FEATURE: Discovering dance by learning beyond the studio, August 2023


Discovering dance ought to be an enlightening experience for people of all ages because 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 requires more than a narrow focus on perfecting technique. Indeed, Martha Graham declared that: “great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.” To have passion suggests possessing a depth of understanding, interpretation and reification that can only be realised by being curious, asking questions and reflecting on what you learn.

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 — students, teachers and audiences — ought to challenge themselves to really experience the multifaceted nature of dance by seizing opportunities to engage with it in different ways.


This might involve:

  • delving into terpsichorean* history
  • examining terminology
  • getting acquainted with anatomy
  • investigating dancers, choreographers, musicians and works of note
  • pursuing personal research interests.


Quite simply, using your time outside of the studio to further your subject knowledge may be the best thing you can do to nurture your love of dance.

I have created a range of dance resources, which I hope will prove to be useful for learning and teaching purposes. The rest of this feature will look more closely at the benefits of lifelong learning for dance enthusiasts.


'Dance Teacher' illustration for Georgina Butler by Ballet Papier artist Berenice. An illustration of Georgina dressed in a black leotard and purple ballet skirt, with a graduate's mortarboard hat on her head. She is holding a notebook in her left hand. In her right hand she is holding an old-fashioned bamboo cane (historically used by ballet teachers to demonstrate verticality and correct placement to students).



Dance history

Exploring the history of dance can really open your eyes to how far dancers, choreographers and audiences have come. 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. Whether you opt to visit a museum, get lost in the pages of a book or 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 have yet to undergo!


Dancing words

Words are wonderful. As a writer, I delight in finding ways to describe things I have seen or done, express how experiences make me feel and articulate my thoughts. Dance may be a form of communication that conveys what words cannot, but we do use words to classify, select, discuss and review movement. So, it is essential to have a solid grasp of relevant terminology. 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 will also help you feel part of the dance community.


Dancing bodies

Moving to music in the dance studio or being active in everyday life – you must always appreciate your body for what it enables you to do. Learning about anatomy in relation to dance could be a smart move whether you are a dance student, teacher or supporter.

Furthering your understanding will prove beneficial for your own participation in technique classes and make observing other people dancing even more fascinating. It will give you the know-how needed to: minimise your risk of injury, fully engage with injury rehabilitation, improve your flexibility and enhance your general health and fitness.

Teaching dance involves inspiring other people’s enjoyment of dancing and helping them to comprehend, acquire and improve technique. A teacher who has a sound understanding of anatomy will be able to equip dance students with the knowledge they need to safely become stronger, healthier dancers. And those dance students will be able to appreciate the demands placed on the bodies of professional dancers. So, they will become educated, empathetic dance class participants and enlightened audience members.


Dance performance

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. 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.


Discover dance for yourself

The most important thing to remember is that learning should be personal. You need to work out what matters to you and how you can make use of your newfound knowledge. You might like to write about your discoveries, draw pictures to demonstrate your understanding and help you to remember information, or respond creatively in some other way (perhaps a danced reply, or tribute, to a dance piece in an established choreographer’s style?).

If you make an effort to learn something new and reflect on your experiences, you will be surprised by how much this insight can ignite your interest, focus your mind and even inspire you to work smarter when you are dancing in the studio. I have created a range of dance resources, which I hope may serve as a useful starting point.

Martha Graham is also attributed to the quote: “Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.” I wholeheartedly agree, so get out there and make your own discoveries.




Terpsichore is one of the nine muses in Greek mythology. She is the goddess of dance and chorus, and her name means delight in dancing. Terpsichore lends her name to the adjective terpsichorean, which means relating to dancing.



*Illustration of Georgina by Ballet Papier artist Berenice.



An earlier version of this feature was published on the Ballet Papier blog.



Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.

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