Saturday, November 5, 2011

After You've Been To The Show: Writing The Dance

After you've been to the show, you may feel a whole host of emotion -- some of which may be off balancing, some of which may be sheer utter joy.  You may feel surprise, shock, anger; you may have cried and/or laughed.  I've certainly had all of these feelings at dance performances.  The question is what happens next.  You may want to write about what you've seen; you may have to write about what you've seen -- compulsion or, perhaps, employment.  Allow me to offer some biased tips.

  •  I like to think about dance writing as a second performance -- a verbal interpretation of movement you have just seen.  You, the writer, become a performer.  How would you like your work to be received?
  • Decide what kind of piece it is going to be in advance.  That way, you will ramble less, and your audience won't feel tossed around by you blathering on.  You might want to write a reaction piece -- something that describes how you felt, what you were thinking, how you responded to what you saw.  You might be tasked with writing a more formal review piece -- something that future audiences, other professionals in the community and/or funders will read.  There are an infinite number of ways to write about what you've seen.  Don't just blurt.  Make some conscious decisions about what kind of piece this will be and write for your intended audience.
  • The previous paragraph is good advice for any piece of writing, but it is particularly important when writing about physical integrated dance.  So much writing in the contemporary media relies on three things: cliches about disabled people, cliched word play about disabled people, and cliches about the non-disabled world.  Make your writing stand out!  Just don't go there.  Write honestly and open-mindedly about what you saw.  Tell your reader what you liked and didn't like and why.

    s.e. smith provides you with a guide for language about disability here.  The world doesn't need another piece of writing about overcoming disability, inspiration, disability not letting someone hold them back, wheels rolling.  Read this piece and learn how to make your writing different.
  • Remember, too, that you have just seen a piece of physically integrated dance.  It's an unusual form of contemporary dance that depends on the equal collaboration of disabled and non-disabled dancers.  I've written about physically integrated dance as a genre in a variety of places on this blog.  Some of my favourite posts are here, here, and here.  Here's a quote from that last post: "As an art form, physically integrated dance takes trained dancers -- disabled and non -- and launches them on a collaboration of bodies. ....   It's the mutuality between disabled and non and the potential for an accepting, kinesthetic effect on the audience that together define physically integrated dance."
  • It is fine for you to talk about the bodies and equipment of the dancers; you can talk about strength, grace, power, communicative potential, kind of wheelchair -- manual or power, crutch, cane, prosthetic and give a neutral description: carbon fiber, curved prosthetic; amputee; crutch  or wheelchair user; light-weight manual chair; strong arms; flexible spine, etc.  It is not fine for you to be talking judgmentally about dancers' bodies.  You can also talk about certain moves and the qualities of those moves: speed, height or distance of a jump, lyricism, grace, precision, etc.

    You do not have the right to judge anyone as too large, too small, too fat, too thin, too disabled, not disabled enough. ...  Dancers put themselves and their bodies out there to do a particular kind of work.  You are there to see and respond to that work -- not their embodiment and not their personhood.

Dance writing and dance criticism are complex and changing fields.  Here are some very recent links to get you started on some threads of the current conversation.

The Dance JOT: journal of outlying thoughts on dance   -- a free online quarterly journal of writing on dance. --  on the future of dance criticism and its relevance.


  1. I just popped in to read and see what's been up and how you are doing...
    This last post is accurate regarding academia and a host of other issues.
    I hope 2012 is wonderful for you. xxe

  2. This is pretty interesting. They don't lose hope even if they cannot run or walk already.

  3. Enjoyed reading this post. Too many people think that just because a cliche is broadly "positive" it is harmless -- not true.

    More to the point, using cliches like that is bad writing -- "wheels rolling"? Seriously?

  4. This is helpful for me. Thank you for putting such a nuanced set of tips out here!

  5. Agreed, but I would show someone the respect to grapply with what they're doing.

    BTW, found this blog shortly after seeing Ailey II in Chattanooga. Your arm shape is spot-on in the photo. Have you tried interpreting any of the movement from Revelations? And have you seen their new choreography? It's really exciting.

  6. Such great writing advice all around. I'll say first hand that writing in disabled community can be a bit tricky. I will definitely be bookmarking the terminology link you posted.

    As for describing the dancing, I writing about action and motion as a whole. I find it to be much easier to be descriptive about something that is happening than it is, say, a static room or object.

    When you're describing action (such as dancing), there should be a certain poetic flow to your words. You want the reader to not just know what is happening, but how it is happening. You want them to feel it and visualize it. It's about showing, not telling.