Knowing the Dancer from the Dance

writing on dance
the author after dance class

By Melissa Durante

I know I spent a good deal of time in my last post arguing that what makes a dance is the intention behind it, but I think there’s even more to it than that.

Yes, there is a message for the audience, but dance seems to mirror the old adage that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does the falling tree make a sound? Similarly, if there is a dancer performing without an audience, is it still a dance?

Of course, the answer is yes. But that brings up an ever-important aspect of the dance process which many people often overlook—the experience of movement for a performer. As Merce Cunningham eloquently summed up, “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” For the dancer, it is all about the experience of the movement, the way a reach, a bend, a turn feels in their body.

Sometimes, it’s nice to slow down and appreciate the little details that make up movement. As a student in People Dancing’s SOMA dance class, I’ve been a part of classes which pause to consider elements such as posture, alignment, and extension in detail. Like an academic may analyze a passage of text, these pauses allow dancers the opportunity to break down a movement into its component parts and really understand how each step impacts our bodies. In the past several months, the class has also focused on preparing for a performance opportunity—a piece titled “Bees and Blooms”—which aptly focused on the spring pollination process and brought to light the dangers of reducing the bee population.

After weeks of turning intently to an exploration of how our bodies process movement and working through practice combinations in class together, this provided a unique opportunity; the chance for a collaborative experience. While director Christina Sears Etter provided the core structure of the piece and key combinations, dancers were given the opportunity to interpret the movement for themselves. Distinct poses and timing as well as partnering routines arose out of these experimental moments which were later fitted together and smoothed out by Christina. Overall, this process gave us the chance to explore the ins and outs of a combination—providing us with the chance to expand on the piece by complementing and contrasting earlier movement and one another. While sometimes it seems dance is all about the audience, developing this piece allowed us all the chance to really understand the movement in each of our bodies and create a piece expressive of all those involved. 

Melissa Durante dancing
Melissa Durante dancing under summer skies