Dance is in humans and animal, at some point take a look at the complex mating rituals of birds and some animals. It has primal roots. Rhythm is recognized, think of echolocation sending distinct messages. Dance is a developed language of movement connected to rhythm. It’s that urge to tap your feet, choreograph, and for a lot of us… just flail. There are cultural dances to tell our history, to draw attention to Gods in hope of rain, survival in war, victory, etc. It is cross cultural and tells the story without need of a common language. When done right(not necessarily beautiful or well) it intensifies emotions of anger, sadness, love, etc. Think about why the highland sword dance was integral before battles in Scotland, just one example of the war dance cross culturally there is wide variety, it builds lust and exhilaration for battle in your comrades and fear in your enemy.
The most common dance is a mating ritual across the animal kingdom. Look at the intense intricate mating rituals of birds, particularly in the rain forest like the Bird of Paradise, but also look at humans. The dance club, coming of age ceremonies, dance crews. This is another and far more pleasing way for us to preen and attract a mate rather than fighting. As an example, below is an amazing dance choreographed by Wade Robson about a hummingbird and a flower. There are pictures but take the link to the video.
The Hummingbird and the Flower – Hok and Jaime Choreographed by Wade Robson
Above is beautiful choreography in the contemporary style done by dancers who have dedicated their lives to it. We get an abstract understanding of the story of the hummingbird and the flower. It’s also a rather tame version of a mating ritual, but it brought together the animal mating ritual discussed into a specific story. The story and feeling you get is one of beauty. Not all dance comes is the beautiful version. Some of it is gritty, ugly, or angry. The narrative below is of a young man expressing frustration and anger to a therapist in a different style. This is hip hop with more grounded and hard-hitting movements to much less ethereal music. It’s fun. It makes you want to get up and dance, rather than just appreciate it, and the story comes across loud and clear. You tell me if you need the background I gave you.
Outta Your Mind – Alex and Twitch choreographed by Nappy Tabs
Just like fiction dance has acquired ‘The New Weird.’ Lets talk about China Mieville, an author known for this style of mixing steampunk, alternate worlds with intense description, and world building in science fiction. Look at the dance choreographed by Sonja Tayeh. She’s a master in her own right of ‘The New Weird’. She creates movement that is not typical of the current Jazz or Contemporary language. Yes, she still uses leaps and chasse’s, etc. but she is creating a new vocabulary. She is creating her own world and stories, and the dancers are run ragged to master movement that likely is unnatural to them. It creates a strong response in an audience. The first time Sonja Tayeh was on So You Think You Can Dance there was intense public reaction and she was back quickly. She choreographs at least one piece a show and several group pieces. It’s new, it’s intriguing, and we want more.
Below is a story of a woman who wants her man back even though she is spitting mad. These dancers are doing more than executing flawless technique. This is exaggerated, raw emotion, that is also acted. Pay attention to the facial expressions, the posture, the lighting, and the props. These dancers are acting as they are dancing. In this type of performance you use the costume, the hairstyle and makeup, etc. to enhance the story. Does this mean they aren’t dancing, or the dancing is less because of the staging? I give you a defiant no, and dare anyone to make that argument to the people who work making a production. Everything adds together to increase the enjoyment and immersion of the audience. Costumes and lighting can distract if done wrong. Props can be dangerous. This is the beauty of watching masters at their craft.
‘Holy Ghost’ is an interesting combination of styles. It’s definitely broadway, but its also hip hop and animation. The dance is a hybrid. Gone are the days of sticking to the boundaries of a style. The public want more, they want new, and they want different. So, we have a blend of genres. No longer is science fiction solely science fiction it can also be The New Weird, dystopian, space opera, etc. Is fantasy solely fantasy? Now it can be a paranormal romance, high fantasy, YA, etc. Everything is being blended together with books but also with dance. We want a larger vocabulary to categorize, and we want a new spin. Looking below there is a card game where there is a question of someone cheating. That doesn’t go over in the era time piece anymore than the present.
Talk about emotion. This piece was created by three individuals – Travis Wall, Tucker Knox, and Robert Roldan. Each of these men in their personal lives were struck by tragedy. Robert and Tucker were both in accidents that they survived, against the odds, but also recovered. They were told they would never dance again. Travis Wall had a brother who he supported through similar damage and pain. The dance articulates the support and tenderness of one man being able to provide to another. While this piece will hit you in your gut it accomplishes more. Like a fable or book it challenges our cultural assumptions. The dance challenges the role of men. Traditionally, a man is not supposed to be weak, a man is a rock, and takes care of himself. Men generally do not lean on other men. This challenges that notion displaying a close, loving, supportive non sexual relationship between two men while allowing the other weakness and providing support.
With genres comes the comic book, the graphic novel, and the superhero. Dance has its own answer. It takes the impossible and makes it possible with the style of animation. Animation movement looks like you are watching someone in slow motion freeze frame by freeze frame. The story below is clearly of a science fiction/graphic novel/comic book. It shows two men, warriors being grown/altered to be super soldiers. It takes animation, a style suited for this, amplifying the connection for the audience. The continuation of a story of the extraordinary, the altered, the enhanced, super powered man.
Dance can’t be discussed as a story if and ignore broadway. It is the most obvious vehicle for a story to be told through acting, singing and dance. Below is an adaptation of Easy Street from the musical Annie. It takes on the classic style made popular by Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Similar to ‘Singin in the Rain’ and ‘West Side Story’ it has an iconic feel. I remember, when I was younger, thinking how silly it was that street gangs in West Side Story were dancing instead of fighting. Look at today, however, we have Dance Crews and dance battles. It’s a bit ironic but much preferable, as mentioned above, to prove your status through dance than fighting to determine turf or gain respect than killing someone. It’s a culture change that there are literally dance movies like “Step Up” and “You Got Served” that glorify or at the least try to represent it. I will say I watch these movie – for the dance – just to be clear. It’s akin to watching an action movie for the fight scenes and explosions. There is a minuscule amount of people who watch an action movie for the fine acting or intricate plot.
If you have watched the dances you can see the master status of these artists, but the dance and the story is not made up solely of the dancer. It’s made of the choreographer, the lighting crew, costuming and makeup, and even the dance space. This all works in conjunction to create a performance for the audience. It makes the story that much more real or surreal.