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Letters, opinions, tips, reactions, suggestions?
Send your e-mail to mclennan@artsjournal.com



FROM: Eva Lake

The archaeologists say that dance may be the oldest art form. It seems likely that the first way we might be creative is with our own bodies.

But as a society, we are now strangers to our bodies. We don't use them very much. Children used to hear often "now run outside and play." They don't hear that much anymore. Nowadays it's more like sit in front of some screen. So of course our connection to our bodies is fading rapidly and as it does, we are just not as interested in seeing others use what we do not. Maybe it makes us feel guilty somehow.

I say "us" but actually, I dance. To go to a dance class is just as liberating and just as much a spiritual experience as going to the Metroplotian Museum, or my favorite church. When time goes by and I don't dance, I find myself somehow depressed without really knowing why. Then I start stretching and know exactly why. It's time to get back to our bodies!



FROM: Lydia Lee

Thanks for posing the challenge in "Is Dance a Lesser Art Form?" If it's true that audiences have become estranged from classical music when it went atonal, I'd argue that dance lost audiences when it abandoned plotlines for people running around the stage to "Gymnopedies 4."

Somewhere along the way, it seems like dance became Art, without having the great popular works to maintain its accessibility at the mass level. You can trace opera from "La Traviata" to "Brigadoon" to "Rent," and "Mona Lisa" to "Water Lilies" to those paintings of thatched-roof cottages by that guy who has galleries in shopping malls. But can most people name a single modern work of dance?

I personally love what people like Paul Taylor and Garth Fagan have done, playing with the vocabulary of classical ballet. But I still think there's probably a huge opportunity for some creative choreographer out there to do a full-length dance with mass appeal. There's got to be something between "Gymnopedies 4" and that god-awful sequence at the end of that movie Center Stage.

However -- you have directors of music videos moving to feature films; what if a good music-video choreographer got to experiment with ballet dancers? I think the best way for public schools to introduce students to the arts -- whether it's dance, symphony orchestra, opera, what have you -- is to have lots of field trips, or have visiting performers.

In high school, the local opera came in and performed a mini-La Boheme in the school gym. As for dance writing -- well, it could be that dance is just tricky to write about and it hasn't found its muse yet. Most reviews are so abstract -- "the eloquent footwork poignantly illustrated the oppression of parting," or they talk about fouettes and arabesques. I think Joan Acocella at the New Yorker does a pretty good job.



FROM: Mary Jane O'Reilly, Director of Dance at Auckland University

I think one key is to work together more since there is strength in cooperation. We have just made 3D and had 3 dance companies sharing a programme. We covered costs and had a great time. The audience saw many styles and aesthetics and appreciated the variety.

Another key is technology. Framing dance so it can be seen in video and the internet. Drama and music have used technology to huge benefit in the last 100 yrs - music everywhere, movies etc - dance is behind in this area. For the survival of the art form we need to make more dance on screen.

In the end we are talking about the art of dance - not social or therapeutic dance - they are very healthy. I agree with the need for dance writing. In New Zealand we are desperately short of this skill. Is this the fate of an art form inhabited by mainly female, mainly young, mainly inarticulate people????


FROM: Shirley McKechnie

I have read your article with great interest. The situation you describe and the article by John Munger could well have been written in Australia of the situation here.
You may be interested in the following brief notes which are a preamble to a proposal to investigate the problem. We (a team of dance researchers and cognitive psychologists) share your view of the significance of dance experience at an early age. The full proposal, all seventy pages of it has just gone to the Australian Research Council but the results of the application will not be known until the end of 2001. The ARC is a body which normally funds research in the natural and other sciences but which funded us to undertake a two year investigation into the nature of choreographic thought in 1999-2000.
Background and focus of proposed research for 2002-2004

At the core of the proposed research are three fundamental questions:
What elements encourage audiences to respond to dance works with insight, pleasure and understanding?

How do previous knowledge, experience and education affect audience responses?

How can skills of perception, synthesis and imagination be enhanced?

The proposal builds on the research project "Unspoken Knowledges" funded under the SPIRT scheme and undertaken 1999-2001. This seminal project has studied the processes involved in the creation of original dance works by elite choreographers. Detailed digital documentation and analysis of these works provides the basis for this second application.

The research now proposed addresses problems that have been identified by the dance industry as critical to its viability among the contemporary performing arts in Australia. "Conceiving Connections" is applied research, in that it is original work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge with a specific application in view. It is also strategic basic research, in that it is experimental and theoretical work undertaken to acquire new knowledge which will to provide the broad base necessary for solving recognized practical problems.


FROM: Terry Morris, theater and dance critic, Dayton Daily News


The world may not be beating a path to our door, there are extended periods without any performances here, and we get hardly any touring performances, but . . . the modest-sized midwestern town of Dayton, Ohio, has a growing, financially stable ballet company (Dayton Ballet), the state's largest modern dance company (which is also one of the country's oldest African-American dance companies), Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and a vibrant, inventive music and dance troupe known as Rhythm and Shoes, which does everything from clogging to tap and swing. Who knows why? There's no hint of dance going away here. It isn't taught in the schools any more here than anywhere else. But it's alive and well beyond any expectation for a place like this.

Perhaps it's time for me to look at this seriously. How come we're different. Is it because nobody knows we exist?

P.S. It's sad when dance companies dry up and blow away. Unless they're just being propped up long after their glory days when nobody seems to care. I'm far from the first to say that Martha Graham's company was an extension of her. She's gone. The impulse that began with her is still leaping to others. And that is incredible. Just trace it.

Dance, to say something almost as old as self-expression, is ephemeral. It disappears. It's live. At least, it should be. The current state of affairs is just part of a cycle like the stock market's. What goes up - and the dance world did go way up during the 1970s - must come down, unless hitched to wires like those used in Dragon/Tiger. Even those have to be disengaged sooner or later.


FROM: Sarah Seely


As a dancer I am more than fully aware of the difficulties facing people who wish to pursue this form of art. A long time ago I was faced with a difficult decision: to dance or not to dance... I have seen too many amazing dancers ignore their talents in pursuit of a career that could at least feed their families. It is a sad but true story.

Even with this realization, I chose to dance. I couldn't bear the thought of all of the tears, sweat, skin, and blood I'd shed in the countless hours of practice in the studio going to waste. I am scared, but I am still going to try and beat the odds. It shouldn't be this way though. Dance is the most natural form of art. It speaks through the body- something we all have.

There has to be a way to make a change. Could we possibly start a campaign to get the general public more involved in seeing dance and understanding it? Just a suggestion.



The Dance Problem: Archaeologists suggest that dance may be the oldest art form. But of all the major arts, dance seems to struggle the most to survive. Is it somehow a lesser art? By Jack Miles & Douglas McLennan

Our "State of Dance" Archive