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We Are All Dancers

Angie Smith
Dance 261: Dance Orientation
November 21, 2016

We Are All Dancers


Dance is organized movement. It is inherent in life itself. There is dance in the precisely patterned
movements of the planets as they orbit in perfect ellipses around each other. There is dance in the growth
patterns of plants and the ebb and flow of bodies of water and the single-file processions of colonies of
ants. Every living thing has a unique movement potential codified into their body. There is, however, a
divide between dancer and non-dancer in perception and understanding of dance. While I see dance in
everything around me, for many outside of the dance world, dance has a confusing place in society,
somehow different from other art forms. The human body carries both personal and social identity1, with
movement being a language to convey social norms and possessing the capacity to bend these norms.
Dance that doesnt conform to the body norms placed upon it is often jarring for audience members to
watch. However, carefully designed and performed dance has the capacity to be hugely moving, because of
its emphasis on something so essential to human existence as the body. I believe dance to be an application
and exploration of sociological concepts, whose end goal is to edify viewers, either through uplifting,
informing, or creating deep personal connections.
The human body carries time-old symbolism, giving dance the power to build off of the emotions in
audience associations with these symbolisms. These symbolisms include day-to-day bodily actions like
birth and death as well as emotions with physical repercussions like love and anger2. Dance can let these
associations inform movement to create an aesthetic that is both visually pleasing and emotionally
poignant. Choreographers have the obligation to consider audience expectations and experiences that might
influence their perception of a dance, because each individual will have such varied experiences,
1 Albright, Ann Cooper. Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary

Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1997. Print.


2 Hanna, Judith Lynne. The Performer-audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in
Dance and Society. Austin: U of Texas, 1983. Print.

preferences, and opinions3. I find it a downfall among dancers to design choreography for other dancers, so
that dance is always pushing itself further and further into its own world instead of into the world of its
audience. In order to fully utilize the power that dance can have to connect deeply with audience members
through symbolic and emotional associations with certain movements, choreographers have to explore
movement that is both familiar to the nondancer as well as unfamiliar enough to maintain the magic and
surprise of dance.
Dance inherently deals with human relationship. Immediately when we see a body on a stage, we
project social stereotypes and expectations onto the body. We analyze whether it is male or female, black or
white, disabled or nondisabled4. Audiences create visual categories by which to judge the worth of the body
on the stage because they are separated, generally by a stage, from having a personal relationship with the
performer. With one body alone on a stage, the audience uses visual cues to create a relationship with the
dancer. Effective movement will connect with the audience, even if it is for no other reason than that both
audience and dancer share the fundamental human condition of having a body.5 When two dancers are
placed on a stage, the relationship shifts to one to be analyzed by audience members. Audiences make
assumptions about the relationship based on similar visual categories. A black man dancing with a white
woman, racial stereotypes aside, will have tension by way of color contrast. Our society has interesting
sexuality stereotypes, as well. Where seeing two men dancing together closely often harbors ideas of
homosexuality or effeminacy, the sight of two women dancing together is generally considered sexually
ambiguous. There is no pre-supposed relationship when we see two women partnering closely on stage. A
3 Ibid
4 Hanna, Judith Lynne. The Performer-audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in
Dance and Society. Austin: U of Texas, 1983. Print.

5 Humphrey, Doris. (1959). The Art of Making Dances. New York: Grove.

fascinating example of this comes in Alejandro Cerrudos Cloudless, where two women partner each
other with moves that if performed by a man and a woman would be very romantic6. Having the
movements performed by two women allows the audience to project their own meaning onto the dance
which can be interpreted many different ways.
Not only is relationship inherent in the visual aesthetic of the human body, but in every step of the
process of making dance. Every step of the creation process requires community cooperation. Dancers
rarely rehearse alone for hours on end like musicians, but require every performer to be a part of the
rehearsal process. Dancers, in order to perform, require a strong relationship with each other. This comes
across in performance, as the dancers express their relationship with each other in the emotion they give to
the dance they are performing. Christopher Wheeldon, a renowned choreographer of today, said that
relationship is essential to any effective dance7. He spoke mostly of the relationship between dancers, seen
in reaches and glances, but also of relationship with the music and performance space. Even when only one
individual is performing, there remains a relationship between the dancer and the dance. Good dance is
fueled by passion and proves the dancers dedication to their art form.
In more ways than just relationship, dance acts as an examination of cultural norms. Judith Hanna,
author of The Performer-Audience Connection said, Dance performances provide a non-experimental
laboratory to explore what is apparently shared in the broader society.8 And later, We can view dance
6 Hubbard Street Dance. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Cloudless by Alejandro

Cerrudo. Online video clip. Youtube, Mar. 2, 2015. Web. November 21, 2016.

