a small, but very diverse collection of dances. It's amazing to me to watch them all back to back- my neck still hurts from the whiplash. God created our bodies in such an intricate way and has given us the ability to dance. In some way, all these dances show us something of the beauty of our God. I'm overwhelmed with the magnitude of this thing called dance. Just imagine, what would dance look like if it was done by perfect, sinless bodies? Someday we'll find out.

So now that I've rambled on and posted a plethora of links that I don't even know if anyone will watch, does anyone have any thoughts about dance?


Gabrielle said...

I don't have any thoughts in particular about dance, but I do have some thoughts about art. I think that often we get too caught up in the question of what is art and what isn't art and we then miss all kinds of opportunities to be creative. Some time back I was talking with Theresa and some others about folding laundry. She was telling us how much she enjoys folding laundry sometimes. Not just the finished product, but the movement of the laundry and the movement of the folding. Seth said that he wanted her to choreograph an interpretive dance all about folding laundry. She hasn't done it yet, but I think it would be awesome. Would that be dance? Would it be art?

My thoughts about dance are almost exactly the same as my thoughts about art. If you feel creative and like you want to do something or feel like you just gotta move than do it. Don't fret on whether it's dance or art or not. Just move and use your movement to bless somebody else.

Now, to be clear and honest, just because I believe this doesn't mean that I don't act like a snob sometimes and declare this or that to be lesser art or not art at all. I have my own preferences which line up with yours rather well, Adiel, and I tend to look down on that which I don't appreciate. That just makes me a snobbish sinner; I hope it doesn't invalidate my point.

pentamom said...

Ballet defense time:

That first one was a horrible example of ballet. Technically it was okay, but I don't think ballet was ever intended to be that cold and passive. Either the dancers, choreographer, or director of that piece (or all of them) were evidently lacking in some degree of real talent to pull something off like that. Even a slowly done piece like that could have radiated more emotion and life. So IMO you should use that, at best, as an example of why you don't like badly done ballet.

The second one really wasn't ballet at all. The only resemblance to ballet was the pointe shoes -- otherwise, it was a Broadway/jazz piece.

But if you saw "The Nutcracker" and "don't like ballet," I guess you really don't like classical ballet. It wasn't the highest level of technical perfection, but there was far more warmth and exuberance to it, including in the formal pas de deux pieces. I just don't think using such an awful example as your clip #1 gives a fair example of why someone wouldn't like ballet.

Adiel said...

Oops! I should have known better than to knock ballet in front of a Ballet Mom. ;-) Yes, example #1 was an exaggerated example of cold, stiff ballet, but I used it because I think it conveys how I feel about ballet in general. And, while the second example isn’t true classical ballet, it is still ballet, but with heavy modern/jazz influences. Even when I was taking ballet lessons I always enjoyed when the teacher would throw in a jazzy twist to ballet. Part of the reason I started with these ballet videos was to show where I am coming from. I originally thought that classical ballet was the essence of dance until I was introduced to other “looser” versions. Over the years, I’ve discovered so many other forms of dance that I was able to finally realize that ballet really doesn’t suit me at all.

That said, it doesn’t follow that I therefore can’t appreciate the art of ballet done well. When I saw last year’s production of The Nutcracker, I was very impressed with the talent displayed on stage. And when Jenny came out and danced her snow dance I cried because it was so very, very beautiful.

If I’m going to dance for emotional expression I’d rather use a style similar to house dance or “modern dance” because I feel they can better facilitate my personality and emotions. When I dance ballet I feel almost as lifeless as that first video.

Also, please bear in mind that I was trying to put this post together while being surrounded by loud little kids so I wasn’t able to put intense, deep thoughts and wording into it. I’m sure you can understand that scenario. ;-)

pentamom said...

Okay, I get it now. That makes more sense to me.

I'd still contend that #2 wasn't jazz-influenced ballet, but ballet-influenced jazz, because certain arm and leg movements were simply outside the pale of proper balletic movement, while there's no such thing as outside the pale of proper jazz movement. But that's a minor quibble.

Christen said...

I have taken various styles of dance throughout the years. Altough I have my favorites, I feel it is ultimately an expresstion of how you are feeling. Sometimes this changes. If your feeling happy you may want to dance one way, however if you are feeling sad you may feel like dancing another on for all feelings. So I definately dont feel there is a "true" way of dance, only to be true to yourself

Donna B said...

I think that dance is primarily a gift of God meant to express joy---the creativity and beauty of movement are part of that, but not at its core. The core is joy.

Adiel said...

I'd have to disagree that joy is the core of dance. I've danced with sorrow just as much as I've danced joyfully. But I do agree that our emotion and expression are at the core of dance and the "artsy" and beautiful parts are secondary.
I'm not trying to find a definition for dance, but dance is such a mysterious thing to me that I couldn't help but ask questions and wonder about it.

Donna B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna B said...

There are dances of sorrow, I know. I have never danced them. Sorrow takes the dance out of me. Perhaps my sorrow has never been deep enough. Perhaps therefore my underlying joy has never been deep enough. Or perhaps my faith is so small that I cannot count even my common everyday sorrows as joy.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 puts mourning and dancing as opposites.Perhaps it was Christ's coming and conquering death that makes mourning itself so it can be clothed in dance. I still think that joy is at the core of the dance.

I don't think that beauty is secondary, really. I think it is necessary, at least when we get to talking about ideals. I guess, to answer your original question more directly, I would say that "true" "ideal" dance, would be the perfect expression of joy, not precluding sorrow. That perfect expression is by definition, beautiful.

so there is a lot of dance out there that *is* dance, that imho, would come closer to athleticism or art than to ideal dance, to the purpose of dance.

Adiel said...

Donna B,
What you've said makes a lot of sense. While I'm still not sure we can truly define something like dance and what its purpose is (the same goes for music, painting, etc.) but I think the way you've described true dance is insightful and helpful. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.