Becoming a ‘better’ dancer: Think critically

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Dancers should be seen and not heard?” Today, the dancer’s voice is more important than ever—in the creative process, in standing up for fair working conditions, and in the fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industry.

Thinking critically about dance doesn’t mean thinking negatively. We often think of those big-league newspaper “critics” who tear down a show before it even has a chance to find its footing.

Critical thinking is more than that—At the core, critical thinkers understand that a subject (in this case, dance) is complex. There are many layers, many questions,  and, frequently, many contradictions. Conflicting elements can both be true at the same time…A proposal to revive La Bayadere or Anything Goes can be exciting and beautiful and also problematic due to outdated and offensive stereotypes. #CancelCulture might disallow any revival of these shows. A die-hard purist might ignore the controversies and go ahead producing the shows without second thought. A critical thinker would consider both sides (and the grey area in between) and—through open dialogue and exploration—try to come up with a progressive solution that stays true to the integrity of the show while being sensitive to more appropriate language and representation.

Even if you don’t want to make big artistic decisions on the creative side of the table, cultivating your critical thinking skills as a dancer will help inform how you show up to class, rehearsals, auditions, and performances, streamline your values and aspirations, and express your passion for this art form. 

Keep up with the news. There are so many blogs and news outlets sharing what’s going on in our industry. We love The Dance Edit, a petit daily newsletter produced by dancemedia. Other great sources include Dance Informa, Playbill.com, and the Dance section of The New York Times

 

Read, watch, and research. There are so many resources to study dance – books and biographies, documentaries (and docu-series), educational websites, and academic courses like dance history and pedagogy. The more you know, the more informed your artistry will become. Need recommendations? Shoot us an email or DM!

 

Write about dance. Keep a journal, start your own blog, or even write a paper for school on dance. At first, writing about dance can seem tricky—How do you put a nonverbal, fleeting performing art form into words? But you will probably find that articulating your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of dance—whether a critical review of a performance or a personal diary entry—will help you communicate with others and also illuminate new ideas for yourself. 

 

Be a part of the conversation. Like we mentioned earlier, at one time dancers were supposed to be seen and not heard. The tides are changing. Nowadays, your voice matters—whether you’re a student, an educator, or a professional. And as much as your voice matters, your listening matters more. Our industry has come a long way in so many areas…But there’s still work to do. The more we can foster and participate in open dialogue, the more of a chance we have for making lasting change. How can you be part of the conversation? Be active (and kind) on social media, join a Clubhouse chat, or even just have a talk with your dance friends (about real stuff…not just the studio drama). 

Your voice matters. Cultivate it and use it wisely.

Think big—What challenges do dancers face today? How has the pandemic affected dance training, live performance, and people’s perception of the performing arts? How can you be a part of affecting meaningful change in the industry?

 

Earlier this year we hosted a Clubhouse chat about the effect of the pandemic on ourselves (dancers, artistic directors, and creative artists) and our industry. Let us know what you want to hear from us next! And be sure to subscribe to the Rachel Neville Studios newsletter to stay updated on all we’re up to – together.

Photo: Erin Ginn by Rachel Neville

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