7 New York City Ballet. Christopher Wheeldon at NYC Ballet. Online video clip. Youtube,

Sept. 26, 2013. Web. May 26, 2016.


8 Hanna, Judith Lynne. The Performer-audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in
Dance and Society. Austin: U of Texas, 1983. Print.

performances as a window on the non-dance world and a way to gain insight into the human condition
(Hanna, 8). Dance then acts as a bridge between the dance and non-dance world and a place free from, but
still influenced by, the specific norms of each. Just as a performance differs from technique class, it is also
far removed from the everyday movement vocabulary and associated cultural norms. Dancer and audience
meet halfway between the norms of their worlds to create a socially-acceptable place to challenge societal
body and movement norms.
Dance utilizes and experiments with societal concepts of time, space, effort, and human history9.
Every dance, whether conforming to the expected or not, addresses and makes a comment on these
concepts. To start with time, music plays a large role in determining audience perception of time and
stretches audiences away from our societys quotidian hyper-awareness of the passing of time. Space can
be examined both through how the stage space is utilized as well as how movement interprets a unique
performance site. Site-specific dance asks audience members to reexamine a space and see beyond the
practical uses for a space to the movement potential inherent in the architecture. Moving on, effort is a
concept that dancers ponder a lot while learning technique. Many movements, while extremely physically
demanding, are meant to be performed with ease to create a suspension of the knowledge of the human
bodys limits. Studies have shown that mirror neurons in the brain stimulate audience members so that they
can feel as if they are performing the same movements as the dancers10. Performing with ease then creates
a pleasurable sense of ease for audience members. On the other hand, dance has the capacity to add a
highly physical aspect to quotidian movements. Finally, human history encompasses everything else that
each human will associate with a movement based on their knowledge of the human body throughout
history. The strict posture of ballet, for example, draws on our associations of the stiffness of the time
9 Ibid
10 Krakauer, John. (2008). Why do we like to dance--And move to the beat?. Scientific

American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/e xperts-dance/.

period in which it originated, while the looseness of post-modern dance draws on the culture of sexual
looseness of the 60s. By mimicking popular perceptions of a dance forms historical body language,
knowledge and understanding of that time period are perpetuated.
Though I have been dancing for most of my life, the true power of dance is something that I have
stumbled on relatively recently. The more encounters that I have with the true power and emotion of dance,
the more fascinating it becomes to me. Dance can bridge barriers of difference, both among performers as
they design a reality separate from the prejudices and norms of our society, as well as among audience
members from vastly different backgrounds. Without any embellishment, the human body alone is
powerful, beautiful, and carries an emotional narrative in the way it can move- that means every human
body, no matter shape, size, or natural talent for dance. Dance is a celebration and exploration of how the
human body can communicate. It deserves to be enjoyed by every soul that possesses a body.

Bibliography
Albright, Ann Cooper. Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary
Dance. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1997. Print.
Hanna, Judith Lynne. The Performer-audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in Dance and
Society. Austin: U of Texas, 1983. Print.
Hubbard Street Dance. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Cloudless by Alejandro Cerrudo.
Online video clip. Youtube, Mar. 2, 2015. Web. November 21, 2016.
Humphrey, Doris. (1959). The Art of Making Dances. New York: Grove.
Krakauer, John. (2008). Why do we like to dance--And move to the beat?. Scientific American.
Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-dance/.
New York City Ballet. Christopher Wheeldon at NYC Ballet. Online video clip. Youtube, Sept.
26, 2013. Web. May 26, 2016.