Discovering dance ought to be an enlightening experience for people of all ages as the learning process never really ends. There are always new ways to think about the basics of movement, more advanced skills and qualities to develop and emerging choreographic approaches to appreciate.
A comprehensive dance education therefore requires more than a narrow focus on perfecting technique. After all, as Martha Graham declared, “great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion”. Indeed, the belief that being curious about, and devoted to, all things dance will improve our understanding, interpretation and reification of the art form really resonates with me.
Dancers spend countless hours practising in the studio but it is important to remember that dance as an art form does not exist in a vacuum. Everyone in the dance community – including dance students, dance teachers and dance admirers – ought to challenge themselves to really experience the multifaceted nature of dance in all its glory and keep learning. Doing so might involve delving into terpsichorean* history; examining terminology; getting acquainted with anatomy; investigating professional dancers, choreographers, musicians and works of note; or pursuing personal research interests.
Quite simply, using your time outside of the studio to further your subject knowledge in an alternative manner may be the best thing you can do to nurture your love of dancing…
Exploring the history of dance can really open your eyes to how far dancers, choreographers and audiences have come. Indeed, the history of dance runs parallel to the development of the human race so there is sure to be some element that will capture your attention and illuminate how dynamic and ever-changing the world of dance is. It doesn’t matter if you opt to get lost in the pages of a book or prefer to search the internet for fascinating facts and archived video footage – acquiring insight into the history of the art form you love will give your present-day experiences of dance added meaning. Not to mention excite and inspire you for all the future transformations that dance – and society as a whole – has yet to undergo!
Words are wonderful. As a writer I delight in finding ways to describe the things I have seen or done, express how experiences make me feel and articulate my thoughts. Dance may be a form of communication which conveys what words cannot but we do use words to classify, select, discuss and review movement. Hence, having a solid grasp of the terminology used is essential. Knowing terms, identifying certain steps and being familiar with the words different teachers might use when setting choreography takes practise outside of class. Nonetheless, being conversant in dance terminology will not only give you wordy wisdom when watching dance or dancing yourself, it also embeds you even further into a niche culture.
Whether moving to music in the ballet studio or simply being active in everyday life, we all appreciate our bodies for what they enable us to do. As a dance student, teacher or admirer, broadening your awareness of anatomy as it relates to dance could be a smart move. Furthering your understanding might prove beneficial for participation in technique classes; make observing dancing even more fascinating; give you the know-how needed to improve your flexibility; enhance your general health and fitness; and perhaps even help you to minimise risk of injury and be more informed about injury rehabilitation.
Teaching dance involves fostering other people’s enjoyment of dancing and helping them to understand, acquire and improve technique. A sound understanding of anatomy will therefore benefit a teacher when working with students, equipping them with the information they need to safely become better and healthier dancers themselves, while also able to appreciate the demands placed on the bodies of professional dancers. After all, unlike athletes, dancers are artists. They are required to perform without revealing the sheer physical effort movement entails in their facial expression or body language. In this sense, the dance enthusiast who take steps to become more aware of dance anatomy will become a more informed observer of dance – they will be a more empathetic class participant and a more enlightened audience member. Learning about your body is learning how to use your body as a dancer.
Watching performances is surely the most enjoyable aspect of furthering your dance education outside the studio! Discovering both established and emerging professional dancers and choreographers and being aware of all that is out there in the wider world of dance is essential to broadening your horizons as a dance lover. There is such a variety on offer that I really advocate taking an interest in – and trying to see – new dance works of all types. You won’t like everything you see (and that is perfectly acceptable – expected, even) but keeping abreast of the diversity will help you, as an individual, to remain in sync with dance, despite its constant transformation and evolution.
The most important thing to remember is that learning should be personal. You need to find out what matters to you and how you can best use the knowledge you glean. You might like to write about your discoveries, draw pictures to demonstrate your understanding and cue you to remember information, or respond creatively in some other way (perhaps a danced “reply” or tribute to a dance work in an established choreographer’s style?).
If you endeavour to make an effort to learn something extra about an aspect of dance, you will be surprised at how much this insight can fuel your passion, focus your mind and even inspire you to work smarter when you are dancing in the studio yourself!
I love to read around a subject before writing a response and indulge in this by putting together previews and reviews and publishing my thoughts in posts like these. As a dance educator, I have created a range of dance resources which I hope may prove useful as tools for learning and also galvanise readers to get researching themselves.
Martha Graham is also attributed to the quote: “Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery”. I wholeheartedly agree so please do get out there and make your own discoveries…
* Terpsichore was one of the nine muses in Greek mythology. As the goddess of dance and chorus, her name means “delight in dancing“. Terpsichore lends her name to the adjective ‘terpsichorean‘ which means “relating to dancing“.
*Pointe shoes, Posture, Knees over Toes, Plumb Line and Ballet Positions drawings by Georgina Butler.
*Dance In Extremis Anatomy and Georgina Butler Dance Teacher illustrations by Ballet Papier artist Berenice.