Tuesday 29 November 2011

Dance is not necessarily Art

When people dance at parties or in nightclubs, they are not making art. People dance to celebrate good luck, or to encourage their team, or for religious purposes, or because it's what they do, like the round dance they do in Catalonia on Sundays. I don't think any of that is art. But all these things are timeless and common and part of daily life.

Sometimes I enjoy watching good dancers dance, but that doesn't mean they have any artistic intent, and it doesn't mean that I am doing the same thing as someone consuming art.

There's nothing wrong with artistic dance. Lots of dance is certainly art. But it is wrong to talk as though dance is necessarily performance, and that non-artistic, non-performance dance is some sort of inferior 'just-for-fun' offshoot, defined as low-quality, because high-quality dance would be art. This belief does real harm to people who would enjoy non-art dance and be good at it, and real harm to dance communities.

The concerns, priorities and purposes of art are totally different from my concerns, priorities and purposes when I'm dancing, and they're mostly incompatible. This is a problem that non-art dancers have to solve when they are asked to give a demonstration to satisify other people's (totally reasonable) curiosity - a problem tackled by Elizabeth here and by Melina here. I like performances that solve this problem well and inform the curious without without misinforming them. It's not easy to do, it requires thought and self-awareness as well as empathy with the audience.

You see this unexamined assumption, that dance is a subset of art, in virtually all mainstream-media references to dance. It irritates me how non-art dance - surely the majority of all dance, considered worldwide - is either presupposed out of existence, or horribly deformed by a totally imaginary requirement that it make sense as a performance.

There should be more people dancing, more commonly, than there are, without being obliged to feel all artistic about it. And without feeling that if they ever get good, they'll automatically be artists and expected to teach or perform. Those are all totally different vocations and have no necessary connection with each other, or with just dancing. They're not needed to validate the quality of anyone's dance. (And they don't, incidentally).

Being an excellent social (or indeed solo, or religious, or football-terrace) dancer is a valid and possible goal, and it's always nice to have more of them.


Anonymous said...

you are such a joy to read - clear, clean, crisp prose. A breath of fresh air, a calm refuge from torrents of verbosity

msHedgehog said...

@Anonymous; thank you, you are very kind.

Tango en el Cielo said...

Yes I quite agree - dance is not necessarily art.
But is this is "a problem that non-art dancers have to solve when they are asked to give a demonstration"? My dear friend Ricardo Vidort, a much-admired milonguero, did not regard himself as an artist. He was often asked to give a demonstration, and gladly did so on most occasions (when he liked the person who asked). He never asked for money. He just got up and danced EXACTLY the same as he danced in the milonga or at home. Nothing more. He danced for himself and his partner not for the audience. So for him it was not a problem, or, if it was, it was not his problem and he didn't have to solve it. (Perhaps it's only a problem that has to be solved if you're trying to make money out of performing or trying to use performances as a way of attracting new students to make money from.)

msHedgehog said...

@Tango in el Cielo - yes, that was his solution to the problem, and people who solve the problem successfully (in my opinion) all do something very similar to that.

Tango Therapist said...

I am getting to this very late, but I do like your ideas here. Nothing needs to be challenged or changed. However, there is a paradox to this whole question, and paradoxes usually are markers for something profound (in physics just as much as with theology). So let me just suggest, that your post helps people understand the art of not dancing artistically. :-) That is truly a wonderful paradox. However, there are those who claim that they are not artists, but then do a performance that is a waltz, a tango and a milonga and then do an encore! People clap! And the "non-performers" bow. Many in the audience would rather be dancing. One was okay, but 3 or four? In this often repeated situation, I wonder if the paradox has just turned into a simple denial that outsider anthropologist studying this "tribe" would immediately identify for what it is: Art. Perhaps it is not art or a performance. You'll have to judge for yourself: Not adoring friends or students but the non-performers uploaded it onto YouTube for you and the world to see how dance can be done in such a way that it is not a performance! :-)