I just read a blog post by a dancer describing a class and I could not stop laughing. I do not think the author intended the content to be humorous, but as I read the quotes she included from the class, as the choreographer tried to explain what she was looking for, I kept thinking, “No wonder we have so much trouble connecting with the rest of the world!” As dancers, we think it is perfectly normal to walk around in bare feet, sit with our legs splayed, and lie on any floor, no matter how dirty. To the rest of the world, that is not normal behavior. Describing movement as coming from the bones rather than the muscles does not translate into normal human-speak. Weight-sharing. Improvisation. Breath. The words we use to talk about movement — fluid, sharp, like seaweed, cat-like, spiral, flick — these words are important and descriptive, but they are intimidating and confusing to many. I heard myself describing a combination recently as a “Gooey spiral with sharp, contrasting jolts.” Does that mean anything to someone outside of the dance studio?
I get angry at audiences when they clap at the athleticism and flexibility of a dancer. It’s not a sport. It is an art. It’s not about how many turns they did or how high their leg is, it is about what they are saying through those turns and with that flexible leg. But when you haven’t been trained in the language of the body, can you even see that? If you cannot speak of the gooey spiral, can you see past the athlete and to the artist?
As artists we struggle with how to communicate with the rest of the world. I used to always think that as dancers, it is impossible for us to grow our audiences and help people appreciate our art if we don’t educate them about what they should be looking for and how to describe what it is they see. I still believe such an education is important. But I’m starting to think that the onus might be more on us as dancers to learn to speak to the world outside of the studio. The majority of the world is not versed in LMA, they cannot critique a dancer’s skill, and are not necessarily turned off by a sickled foot. They have a visceral reaction to a piece of choreography. They like it or they don’t. It makes them feel something or it doesn’t. It makes them think or it doesn’t. They are impressed by the skill of the dancers or they are not. And that’s it. And if we, as dancers, want to connect with those people — to sell them tickets, to get their donations — it is our responsibility to make work that they like, that makes feel, that makes them think, and that impresses them.
I used to always think that the majority of the world was unable to speak my language because they are uneducated. I thought it was my job to educate them. But perhaps my job is to communicate with them. Speak their language. Let them educate me. Perhaps if we start speaking in a language that most people understand they will understand what we are trying to say.