Friday, March 2, 2012

"Concrete" vs "Abstract", Dance & Model Airplanes

So I have had some thoughts. (You're not surprised are you?) 

When it comes to dance workshops, it's really the difference of offering a click-together model airplane versus making one of those from bits of balsa wood, glue, and paint.  Some people just want to feel like they're assembling the parts, but not take the risk of messing it up. To have a very specific result, already packaged practically.  Others want to know how all of the parts come together, take the chance making a mess of it all, but at least no matter what, coming out in the end with a better understanding of the process.

Why this thought? I am in the midst of planning and implementing "The Master Plan" (and have been for the last several months). While I can't talk about "The Master Plan" just yet, I can talk a bit about the process and journey.  What it has required is a lot of research into business models, promotion, communication, productivity - as well as ways to maintain passion, creativity, etc.  And recently I have been thinking about the "concrete" vs. the "abstract" in terms of marketing and targeting - who is my audience? Who do I wish to attract?

But first back to those model airplanes.  One of my older brothers built a lot of model planes in his younger days.  Definitely not the most artistically gifted of the offspring, he still tried his best at building the planes from the most difficult kits.  They might not have been the most highly-crafted examples of model planes ever, but he kept at it, and it taught him about attention to detail, patience, craftsmanship, not to mention aerodynamics on a miniature scale.  And he didn't default back to the simpler kits just to get a quick end result that looked good.  He wanted the nitty gritty DIY, he wanted to learn, and that involved the struggle for getting it done the hard way.

Now back to dance. The marketing/business parts of my brain is fascinated by what people chose to take - what sponsors pick out of my two dozen+ offerings to have at events, what sells out lightning fast in one area, and slow in another. Some of them cover very specific, concrete subjects: aka, Gothic or Steampunk bellydance, floorwork, twists and turns, stage presence - others sound more abstract in title ("Essence of the Dance", "Museum Quality" etc), but have concrete results.  And while there is definitely overlap between who signs up for which workshops (especially since there are plenty of folks who sign up for whatever I'm offering regardless), I was pondering if there's a difference between those who are attracted to the neat concretely named workshops and those attracted to take the abstract-sounding ones.

And I think there is, to some extent.  I think some dancers want to learn their dance like those snap-together model airplanes. To learn some ready-made combos and choreography, go out there and perform them, and add it to their resume'.  Other dancers want to take the nitty-gritty approach.  They want to make the dance their own, figure out what makes it (and them) tick, how do the parts become the whole? How to customize it with their own style? Balsa-wood bits and all.

Now, there's a fair bit of generalization involved there, yes I know.  Concrete-sounding topics are often key opportunities to learn more about a specific subject, and the forever learning dancer will always take those if it piques their interest - they're up to expand their knowledge, try something new.  But I do wonder about a certain amount of fear factor involved with abstract topics.

So I'll ask you - what do you like to take? What piques your interest? What draws you to take a workshop or not? Why?


  1. Great comparison to legos. I always build from the kit, because it teaches me how to build. My spouse likes to just break open the kit and build something from scratch. With dance, I had both kinds of instruction. I found I needed to learn from a kit in order to learn how to construct a dance - the pieces, how to put them together - before I could excel at building my own. I believe (not that I've been) that art school is much the same way - first studying the masters and their techniques before coming up with one's own. The different types of workshops might appeal to the same people - depending on where they are on their dance journey.

  2. As for your question, I guess I like a combination. Show me the building blocks, then show me how you put them together - and why you made those decisions - sprinkle in some knowledge or wisdom (cultural information, experiences from one's life as a dancer). In other words, technique, information & choreography are the magic ingredients for a good workshop.
    Of course I prefer to take classes from master dancers, and experienced dancers at that. I expect that even great dancers in their twenties may not have enough experience to be able to teach what they know yet - no matter how great they are - they are still learning.

    I wouldn't give this advice to anyone though, because when I was a novice dancer, almost all the workshops I took benefited me, even if they were given by someone with only a few more years under her coin-belt than myself. For a novice dancer, I would advise people to take all the workshops they can, as much as they can afford it. Learn what they like and don't like. Learn about different styles. Learn your own learning style.

    But where I'm at now, with limited time and funds - and also years of experience in both dancing and workshop-taking, I know what's worthwhile for me. Generally I look for folklore, anything with an Egyptian or someone who performs in Egypt, or really great American dancers who have a technique or style I admire and would like to learn.

  3. I'm in a part of the world where visiting dancers are rare so I generally go to any workshops on offer that I can afford. I prefer the "abstract" end of the scale - I want to know how to make my own beautiful thing, not reproduce someone elses. I do see the merit of learning choreography's and combos from dancers I admire, but in a workshop - give me the building blocks.

  4. Funny you should ask... I think I'm going through the same thing with dance as I did with living languages. Now, I have both more experience and natural ability when it comes to languages, but the two still work kind of similarly for me. I used to prefer to learn just grammar, with the idea of putting things together myself. And that's fine, especially since I have a good brain for grammar. But in my 20's, I've noticed that there's a real power to learning formulas in language... which are, after all, the ways people really speak in those languages. People don't just put together building blocks of grammar and vocab, but they actually put together patterns in small and large chunks. Combos, if you will.

    So when it comes to both dance workshops and instructional DVDs, I've tended to prefer the conceptual material. I'm not that excited about learning choreos. But I'm starting to see that this makes me stagnate a bit, that there really is something to learning building blocks in dance as well.

    It's kind of funny to be going through the same learning process with dance now as I did with languages a decade ago!