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TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?

This is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, and is a fairly controversial topic, as there will always be strong views for either side. Before I continue, I’d just like to say that I am in no way advocating poor technique, or the lack of, as we all know technique and good form help keep us as dancers safe and injury free. It’s more to do with current trends in the dance world and of course, personal opinions will always come into play.

With the rise of social media, National T.V competitions and reality shows, dance – and dancers, have been projected not only into the lime light, but into the lives of young aspiring dancers everywhere. They follow their favourite dancers week by week, voting for them to get through to the next stage. They follow their social media accounts with enthusiasm, marvelling at each new pose they post. Instagram has a particularly large and influential dance community, as t.v and professional dancers from all over the world display their craft. Professionals. People who have spent years upon years honing and perfecting their craft with complete and total dedication. And of course much like you and I, they only post the very best photos, the ones that are timed just right to get that perfect shot, the grande jete beyond 180 degrees, the developpe a la seconde by their ear, and the ever popular ‘crotch shot’ aka side tilt, which seems to be as common as leg warmers in the movie Fame! In fact, it’s that common, and some say distasteful, that it has its own hashtag ‘#stopthecrotchshot

We live in a world where how many ‘likes’ your photo receives, dictates how good you are as a dancer. So naturally, young dancers are wanting to emulate the idols they follow, and post the best dance pose they can, hoping to rack up the likes. This has also transpired into choreography. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. More and more I see dancers at festivals show off their acquired skills, one into another, into another, but it’s getting to the point where they are almost showing off. Yes, of course, that’s what they are aiming for. They want to wow the audience and adjudicators with the amazing tricks and displays of hyper flexibility, however these elements are beginning to roll into one another, BAM, BAM, BAM! Quite often, these are the dancers that are placed. The ones who thrill us with their continual display of talent. But is it that thrilling?!

For me, Dance has always been about telling a story, being able to dance with such emotion that the audience pick up on the vibrations, making the hairs on their arms stand on end. You know the exact feeling I’m talking about. A good dancer can move you to tears. It’s part of the magic. You feel like you’ve been let into a private moment. It’s intoxicating, and leaves you wanting more. Can this simply be achieved by a display of capability? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, a well placed trick or element can really add a spectacular highlight to the dance, but it’s more than that. What about the steps in between, the facial expressions to convey the feeling, a well placed pause, a moment of stillness can hold so much tension and captivate an audience so much so the atmosphere is almost tangible. This is the true art of dance surely. To be able to give yourself so fully to a piece, to bare your soul, that the audience are able to re tell the story back, as they live it with you. Martha Graham famously said “great dancers are not great because of their talent. They are great because of their passion” and I think that speaks volumes.

But this doesn’t stop at tricks, and here’s where I could become unpopular with my view, it can also be true of actual technique too. Let’s set the scene……….local dance festival, lots of competitors in a section. There’s that one girl who has been genetically blessed for Dance……..the almost flat turn out, legs for days with slight hyperextended knees giving beautiful lines, feet that arch like bananas, and all the grace and beauty of any prima ballerina that has passed. But she lacks something. That spark behind her eyes, the fire in her belly, the calling from deep within her soul. She dances because she is good at it, REALLY good, but what drives her? Does she perform and project? No, she is selfish with her performance, and has a face like she’s simply stood waiting for a bus. Dare I say it………perhaps slightly boring! Cue the girl that isn’t so genetically blessed. Her legs aren’t as long, she doesn’t have the best turn out but she works with what she’s got and she pointed her feet as much as they allow, but she has something special. She has that ‘X’ factor. She doesn’t want to dance, she needs to. Her face visibly comes alive as soon as she steps on the stage and the audience know instantly they’re in for a treat. She captivated them so much, you can hear a pin drop. It’s also visible when you watch a group dance. There will always be that one dancer who catches your eye whether they are at the front or back. They catch your eye because they perform! They use their face as well as their body. They dance with such passion that it oozes from ever pore. It’s what an audience want to see. They want to watch someone who is interesting and intriguing, who’s fire burns so brightly they too can feel the heat and they get that all over tingling sensation that brings tears to your eyes. Someone who moves them when they dance. It’s echoed very much in the computer animated film ‘Ballerina‘(or Leap if you’re in the U.S) Effectively a battle between a talented girl who’s danced all her life, but dances because that’s what she’s always done, and a girl who has dreamed of being a dancer but wasn’t given the same opportunities, but her passion and determination she’s her through. It makes such a good story, because it’s a true one, “nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich

