What is Dance?

Bravelycreative is now accepting submissions by guest bloggers. For the first guest-written article, I am pleased to publish an article by Portland-based dancer and writer Katie Haynes.

Photo of dancer Katie Haynes in Dance Pose
Photo by Wale Agboola

by Katie Haynes

Dance is one of the most human forms of expression. It is embodied creativity, only needing a human vessel to be fulfilled. For the dancer, it is more than the expression of movement—it is the shaping of thought into motion.

As a dancer and choreographer, I’m frequently surprised by how difficult it is for people to connect with this art form. Yet I have to remind myself that most people have no entry point to the movement, no concept of the process behind the finished product.

The constantly evolving definition of dance also causes some confusion. This definition seeks to delineate a difference between “movement” and “dance.”

We all have a body, and the means to use it for expression. Set a body in front of an audience, and you can have a dance. The very movement of our lungs expanding and contracting is a source, somewhat, of anatomical choreography. Taking seemingly insignificant movement and giving it artistic meaning is a large part of the creative process. Both the choreographer and the dancer must define the greater meaning behind the dance—for themselves and for the audience.

The freedom given artists to communicate through dance is daunting, yet within infinite possibilities—and, ironically, limitations—a dance emerges. Similar to how writers use grammar as a structural constraint, choreographers use limitations to inspire and let their creativity flourish. Who the dancers are, what the parameters of the space allow, who is the target audience, what is the length of the piece, what music is accompanying the performance—all exemplify logistical limitations that arise when creating and producing work. Combine these challenges with thematic and ethical constraints or concerns, and a choreographer begins setting a piece. As with all creative processes, it’s these limitations combined with infinite possibilities that provide the kindling for truly creative dance.

The choreographer’s process sets the initial framework for the dance, but it’s the task of the dancer, carving into the air with meticulous precision and force, to craft the final product. Always at the service of the choreography, dancers use the choreographed framework as an invaluable conduit for physical and creative exploration. And on stage, the dancer has a new set of constraints, all working for and against them in real time.

Performance is so deliciously finite; a dance will never exist the same way twice. It is a unique experience, an artistic dare, to find perfection instantaneously, and to be able to walk offstage satisfied, whether or not the performance was exactly what the artists intended. Performance is the final conversation between the choreographer, the dancers, and the audience, shaping thoughts and feelings into visible texture and movement.

At the next opportunity, go see a dance show. Do not let yourself sink into your chair, or allow your eyes to glaze over. I urge you to lean forward, attempt to empathize with each dancer’s twist and turn. Force yourself to see the brush strokes and meaning inside the canvas of the choreography—to take movement a step beyond and understand it as dance.

Photograph of Dancer Katie Haynes
Photo by Wale Agboola

​Katie Haynes is a dancer, writer, and activist. Katie studied dance at the University of Minnesota, working with numerous local choreographers and guest artists within her program. She danced with Ananya Dance Theatre as a company member for 3 seasons, touring with the company, as well as teaching master classes throughout the Midwest. She is currently a freelance artist and writer based out of Portland.

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