“Take time to hear the roses”
“Please taste what I am saying”
“Smell me in the eye”
“Don’t see the hot stove”
“Feel this wonderful cake!”
None of these quite work, right? It should be rapidly clear to the reader that these senses are mixed up. It doesn’t make “sense” to ask someone to experience something with the incorrect sense.
That’s all we’ve been doing with dance.
It’s no wonder there is such a disconnect between dance and the audience. Instead of the senses (directly), we are dealing with different types of learning modalities. In the most basic sense, the majority of people are either audio, visual, or kinesthetic learners (and it has been argued, digital as well). So to simplify: An artist produces a visual work for people to LOOK at. A musician produces music for people to LISTEN to. Both of those are purely visual and audio types of experiences, respectively. Then we get into the murky, confusing art of dance, that is a completely kinesthetic experience, and we ask people to SIT DOWN, BE QUIET, HOLD STILL, and WATCH.
Watch a kinesthetic art. Not to imply that there are not visual elements of dance – from the beauty of the dancers, the costumes, the set pieces if they exist, the lighting, the expressions on their faces, etc. And most certainly there are things to listen to as well. But the intrinsic power in dance is the kinesthetic experience, and so the theatrical based experience ends with the dancers having experienced SO MUCH more, so much more deeply, so much more trans-formative, than their audience ever possibly could. The audience hasn’t moved with them. They can’t possibly have fully experienced the art, or have come even close!
And realizing that the visual artist understands more about their art, and the musician is bonded with their music in a unique way due to the creation is a possible follow up argument. But for that I would compare them instead to the choreographer, the creator of the performance. The dancers themselves are instead the materials, and it’s as if to say that the viewer of the visual art and the listener of the music can never experience the painting to as deep of a level as the paint, or the canvas, or the music as the piano or the microphone.
And so the patron of the dance arts is left lacking in the full experience of the art. There is an incompleteness, that as far as I can see, can only be rectified in one way:
The audience must MOVE.
The immediate picture that comes to mind is of an audience of moms and dads, wealthy patrons and friends awkwardly standing up out of their seats and embarrassingly trying to extend their legs and wave their arms through the air, running into seats and wacking each other in the face. No no no no… that will definitely not work.
And so I go back to one of my core assertions – pure and simple, WE HAVE BEEN DOING DANCE WRONG. Until we solve that, the public will continue to not care about dance. The dancers will continue to be poor and misunderstood, running on pure passion until they inevitably fizzle out, retire, and “just teach.” We set it up wrong in the beginning as an audience based experience. And we’ve continued to make the problem worse by training dancers to do such impossible, circus based impossible tricks and flexibility, that there is no possible way for the audience to come close to experiencing it with them. Only the dancers are affected, only the dancers are changed. And so it is under supported in our schools and in our society, it’s cut from our programs LONG before visual art and music are. (And as a side note, I believe that the dancers are affected very little by their impossible tricks, and much more by other meaningful movement that they do).
The culminating event should be the creation of something the audience CAN experience. A perfectly choreographed understanding of a message the audience can truly be a part of. Something they can look forward to experiencing themselves. Perhaps it is a kinesthetic experience about hope, sadness, healing, or creativity. Or more concrete themes such as helping to tell a story – one they already know or a new one, and build in them the excitement of participation.
This would be met at first with skepticism, only drawing out the most out-of-the-box thinkers and artists. We’ve conditioned people to be ashamed of their bodies, and to be embarrassed to dance unless they have 20 years of elite training. So let’s bridge that gap. Maybe it’s done by surprise – don’t let the first groups of audiences know until they show up, your “captive audience” perhaps?? Maybe it’s done in a more scientific way – create a “control group” and two differing options.
Let’s talk more. This is the beginning of the conversation.