Art Out of Reach

September 16, 2008
By James

Nobody goes to watch live dance anymore.

I mean, it’s difficult enough to find the time and money to catch a 7:15 movie, let alone a dance show that will only happen once or twice a year. At let’s be honest: there’s a lot of really poor dancing to be seen, and watching it is like going to a bad movie - you know you’re not going back to ever see that one again. And sometimes: it’s just too hard to understand. It’s music you’ve never heard on any of your five radio stations. Funny costumes - tutus? It’s hard to take in what’s important - why is there no instant replay? And how can you really appreciate it when it looks like they’re not working that hard?

Sometimes dance - and other art - pushes people away because only an elite few understand it. But that, to me, isn’t very good dance.


I think art should say something. This, I’m sure, is the minority view within our wonderfully tolerant post-modern culture; I won’t try to echo the full debate here.

Personally, I don’t want to spend time to see a blank canvas, a vacant movie screen, a silent orchestra, or a formless lump of clay. I have plenty of access to silent things if I really need to meditate. If your art has no voice, then you’ve lost my interest in hearing it; by your own admission, there isn’t anything for me to hear.

Art should have a voice. (Which is different than having a message.) And that voice should move me - to tears, to change, to grow, to remember, to forget - I don’t care which. But don’t just leave me unchanged. I feel dance - good dance - speaks in emotions.


But people are afraid they have to “get it” before they can fully enjoy it. If they don’t catch every nuance, then their opinion or interpretation suddenly doesn’t count? If you can’t technically judge the dancing, determining the quality of turns, degrees of turnout, height of leaps, stretch of arms, direction of head and groundedness of feet then you’re not in a position to say whether the dance was any good. Right? Of course.

Just like… every time you turn on the radio, you judge the quality of the voice, variation in the chord progression, blend of the harmonies, rhythm of the counter-melody and poetic nuance of the lyrics before deciding “I like that song and I want to hear it again.” - right?

Dance Like the Radio

What if you could approach dance as easily as you approached songs on the radio? No, it won’t ever be quite as convenient, but what if a live performance could speak to you as simply and plainly as that song that will forever remind you of your true love, or loss thereof? What if a dance could take you somewhere else for a few minutes, and remind you there is more to life than the mundanity of fighting for parking or doing another load of laundry? And I’ll be the first to say that all those technical elements are a part of the voice of the dance; but they’re more the syllables, not words.

You wouldn’t listen to a song sung off key; you don’t want to watch dance that’s danced poorly. But you don’t need to understand the physics of a triple pirouette to enjoy what a dance is saying.

Human Dance

I went to see Lisa Deyo’s recent dance show, and loved every single piece. More significantly, I remember every single piece.

I’ve seen a lot of dances, and forgotten most of them almost as soon as they were over. They may have been technically excellent… but many didn’t say a whole lot. (And I know: my dance friends from my modern class think I’m missing the point entirely. Anyhow…) And even with Lisa’s pieces, I barely remember any “outstanding” steps or superb execution of moves, though I know both were present.

I can’t forget the way they made me feel, though. The show was danced by humans - human who also happened to be outstanding dancers - and the dances dealt with human things and human emotions. Loneliness, relationships, hope, heartbreak, awkward party mistakes — those same themes we all come back to hear over and over again. (Okay, maybe not the last one…)

My favorite moments - the ones I most clearly remember - were not “dance” moments. They were moments of stillness and emotion… I saw, across the stage, someone else experience the loneliness I have felt. Or a moment where a woman said to her friend (in dance), “I understand.” Or moments of awkward proximity and nervous hope as two friends took the risk of holding hands. Or moments when, dancing at a party, recognition dawns that you’re not as popular as you thought you were.

They were the moments, in other words, that helped remind me I’m human and share a lot not just with other humans, but those humans right there on the stage. Like artists of all other mediums, the dancers risked something personal in themselves, put it on display, and then let it go.

I know I didn’t catch everything. I didn’t fully understand it all. I can’t recall all the choreography. But that wasn’t the point for me.

I smiled a lot; I cried a little, and I heard what someone was saying through her art form. It was a blessing and a privilege.

It’s too difficult

It’s too difficult to go watch live dance any more.

Poor quality dance is hard to watch. Technically excellent dance may speak its own language only, not ours. But really great dance won’t be out of reach.

Really great dance is by humans, for humans, and will speak in emotion. Anyone can understand that. Anyone can take that in. And perhaps in our world of increasingly digital faux-connectedness, that’s not such a bad thing.

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