Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Eye of the Beholder

When you watch a dancer, what are you looking at and why? What wows you the most?

 Have you ever gone back to watch a video of a specific dancer or style of dance that blew you away years ago, but doesn't give you the same feeling now - or perhaps the exact opposite? Something you thought was "boring" has now become captivating?

Ever wonder what changed?

I'm not saying it was aliens, but....

(Just kidding...)

What changed was you. Really.

An integral part of my formal fine art and design training over the years has been the task of considering the audience.  This means thinking about what will capture their attention, how it will make them think, and what it may make them feel. It also means contemplating who your audience is. For a fine artist, the sum of this work is to consider how much of impact your work may have on others, so that you're not just creating art in a vacuum. For designers, it's about selling product (services, items, ideas). And well, sometimes both worlds overlap - and it certainly applicable to the performing arts.

In the realm of my professional work as a designer, this trained me to watch how people react to things: what they get excited about, what they dislike, what causes a trend. Not just for art or jewelry, but for dance as well. It's really quite fascinating - both in person and online. (Peoplewatching!)

So back to you: Your own experiences inform and flavor everything you see.  The more you learn about something, the more you will see - and how easy or difficult that process was for you personally will also affect what you see.

What do I mean?

Think back to the first time you ever saw a dancer perform live, prior to taking classes/starting your dance journey. You most likely took her (or him) in as a complete experience - the fluidity and grace of the movements, the sparkle and flash of the costume, their smile and gestures, and how it made YOU feel - excited, wowed, inspired.  It didn't matter if that dancer was a newbie in an airport special or a grand master of the dance in a Madame Abla.  She was the epitome of beauty and magic to you.

As you started to take classes, the next time you saw a dancer, your focus was most likely on technique.  You were learning how hard certain movements can be, so the more difficult the moves on stage appeared to be, the more you were impressed.  Who cares what she did with her face or what she wore, did you see those amazing isolations???

When you started to tackle issues of costuming, suddenly you were paying a lot more attention to what other dancers were wearing.  What worked, what didn't worked. And how it could look on you! Who cares if it worked with the music or the moves?

When it's time for you to perform yourself, whether that's crafting a choreography, doing improv, or somewhere in between, and choosing music, you start to notice how other dancers put together their dances. You also start to notice how other people respond to those performances as well. You wonder how they may respond to YOU.

What style you learn also informs how you view a dance.  Human beings often feel more comfortable watching something they have familiarity with.  Something they can measure up as a "doing it right" or "doing it wrong." If you're totally unfamiliar with a style unlike the one you're learning, it may be difficult for you to enjoy because you lack a frame of reference, except you know it's not what YOU know.

When you truly learn what musicality is, and how to apply Arabic musical concepts to the movements, regardless of the style of music, you start seeing performances in a whole new light.  That excellent "technique" back from the early days might not make sense any more when he pops his chest to the "dum" or she does hip drops on the "tek".  You start to see folks dancing over their music, and you discover the amazing quality of breath and stillness.

When you start to understand stage presence and the value of deepened expression, you really begin to notice facial expression (or lack there of) - and when a dance says something to you as a whole, or leaves you cold. You get excited when you see a baby dancer truly enjoying herself, and find yourself on the verge of tears as a veteran of a dance  pulls from the depths of her heart and holds you in the palm of her hand - without a single "trick."

And lastly over time you learn that when you watch a dancer, you can't compare them to you or to anyone else  They are their own dancer with their own story, journey, and path to follow.  You enjoy that for what it is, and the only dancer you compare yourself to, is the dancer you used to be.

1 comment:

  1. Yes…and I'd say this is true of other arts as well…poetry being my main one, but I think--with medium-appropriate shifts in your discussion above!--it can apply to other things as well, particularly performative arts like music and drama.