How to Watch Dance

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September 19, 2013 by Nicole

So, you’re going to watch a dance performance, but don’t know exactly what you’re looking at – that’s ok. Don’t be intimidated. Dance is for everyone! Here are some tips and considerations that I hope will help you enjoy the show, even if you’re new to the dance world.

Be in the Room
In addition to proper theater etiquette of arriving in enough time to find your seat and settle in, be present and pay attention to all of the details around you. Countless hours were put into deciding on the costumes, the lighting, the music – even down to the font used on the programs. Try to relax and take in each of these performance details.

Don’t Look for What You Think the Dance is “Supposed” to Mean
While I hope you find this post helpful, the truth is there’s no secret to enjoying or understanding dance. Your experience is just that – yours. Your personal experience and interpretation of the work is just as right and valid as mine or anyone else’s. Concentrate on your response to the work.

How Does This Piece Communicate to You?
Is it through the story? Not all dance works have a defined or published storyline, but that doesn’t mean it’s not saying something to you. It can! Storyless pieces can convey love, anger, beauty – is the movement conveying emotions or concepts to you? Maybe it’s the music or the costumes – all of those details you were noting earlier. Are the colors and textures of the costumes helping or hindering the dancer’s movement? What is the relationship between the music and the choreography? Do the shapes, patterns and/or emotions expressed by the dancers draw you in? Is there a style of dance – tap, ballet, world, among many others – that speaks to you? Identify the elements that you feel connected with in the work(s).

Does the Piece Make You Feel Anything?
Delighted, dismayed or uncomfortable, dance can evoke emotions that you weren’t expecting. It can bring up memories or generate inspiration for your own creative endeavors. What does the work bring up for you?

How Do I Know if the Piece Was Good?
Good is subjective. Were you fully engaged and entertained during the performance? Was it aesthetically pleasing to watch? Did it make you feel something? Did you find yourself admiring the athletic ability, the emotions conveyed or the ease & fluidity of the dancers’ movement? These are all hallmarks of a successful dance performance.

What About the Technical Elements?
You may have heard references to a dancer’s technique…what does that mean? It refers to the dancer’s training, alignment, body positioning, extension, ability to execute jumps, turns and other footwork with clarity, speed and control.  Height, beautiful body position and controlled, quiet landings make for impressive and well-executed jumps. Speed can be deceiving – fast footwork is definitely difficult, but so is a slow, controlled, fluid movement. Think of it as the difference in a sprint vs a marathon. In turns, the more rotations a dancer completes, with a controlled finished, the higher the difficulty level. Extensions will typically be done with straight knees and pointed toes. Dancers work for years on their technique and these are just a few elements that will be on display (often with a smile!) during a performance.

So, When Should I Clap?
Unless specifically directed otherwise – such as a notice or announcement asking that all applause be held until the end or the music stops, you may applaud as you see fit. Applause is a way to show appreciation for a performance. Sometimes what moves you in a piece doesn’t correspond with what moves others – but it’s still ok to clap. What’s not ok is creating a distraction for the dancers, musicians, crew or another audience member. Otherwise, if you see something during a performance that you feel deserves applause, it’s ok to do so.

When It’s Over
Take just a few moments to collect your thoughts. Feel the applause die down and experience the lighting adjustment. What were your first reactions and what do you remember most? How would you describe it to your best friend? There may be one or two pieces out of a concert or a particular choreographer’s style that resonated with you – take a moment to recognize those elements. What was most interesting, exciting and/or moving to you? Evaluating and identifying what you liked most can help guide future decisions about which performances to attend.

Let me know what you thought – did these tips help? What are things you think about or try to notice when watching dance?

Photo © Frenc | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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