What is dance?

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And why does it matter? These are the questions I ask myself constantly. I feel repeatedly forced to reexamine those questions in an effort to justify and validate the field (my reasons for that feeling are the subject of many, many blogs for the future). And the answers range from simple to incredibly complex, from remarkable to mundane.

But for today, let’s start at the beginning. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of dance is:

  • to move your body in a way that goes with the rhythm and style of music that is being played
  • to move with and guide (someone) as music plays : to dance with (someone)
  • to perform (a particular type of dance)

And yet, I’m not sure that I would choose any of these definitions to describe what I do or what I teach. While teaching my 9-12 year-old class yesterday, we focused on three very specific things: eye-contact, ¬†focus, and sincerity. I told them that when dancing before an audience, they are trying to tell a story, to elicit emotion, and to engage their observers. If they do not make eye-contact with one another, keep their focus steadily on wherever they are looking, and truly believe in the movement they are conveying, the dance will not translate for their audience. I asked them to move to music, I asked them to dance with someone, and I asked them to perform, but to me, not one of those aspects made it dance. In fact, I would argue that it wasn’t dance until they performed it with eye-contact, focus, and sincerity.

This brings me to an issue with the lexicon. In English, we do not have a different word for dance as a thing that all humans do and dance as an art. Perhaps there isn’t a real difference. But perhaps what I am trying to define is the difference. When you are dancing at a party, you are moving to music, with another person, and sometimes even performing. But when you are dancing as an artist you are expressing something, that is meant to elicit emotion, and to make your audience think.

What do you think? How would you define dance? Is there a difference between social dance and dance as art?

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