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"Seeing' dance: how does dance training change


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After beginning ballet classes 7 months ago, I began to notice that I have started looking at dance differently.

This past weekend I attending two performances of a company and dancers I'm quite familiar with, I was really struck by this new development.

For some reason, I found myself very aware of (a) port de bras,, (b) the use of plie and 4th position when preparing for and transitioning from one movement to another, and © the placing of the foot (turn-out, various degrees of releve, etc.)

What was amazing to me was that this new vision did not distract from my overall attention to what was happening with the dance as a whole, something I've developed over decades of trying to cultivate the art of paying attention.

I was just wondering if others who are (or have been) amateur dance students who have had similar experiences of enhanced ability to "see" dance. And -- what specifically do you notice that you would not have seen before?

P.S. None of this applies to modern dance, whose movement base seems even more incomprehensible than before. (Though quite interesting and enjoyable.)

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I pretty much started watching dance seriously at the same time that I started dancing, so I can't speak to that aspect of your question. But for several years I taught Labanotation in college dance programs, and many of my students would remark that they looked at their studio class work differently after they'd started learning notation. As you might imagine, as they analysed movement phrases in my class, looking for patterns and sequences, they began to see them everywhere.

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One thing that I notice many students do is concentrate almost entirely on the dancers' techniques. While it is important to be able to see technical flaws (and many students discuss the technique they see VERY intelligently) I wonder if they see the beauty of the acting in the performance. If a dancer isn't perfectly turned out all the time, it's worth looking past that to see what good qualities the dancer brings to the stage that perhaps some of the more technically perfect ones don't.

So while understanding technique enriches one's ballet experience to a large degree, it's important to keep a balanced perspective and recognize that technique and expression go hand in hand.

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I think a lot of students, and we are all students, look at a given performance, and very often say, "Why, how dare you? Ms. Kimple (Miss Stuart, Mr. Powers, etc.) would never let me get away with that!" As regisseurs, some of these kids would be real martinets (No, not Francoise Martinet) about "getting it right".

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I've found that, coming from a background where I was a serious student before I was a serious viewer, I focus on individual performances so much that I often miss the choreographic whole. I don't fall into the trap Hans described anymore—after a while technique not animated by artistry becomes boring.

The benefit of dance training is definite. I've noticed that I can enhance the enjoyment of a performance for the people I bring if I give them a few details about what the dancers are doing technically and how they compare. Of course, I usually don't stop talking in time, and I become a crashing bore who has to go to the ballet alone because everyone is sick of hearing about it. But I am bringing the family to a performance of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet over Thanksgiving. :)

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As an ex-ballet student and more recently a ballet teacher, I find that being aware of the technique of dancers during performances can be both a great pleasure and an intense pain. Obviously, if I am seeing a technically strong dancer, the experience will be even more meaningful to me than to someone who is unaware of the details of ballet technique, because I can more fully appreciate the technical achievement I am witnessing. At other times I find, however, that while most of the people around me seem to have enjoyed a performance, I was dying all the way through because of some (to me) glaring technical fault. I do "forgive" dancers for technical faults if they are artistically a pleasure to watch, though, whereas I am far less likely to pardon a technical phenomenon who is artistically a pain.

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I'd second Mel's view, and add that many students are prejudiced in favor of the technique that would get them cast in student shows -- i.e., their own sometimes limited sense of what their teachers' aesthetic is. (Generally, they understimate the breadth of what their teachers will admire or enjoy in a dancer.)

I know I've shown videos of GREAT dancers to students who could not stand all that "stuff" Suzanne Farrell was doing.... similarly, they couldn't see much in Sizova or Sibley. The only dancers who REALLY registered with them were Darci Kistler in the Bournonville Variations (immaculate performance, I admit) and Elizabeth Loscavio in Who Cares? (similarly unassailably fabulous performance, and both of them also look a lot like California girls).

On separate line, though, I'd say that in MYSELF I notice that if I've not been dancing for a while -- whether ballet or contact improv or Lindy hop or modern or West-African, which are the forms I enjoy doing -- as a spectator I begin to lose the kinesthetic identification with the movers onstage and start responding more to the spectacle.

I think it's a really good thing (certainly for a critic) to do a fair amount of dancing without having a teacher to answer to.

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I've found that taking class has helped me learn choreography by watching -- almost impossible without knowing how to do a few steps. It's what Paul so precisely called the "kinesthetic identification."

It's been quite a bit over a decade since injury sidelined me permanently, but I was delighted during this past ABT season to find my abs working in sympathy with the dancers on stage. Haven't "worked" those muscles in a very, very long time. I took it as an indication of the very high spirits on display for these past three weeks.

And I also agree with some of the comments above that studying technique tends to predispose us to focus more on technique at the expense of the artistic whole. Still, I consider it more an asset than a detriment.

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So far, like cabro, I find that my "kinesthetic identification" with the dancers (a kind of empathy, really) has greatly enhanced the experience of observing from the audience. Perhaps that's because I started dance class so late in life and observing from the audience so early.

I enjoyed, last weekend, the vicarious feeling of great joy in the jumping I saw. And the relief that comes from landing into a soft plie. (Plie -- what a great invention!)

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