The Language of Dance

At the start of March,  BBC Radio 3’s The Verb had a really interesting discussion about The Language of Dance. Hosted by Ian McMillan he had conversation with  Ismene Brown, a dance critic who’s written for the Spectator and the Telegraph,  poet Scott Thurston, the writer and performer Nathan Walker and Maria Ferguson a spoken word artist who created Fat Girls Don’t Dance.  

And as an ex dancer and now a reviewer of dance I thought the show was really interesting.  They spoke about the relationship between dance and  poetry.


How to review dance ?

One of the key things that Ismene Brown talked about was how to review dance. Now I don’t know about anybody else, but for me I liked to watch the performance straight one and my thoughts and feelings of that dance performance will come out naturally.  However in the case of Brown, she actually tries to take notes down during the performance and hopes to makes sense of them after the show.

I suppose everyone is different and has their own technique when it comes to reviewing. No matter the technique I still struggle to put my thoughts into words when it comes to dance. I find it difficult to put my thoughts onto the page, especially when it comes to the description  of the movement as being a dancer I have knowledge of the techniques and movements a dancer has used in a performance.

Who reads about dance?

But I worry  about alienating the audience, if I use technical terms who will understand them? I suppose it boils down to who reads about dance and their own understanding. If like me they have an experience in dance then they won’t be confused by the language. Yet for people who may have a lesser experience then if I use language like degage, they probably won’t know what I am talking about. And because I am writing for my blog which has a wide readership, in my reviews I tend not to use that form of technical vocabulary.

Brown says that language and the use of imagery is important when writing about dance, otherwise it becomes boring to read. And if I am honest I do agree with her I only wish I could implement that when I write about it. For me it’s all about creating that energy and bringing out that theme or that story that a dance was about, trying to engage with a reader and bring them to the theatre- make them feel like they were there with me.

Bring out the passion

That’s what I want from a writer of dance, you have to have the passion for the art otherwise your content will become across as dull and not make it very interesting for the readers.  If you are not passionate about something then why even bother writing about it?

I am so passionate about not only dance but about the performing arts as a whole. And I hope that comes across in my blog.

Poetry in dance

Thinking back to the radio show they spoke about how the language of dance is similar to that of poetry.  And I agree with them, when you think about ballet and the french terms, it’s all rather poetic and it can sound like a song or a poem when read on a page. They read out some poems about dance on the show and I wish that my reviews sounded poetic when read out loud.

That got me thinking about the dance industry, I wonder what the language looks like on the page for a choreographer or a dancer who is making notes on their rehearsal for a performance.

Script of a dancer

It would be interesting to see what the script of dancer would look like, yet thinking back to my dancer days I didn’t really write my movements down. I found it hard (again) to notate what I was trying to physically do, so often I would either record myself dancing or would rely on muscle/movement memory.

Constantly rehearsing phrases of movement, the idea of writing it down was almost pointless as I would find that my movement would change and develop so my notes would  change anyway.

Are dance critics poets?

Thinking about writing about dance and the relationship to poetry, does that mean that us dance critics are also poets as well as writers?

With the difficulty of trying to articulate dance, conveying it through  poetry/ language of dance when describing the movements and gestures made by the dancers can be an art in itself.


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