Entertainment vs. art. This is an age-old debate we continue to have in our society that may or may not ever really have a correct answer to it. What constitutes entertainment? What constitutes art? Can entertainment and art be the same thing, or are they supposed to be separate? Depending on how we view the two affects the way we communicate about a creative work, in any medium of performance. Although the art form of dance should inspire and evoke personal responses from audience members, when watching dance, viewers should strive for sophisticated communication that can separate subjective personal opinions from objective critical evaluation in order to give more effective feedback on work.
In the World of Entertainment
To show how expecting pure entertainment can limit our communication, let’s look at a common example of going to the movies. When moviegoers go to a night at the Megaplex to see this season’s new blockbuster, with popcorn and Coca-Cola in hand, they are expecting to be entertained – especially for that $14 ticket they just bought. After the screen fades to black and the credits begin rolling, what is the first question friends start to ask each other as they are finishing munching on those last few popcorn kernels? – “What did you think? Did you like it?” Some creative work that is being viewed solely for the purpose of entertainment limits communication to being solely about personal opinion – did you personally like it or not? Did it make you feel good? Was it about a subject matter that you personally enjoy? Then it gets a thumbs up. If not, then it is dismissed and forgotten about.
In contrast, that same group of friends goes to a Picasso art exhibit, not necessarily meant to entertain, but to display the artwork of a historically famous painter. After viewing the modern paintings, they say, “I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t like it.” Their feelings of not understanding are quickly turned into a negative value judgment that condemns the piece forever in their minds. The pieces of art may not be “beautiful” to every single personal who looks at them, but the paintings can still have valuable artistic traits that need to be objectively noticed, even if not personally enjoyed.
Likewise, when people go to view a dance performance, if they are expecting everything presented on the stage to cater to what they individually deem as aesthetically pleasing, then they may fall into the trap of quickly dismissing the performance as “bad.” When viewing a work of art, we need to try to push away subjective opinions, but communicate about it in a more objective way, pulling evidence from the movement to determine if a piece was effective in its artistic purpose or not.
What's the Point?
Why is it so critical that we learn to communicate about dance this way? If dance is about communicating through body movements, why does it matter what we say about it? Even though dance strives to transcend words, the artistic world needs verbal and written communication to survive. This communication comes largely in the form of dance reviewing and critiquing. As dancers, teachers, and choreographers, it is critical that we receive verbal and written responses to our work - to know how it affected a viewer, or how to enhance the quality of the choreography.
As a senior in the Dance major at BYU, I am preparing a piece of my own original choreography to present for my senior project. In developing my piece, I took a section of my classical ballet choreography to the feedback workshop, “Dance In-Design”, featured right here on BYU’s campus. I was able to show some of my work-in-progress. Immediately after the showing, the audience gave me some verbal feedback as to the things they thought were beneficial to my piece, and what things I could still work on. This feedback is highly useful to me as I continue in the process of creating my final project. If someone in the audience just personally didn’t like ballet and therefore told me that I hadn’t choreographed a good piece, that doesn’t give me tangible feedback to let me know what artistic aspects of the choreography are working or not. Just because that person doesn’t personally like ballet, saying my piece isn’t “good” is not a valid piece of critical feedback. It is only based in their personal opinion. Rather, as a choreographer, I need people who could sift out the subjective from the objective by saying something like, “Well, I personally don’t care for classical ballet, however, I thought this piece was very effective, because the sharp, crisp movements gave a high energy quality to the piece."
This kind of discussion that takes place when reviewing work can be done in this verbal context, or also in a written sense - a review published in a newspaper, or magazine. No matter the medium, it is critical to refine these rhetorical communication skills went it comes to observing art.Reviewers of a non-verbal art form such as dance, need rhetoric to learn how to craft their words to accurately describe a piece of movement, and to persuade others if a work is worth seeing. Persuasion is necessary in the world of creative arts when discussing and debating if something is an effective, good work of art or not. But no good use of rhetoric and persuasion focuses only on one appeal. When we focus only on subjective personal opinions mentioned before such as, “I liked or didn’t like it,” then we are limiting our use of rhetoric strictly to an appeal to pathos – emotion – and are forgetting about the logical appeal in critically analyzing a work of choreography.
Since the Beginning of Time
It is important for us as a whole society to learn how to communicate more effectively about dance because it has been a part of human culture for centuries. It is a part of our past and our history. In each era of time, dance has served a different need for society. If we understand where dance came from, and what purpose it serves in our society today, we will better understand how to communicate about it, and why it is important to communicate effectively about this art form. By learning about the past, we can be better informed about dance today.
Anciently, dance forms were part of cultural traditions around the world. Egyptian priests and priestesses were accompanied by harps and pipes as they would dance in the ancient temples. Their movements were used to tell the story of the gods or to represent cosmic patterns in the heavens. Religious dances in the Hindu/Indian culture date back to the 1st century BC, but are still viewed today in the form of more modernized Bharata Nhatyam dance (History of Dance).
So we can see, as early as people began learning to form societies and civilizations, dance was included as part of the way they communicated and identified a spiritual sense of belonging. It was used for a very religious purpose. Several centuries later, ballet, the next step in dance, was born in Italy (not France, the common misconception). But it did quickly migrate to the royal courts of France as King Louis XIV took a love for dance and began instituting ballet academies in his country. Ballet was a reigning art form for centuries to follow as it taught discipline, skill, and precision, which largely served a purpose of gaining status (History of Dance).
Finally, in the 20th century, around the mid 1930's-1940's, modern dance evolved in America. This was one of the first times people really started communicating about why they danced, and the needs that dance should fulfill. As America was suffering from the Great Depression and a world war, people had more emotional needs searching for an outlet. They began communicating a shift from the tutus and tiaras of ballet, to more grounded and realistic modern dance.
Where Are We Now?
With the main dance genres now born, with many break-off genres throughout the years, people were able to start comparing and contrasting the different forms, reviewing and critiquing whether dance works were fulfilling their purpose or not. From here, dance has exploded - reaching its fingers into all sorts of cross-genres, whether it be writing, technology, or science. Choreographers work with tech designers to create a certain digital backdrop for a show. Dance teachers have to be trained in anatomy in order to train dancers in a safe and healthy way. Today dance serves a purpose of collaborating and placing the arts in a more academic realm as we learn to critically analyze and pinpoint its effectiveness in purpose.
As dance has evolved to serve this more academic purpose, we need to keep our communication academic about it, as well. This is not to say that we should take all emotion out of dance. Dance is a part of our human society. It is meant to spark feeling and emotion and has been doing so throughout our world’s history. But we need to be able to distinguish between our own personal emotions and reactions to a work, and what more artistic qualities are present within. This will help refine our communication between the subjective and the objective. Dance should reach out to its audiences in this entertaining way, but also needs to reach for a higher level of art. It is impossible for dance to please every single person who watches it, just as it is impossible for Picasso to please everyone with his style of painting. As artistic viewers, if we are able to recognize the differences between communication about entertainment and art, we can find our own emotional connections to dance, but can also refrain from making value judgments on a piece just because it didn’t fit our personal aesthetic. Dance transcends words to change us with movement, but with our words we can change dance trajectory and purpose in our lives.
"History of Dance." History World. History World. Web. 12 November 2015.
Hancock, Alan. Photo of Chloe Stacey. Digital Image. Hancock Photography. 19 September 2013.