Shimmyblogger Natalia: We don’t need no Pavarotti, we need a Michael Jordan. The Foot crew responds.

So, this issue Eva got us started on about what sort of ambassador dance (yeah, all of it) could use seems to know no end–with all sorts of unexplored byways.
First, reader Jamie Wright adds his vote to the Rasta nomination:
Is it possible that Rasta Thomas will emerge as dance’s Pavarotti? He has teen-idol looks, just married a model, and is still very young. Over the next 10 years or so, I can see him bringing pop and ballet together.
Then shimmyblogger Natalia from Missouri offers a new angle on the whole question:
There’s another issue here, which I haven’t seen addressed: Do we want shows to turn people on to watching dance or to doing it? It’s not the same thing, and although it’s not an either/or proposition, if I had to choose I would hope shows inspired people to get off their couches and shake their tail-feathers a little bit. 😉
I think the dance world could use a Michael Jordan more than a Pavarotti. Sure, Pavarotti sold albums, but were kids running around wanting to “Be Like Luciano”?
I think a large part of what MJ did for both the NBA and Nike was to get kids out to the basketball courts as well as into the stands. I don’t think Capezio needs to start hawking Air Tidwell pointe shoes or anything, but dance needs a face, someone whom people don’t just like watching but who gets them into the studios as well as the concert hall seats.
Eva responds:
Reports of America’s obesity epidemic–as well as clear signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome–argue strongly for anything that will, in Natalia’s words “inspire people to get off their couches and shake their tail-feathers a little bit.”
However, the harder thing, Natalia, is to get people to want to think about and be affected by dance, especially when it is complex and challenging to look at. And, for that, we need someone who will catch the public eye, the public imagination and, one hopes, the public mind.
That’s a smart comment, Natalia.
I’m all for a widespread, full spectrum audience, with an overlap dance-lover who enjoys the range from watching to doing. That would be nice. It would be great if spectators became real audience members, people who would pay deep attention and lose themselves in the vicarious experience. But such reflective people are born, not made.
I say that because we’re on the verge of a Twyla Tharp festival here in Berkeley, and I can’t help reflecting on the last time we dancers had a real grip on the popular imagination, about 25 years ago, when Twyla and Misha were at the peak of their glamor. I distinctly remember sitting next to a woman at a concert of Twyla’s who commented, “Golly, the dancers are getting such a good workout up there. I wish I was working out.”
It was the era of jazzercise and aerobic dancing as BIG social phenomena, and the dance boom had drawn the newly health-conscious into the theaters. The Joffrey ballet was doing commercials for the milk marketing board. Every high school girl was wearing ankle warmers. So were lots of gays and young urban professional women when they went casual. Dancers looked like the image of self-fulfillment, in the era before AIDS hit.
But, look at the reality: In the ’70s we had just gotten OUT of a war, Nixon had shrewdly declared war on cancer, and suddenly everybody’s anxieties had been transferred onto their own bodies, but there was nothing else to worry about, really, except inflation.
These are darker times. AIDS HAS hit; massive shifts are taking place in distribution of wealth, though it’s beneath the surface and you can’t get an overview; we’ve got a 1984-style unendable war on, more entertainment available than anybody can possibly consume, and no easy way to get in touch with reality. I DO on the whole think you’re right, Natalia. I think everybody I know spends too much time in virtual reality and not enough grounded, really here now….
It’s so funny you should bring this up, Natalia! It’s an issue I used to argue over constantly with this one friend of mine. Or rather, we disagreed constantly. We stopped arguing once we reached an impasse, which happened quickly.
Anyway, his side went like this (poor man, reduced to a sentence while I plan to go on and on): “If watching dance is so great, just think how much greater dancing itself would be!!”
I agree with Eva and Paul that people are too disconnected from their bodies–every new development in technology somehow tends that way. (It wouldn’t have to, of course. If, for example, something other than the free market were in control, technological advancement might free us to spend whole days toodling around on our bicycles, b/c we’d make our money, do our dishes, etc. etc. etc. faster than ever.) And I think that one of the ways people become attracted to watching dance is by having done it.
But what makes me leery of just saying, yes, let’s ditch the Luciano model and go for Michael Jordan, is that we’ve hit this moment in the culture when everyone wants to do. No one wants to absorb what others are doing and have done.
There are probably more people writing novels today than reading them, more people wanting to be a celebrity or a model or a dancer on TV than fawning over them. The culture has gone so over the top with participation (blogs are another example: the constant chatter) that I’m reluctant to encourage any more–though, yes, we do need to shake our booties as often as possible.
What drives me crazy about the pro-participation argument–and it’s driven me crazy before on this blog–is it usually dismisses the possibility that being in the audience is also a form of participation. It’s a very profound form, I’d say; it just happens to be taking place inside a person.
I don’t agree with Paul that reflection is simply a talent, something we’re born with or not. But a person probably does have to have had some practice at it before it’s available to her as an audience member.
UPDATE: This just in: Pavlova did everything we’re hoping for from Rasta Thomas–a century ago! Some needed historical background from Susan Hood.

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