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The interrelation between dancing and writing is considered to be unobvious, mainly because they pertain to different types of activity – physical and mental. For the same reason, those studying dancing also overlook the potential of expressing themselves on paper, which is a useful way of mastering this art. Writing might help students to learn thinking and expressing their ideas through words in a clear and understandable manner, to channel their sensorial experience and share it with other people.
These skills are employed by people of all trades, and there is a shift in this approach as more and more professors arrange classes that include writing as an integral part of the practice. Four articles, reviewed here will present the examples of integration of writing into dancing, how dancers and professors use it in rehearsals and studying process, why dancing can be considered equal to academic writing, and how notation systems changed throughout history.
Dance Writing as a Part of Creative Process
The article “Rethinking Dance Writing” by Alys Longley gives an account of rehearsals of the dance project “The Little Peeling Cottage.” It is a vivid example of how writing can be used in the creative process both by a writer and a performer. Longley formed a duo with her collaborator Val Smith, where she was a performance writer and Smith was a performance dancer. According to Longley, “the logics of writing and dancing spilled into each other, engaging in a mode of precarious, creative and tangential translation” (2). While preparing the performance, Smith started improvising, and Longley watched her and made notes of gestures, associations, and surroundings, thus translating the actions into texts. Afterward, she read the notes aloud to her partner and the dancer repeated her improvisation following the text she listened to. For the duo writing became a method of dramaturgical process, it served as a link between two creators, where one expressed herself in bodily movements, and the other processed them into written words and speech. After that she built on the gathered ideas, the dancer again added what she heard into her actions, and that was how the exchange worked to compose a new project, through an “open improvisation between text and movement” (3). Longley admits that dance is more vulnerable than words because the latter reduces its many-folded subtle nature to an object and renders it still.
Apart from being a means for shaping the performance, the writings made in the rehearsal process contributed to the artist’s book. As stated in the article, “in the tradition of artists’ books, it is common practice to reuse an existing book form as part of the creation of a work’s specific logic” (8). Eventually, the writing did not only feed the creative process but later on was used as an element of the performance, enhancing the experience of spectators, possibly developing more new treatments for the dance and a rich concept of the production.
Dance Writing as a Part of Studying Process
Vida L. Midgelow explains how he introduced creative writing to dancing classes in his article “Sensualities: Experiencing/Dancing/Writing” published in the journal New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, 10.1. He states that the purpose of the research was “seeking to find ways to articulate improvisation practices in relation to performance documentation” (10).
During the practice students were supposed to describe their feelings, ideas, surroundings, and circumstances during the improvisation tracing the flow of thoughts to different body parts and muscles, their sensations at every stage, and the movements resulting from all of the above. At first, the task was accomplished orally, and after that in the form of letters, where students addressed their practice as a person. The results revealed a number of specific themes in students’ works, the most common writing is related to actions, then physical sensations and choreographic patterns. Another recurring subject was memories and associations from the improvisation and other texts.
As a result, students were given a chance to take a deeper look at themselves, follow the motives behind their moves, note how their bodies react to the external stimulus, or, on the contrary, concentrate and ignore the outer circumstances. In the end, all of that gives room for learning and experimenting with their creative and physical abilities. Though the act of writing and naming such subtle processes might restrict the initial idea, hinder capturing the essence, and reduce the number of possible treatments, still, it can provoke in the reader their associations and new renderings. Bigelow concludes that “the act of writing, rereading and replaying writing/dancing enables a meta-experience of experience – a noting at the moment, and in reflection, the nature of a thing” (13).
Dance as an Academic Discipline
Donna Davenport in her article “Dance is Academic” published in the Journal of Dance Education focuses on the fact that dance as a college discipline is often underestimated. Everyone understands and appreciates the benefits of physical training and the value of artistic self-expression. However, according to Davenport, the academic side of dance is hardly acknowledged by wide audiences, which might be harmful to the students.
The author claims that “in dance courses you develop verbal language that reinforces your body’s knowledge” (34). In 1926 the first dance major included such subjects as history, science, and philosophy as part of the curriculum. Expressing complex concepts in movements equals speaking without words, and it can be observed when people watching the performance react to it, share their thoughts and feelings. This silent communication is made through the mind-body connection, and in its essence does not differ much from writing. Thus, students majoring in dance should not be viewed as those who have chosen an easy path, only because a great part of the labor behind a dance remains unseen.
Dance Writing in History
In the article “Folding the Moment – Writing Dance: A Few Sketches on Recording Dance Through Time” Andreja Kopač explores the attempts to fix and save dance throughout history. From the very beginning, she clearly states that “the area of contemporary dance contains all too many factors to allow that dance be recorded in a single, unified way, since every time we would opt for one way of recording it, another one, for this or another reason more important than the first, would immediately appear, and so on” (47). The art of tracing the language of movements started with choreology, which was a system of recording dance steps in ballet.
It followed the development of ballet from Italy and France to Russia until the second half of the 18th century. Later a new notation system developed by Vladimir Stepanov marked the peak of classical ballet and was even used in ballet schools in Europe, but in the end, it did not become a unified method for dance writing. The beginning of the 20th century brought to life technologies like photography and film which also coincided with the appearance of modernism.
Together they finally proved all the existing systems inefficient and put an end to the efforts to find a universal way of coding dance. This moment in history gave space to innovative ways of writing, particularly “the (auto)biographical recording of dance material in the form of sketches, notes, and other entirely arbitrary self-referential writings” (52). The author concludes that even if there is no single acknowledged system for writing, all of them are crucial for the survival of dance.
The four articles emphasize the interrelated nature of dancing and writing and the importance of this approach in mastering the art of dance. Davenport argues the academic nature of dance, as it is a highly intellectual activity similar to writing. Longley and Midgelow show ways of employing writing in rehearsals and class practices, which help dancers develop their body language. This “Dear Practice experiment” struck me most, and made me think about making something similar on our campus, for example, undergraduate writing contest. Though dance can be recorded on video as well as music, it will be a copy, not the original art.
It is the privilege of the written word to render dance accessible to wider audiences, even to people with visual impairments who can read or hear the writing of the performance. In essence, dance in writing translates sensorial experience with the help of a method that can exist through time and space and thus save it, leave room for reinterpretation, recreation, and new meanings.
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Davenport, Donna. “Dance is Academic.” Journal of Dance Education, vol. 17, no. 1, 2017, pp. 34-36.
Kopač, Andreja. “Folding the Moment – Writing Dance: A Few Sketches on Recording Dance Through Time.” Maska, vol. 28, no. 159-160, 2013, pp. 46-53.
Longley, Alys. “Rethinking Dance Writing.” Dance Dialogues: Conversations Across Cultures, Artforms, and Practices, 2008.
Midgelow, Vida. “Sensualities: Experiencing/Dancing/Writing.” New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing, vol. 10, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3-17.