So who would win? Ultimately, it’s down to the individual adjudicators, and again, this varies. Some favour perfect technique over performance, but I will always be swayed by that special something a dancer gives. In a perfect world, a dancer would have both, and these rare creatures are the ones that make it pro, all the way to the top, but they are just that, a rarity. Don’t let that stop you though, there is a growing trend in the dance world. Things are changing, slowly, but for the better. Companies are beginning to hire different dancers, differently by age, build race, but that’s a whole other blog post………

So what is your opinion? Which camp do you lie? Are you Team Felice or Team Camille? Content or creativity?

Dance Niche

4 Replies to “TECHNIQUE vs PERFORMANCE – Are we losing the art of dancing?”

  1. I posted comments to my FB page. Let’s not forget “Black Swan” and the most awful dance series ever’ “Flesh and Bone.” Granted there were some incredibly talented dancers but the story lines(drug addiction, sex, bulimia, self-harm, incest, etc) were so insulting to all dancers. Also the leads couldn’t dance especially Black SWan with dance doubles for almost everything who never really got the right credit!

    1. Was this meant to be posted on the dance movies blog Jeanne? I totally agree with you, that they take issues to the extreme so people think that all dancers do those things, which is totally untrue. Black swan does feature on the list, and yes they used dance doubles. It was a shame the actual dancers never got credit, but that’s Hollywood for you!

  2. You have hit upon how social media creates reactions in people, and that in itself is an entire blog post. So, to that point of social media, I will say. It is not reality, it removes people from reality. Basing anything on getting likes is weakening our social fabric and is non-productive. Now, how much of you two teams choice does this address? I am not so sure because I’m not taking the time to go back and analyze the phenomenon. I am responding off the top of my head so to speak. Individual taste is just that, it is individual, one man’s hyperextended leg is more beautiful yet another man cringes at the sight. What Mr. B thought of as more beautiful does not mean that I find what he saw as more beautiful. I see a melding of different worlds now in dance, I see contortionists on pointe, where they never were prior to the shift. I see circus tricks taking precedence over classical style and timeless classic elegance of line. I see the technical prowess taking center stage over and above passion. I’ll take passion any day. It is the words which are spoken that speaks to the heart, and while grammatical correctness is the standard, ultimately is comes down to what is being said. In dance we speak through movement, and which is more to our liking, the passion given or the so-called perfection of technique? I’ll take passion. The saying, “it doesn’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing,” applies. Each of us has their own definition of what, “swing,” means. To me it is not most likes, it is not the 180 whatever, next best trick, it is giving of one’s soul, one’s heart, stripping away all facade and giving a performance. In Flamenco the dancer who possesses duende captures the love of the audience and holds them in suspension, weaving magic. In ballet, it is the same. If all you have to offer is technical perfection, then I’d say you may be a curiosity but you will never rise to the level of being an artist. A technique may astound but it does not take one away to another place. Passion combined with a modicum of artistry can and does. So my meter land on the side of passion. Passion for content, and passion for creativity. Which may fit neither of your slots? It is late and I’m not correcting my grammar, but in so doing may my point be made more clear if you get my drift.

    1. I do get your drift, and in essence we are the same, the same in that it is passion what drives us. That for me is what dancing is about more than technical ability. I just feel currently that the passion to tell a story is being lost sadly

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