Rarely do the 2 sides of my life dovetail so neatly, but I’ve just been reminded by my trusty online friends about Science magazine’s annual “Dance Your Ph.D.” competition. It seems dorky–and it is, in fact, HILARIOUS–but just watch the winning dance in the Chemistry category and see if you don’t feel like you learned something. As a huge believer in both dance and creative pedagogy, I love the idea of using dance (which should, at its best, communicate to and enrich its audience) to illustrate an abstract, complex, or naked-eye-invisible concept to the viewer. Besides, Dance Your Ph.D. shows people that researchers/academics are not all SRS BZNS all the time.
Reading that was a nice antidote to this article which I read this morning. Maybe the popularity of ballroom holds a lesson for ballet people about how to keep their art form alive. To my mind, ballroom is no less physically demanding nor technically complex than ballet, and it comes from similar high-society roots. One could even say that today’s ballroom stars have something of the exotic glamour of last century’s ballerinas. Yet ballroom has succeeded at drawing a proletarian (as it were) audience and at becoming a casual social pursuit and a hobby, while ballet has not. Relatively few teens continue ballet past their high school graduations and still fewer adults take it up as adults. Ballroom, on the other hand, draws numerous adult beginners. It seems to me that keeping an art form alive means attracting as much talent as possible from all available demographic groups. That broader appeal is not incompatible with maintaining a high artistic standard; it merely means that dancers must be allowed to find their own level. A 30-year-old ballet beginner might never dance professionally due to physical limitations, but she might have a good enough understanding of movement to become an amazing choreographer–just as in ballroom, we may never be ISDF world champions (largely because we don’t dance International style or have airfare to Estonia handy) but a Senior I 9-dance title probably isn’t out of reach. At least, we don’t think so.
Ballet and ballroom are both weighted down with tradition. Granted, ballroom began as a social pursuit and became an art/sport while ballet began as a fine art and has only partially made the transition to hobby status. The analogy is, like all analogies, flawed. Yet broadening the appeal of ballet without diluting its essence cannot be as hard as Jennifer Homans makes it seem–even if it probably is harder than I imagine.