Monday, September 9, 2013

I think I just became a Dance Activist.

I didn't plan for it to happen. 

I was always just interested in the questions. How does dance fit into our lives? What is the difference between an artist and a hobbyist?  How can artists make money when we don't save lives like brain surgeons? But, can't art save lives in other ways?  Why doesn't dance have a well used notation system like music?  If theater has dramaturgs, and music has musicologists, what does dance have? 

I didn't know I was opening can after can of worms by asking this stuff. I thought it was just part of loving dance.  And it is, but part of loving dance is protecting it as well.

A month into my new position as Co-president of the California Dance Educators Association (CDEA), I realize now that there is no turning back.  There are huge injustices in the performing arts world and now that I know more about their realities on the state legislative level, I can't just sit back and watch. 

The current issues at hand are the struggling status of dance programs at the Community College level and the lack of a single subject teaching credential for dance in K-12. . .

But, mostly I am tired of the public opinion of dance as a hobby.  Part of this is due to the current consumption of dance in entertainment.  Dance is a sellable commodity. We consume dance most everyday in music videos, dance shows, and advertisements. We love to buy what dance sells.  And, dance has proven to be a great selling agent.

Face it! Dance sells just like music sells. But when we talk about dance selling, we are usually talking about sex selling as well.  Is that the problem?  Is dance's relegated status due to a left over puritanical belief system that founded American culture?  It seems impossible when the news is so busy selling Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMA's. But, because that is the news, that is the image we are giving dance.  Dance as bad, inappropriate, too sexual. 

This is perhaps the nature in the rift between commercial dance and concert dance.  If it is sexy it could (and very likely will) be appropriated to be used as a selling device.  After all the most favorable dances in SYTYCD are the sexy ones! No one is is wearing a burlap sack on Dancing With the Stars.  We forget that these shows are selling something! They are selling ratings! the result is a stronger alienation of the sexy from the nonsexy within the dance world.  It draws the line between commercial dance and "art" dance for the wrong reason.  No wonder people are confused!

Until people start thinking about dance differently, the culture surrounding dance can't change.  But, who is going to change their minds?  Why should they? The engine of the world seems to be functioning just fine using dance as it does.  But, is it? 

We have returned to a relationship with dance that was popular in the 1890's. It was dance as other: dance as the elite, for the elite, consumed by the elite to maintain the elite.  1890's was the height of Classical ballet. It was a brilliant era of fantastic dancers, incredible technique, strength and control! But, not all was well in the dance world.  Even the dance elite became tired of this formula for entertainment.  Soon, the dance world itself rebelled in the form of Modern dance and Modern ballet.  Dance needed to return to the people.  

Right now dance is largely misunderstood as fun.  But, any dance artist can tell you, there is plenty that is not fun about being a dancer or dance artist.  Being hypersexualized is only one example.  Being mis-perceived as a hobby is by far the worst for me.

So, when I advocate I am not just writing letters to the state. I am talking about dance differently to everyone I know.
  • I speak of dance as a practice for understanding oneself and the world.  I see dance as the ultimate vehicle for self reflection and self awareness.  
  • It is also the ideal opportunity to learn teamwork in the form of ensemble.  
  • Dance is our chance to feel human down to the core and to express our humanity in a form that extends far beyond words.  
  • Dance is therapeutic: physically, mentally and psychologically.
  • Healthy dance keeps bodies in good health and minds sharper for old age.
  • The skill of a dance artist exists in a deep understanding of her physical body, the space it occupies and the message it conveys.    
Until our culture sees the study of dance equal to the study of history or philosophy, we have not gone far enough in our advocacy efforts.  The person who describes dance as "just fun" doesn't see the art of what we do yet. 

And, a warning to all dancers: that person may very well be you.

Question:  How does dance change how you see the world? How does dance change how you view yourself in the world?  Has dance saved your life?

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