National dance forum 2015


Image by Zaytsev Artem

The Australian National Dance Forum has been on for the last 3 days in Melbourne and I was interested to read the forum outline, session detail and provocations.

One of the things that leapt out at me was the focus on innovation in dance and the associated commentary about diversity.

Because I originally trained in the visual arts I have always been interested in the image-making potential of dance, and in particular, its sculptural and photographic qualities. I’ve dabbled in dance video and virtual dance genres and researched the intersections between design and form in dance and art. As a visual artist who became a dance teacher and choreographer, I have always been interested in innovation in dance.

There were several thought-provoking questions posed for this forum in the section labelled The subtleties and nuances of innovation. (see full list below)

There is endless fodder for discussion in those 6 questions below, but I’ll just take the first one as a starting point:

Why [in dance] do we continually search for the new, the different and who drives that agenda?

My summary take on this question:

Dance is an art form and in the arts we are always innovating. If we didn’t, we would just trot out the same old dance steps and the same old ballets. Oh wait, they do don’t they? I changed from ‘we’ to ‘they’ because I have always believed there are different ways of approaching dance—#1 as an artistic and creative form made by dance artists; and #2 as a craft or a technical process dressed up for presentation. There is at least one other type where dance is for ritual purpose only, and not primarily for an audience, but I’m not referring to that type of dance here.

I’ve come to love the concept of craft and the technical process in recent years, in relation to my own art-making. I appreciate that so many before me have developed these crafting skills and that so many more get pleasure from engaging with them every minute of every day. But there is a difference between a craft hobby and making art. There is a difference between doing dance classes and performing in the dance concert; and innovating in the dance form to engage an audience with deeply interesting ideas about the world.

We search for the new in dance because we don’t want to see the same stories and the same aesthetics over and over again. As dance artists we want to show audiences what is unique about us, what is meaningful to us. We want to interact with audiences with a highly personalised dance vocabulary and ideas that set us apart.

I’m still thinking about who should drive the agenda. Surely the dance artists should drive the agenda? Should the audience also drive the agenda? Should educators, arts organisations and funding bodies also drive the agenda? Should technology, shifting theatrical conventions and innovation in other art forms also drive the agenda?

I have stated in previous posts that  I don’t think there is much in dance at the moment that is innovative. There are some interesting dance videos and documentaries but I haven’t seen many promos for theatre dance lately without thinking that I’ve seen it all before. Perhaps I should get out more.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see what the National dance forum participants discuss.

Agenda excerpt: The subtleties and nuances of innovation

Innovation reflects our response to the changing world and our ability (or search) to find our place within. It also reflects the changing/unchanging attitudes and our constant human will to connect and question who we are.

This line of focus proposes a series of question to include

  • Why do we continually search for the new, the different and who drives that agenda?
  • As we face the technology tsunami are we looking for the human or the authentic? Is this the essence or, is this irrelevant in terms of current trends?
  • With a growing emphasis in the Arts of equating numbers with success, what does this mean for dance?
  • With an increasing interest in work considered multi-artform, could dance, in its purest sense, be at risk?
  • How do we create dance that transcends cultural differences while still honoring tradition?
  • How do we best acknowledge the tradition of form in order to create the future?

Dance as an art form

Question: dance as an art form?

In the newly endorsed Australian Arts curriculum (see last post) dance as an art form will be taught and learnt in Australian schools. But what does dance as an art form mean?

Dance is one of five art forms in the Australian Arts Curriculum. The other four art forms are drama, media arts, music and visual arts.

Dance as an art form is dance that is choreographed and performed with the intention of creating meaning for an audience. The ‘creator’, that is the choreographer, the dancer, and/or the designer, has an intention which is revealed in the resolution of a dance work, and communication of meaning through that work.

We tend to go around in circles when trying to explain dance as an art form, as opposed to dance for other purposes. For example, what does the word ‘meaning’ mean, in relation to a dance work? We will deal with that conundrum in another post, perhaps. It is easier to make suggestions about WHAT IS NOT dance as an art form.

dance as an art form vs dance as social/physical activity

Dance can be a valuable social and physical activity, contributing to mental and physical health and wellbeing. But dancing purely for social or sporting purposes is not dance as an art form. In my book, the following types of dance do not fit the definition of dance as an art form:

  • aerobic dance and cheerleading
  • fad dance e.g. gangnam style, harlem shake
  • social and ballroom dancing
  • folk and ritual dance.

I’m not trying to be deliberately provocative with this list. But I am saying that these dance forms or categories do not fulfil the brief of a work, specifically designed to communicate meaning. When people dance, or create ‘dances’ in these forms they do so for a different purpose. Admittedly, some aspects of ballroom and folk dance are in the grey area. And there is definitely ‘art’ in folk dancing and competitive ballroom dance. Perhaps ‘craft’ is a better term to apply to these forms because they lack the artistic intention that innovates on, or pushes the boundaries of the form.

However, the movement content of these forms and styles can be used for artistic intentions. The key to deciding whether to use these styles in dance teaching is more about how you teach using that content.

We will talk further about choosing content in relation to teaching dance as an art form in future posts.