Dance Appreciation
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Dance Appreciation

Amanda Clark, Sara Pecina

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296 pages
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eBook - ePub

Dance Appreciation

Amanda Clark, Sara Pecina

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About This Book

Dance Appreciation is an exciting exploration of how to understand and think about dance in all of its various contexts. This book unfolds a brief history of dance with engaging insight into the social, cultural, aesthetic, and kinetic aspects of various forms of dance. Dedicated chapters cover ballet, modern, tap, jazz, and hip-hop dance, complete with summaries, charts, timelines, discussion questions, movement prompts, and an online companion website all designed to foster awareness of and appreciation for dance in a variety of contexts. This wealth of resources helps to uncover the fascinating history that makes this art form so diverse and entertaining, and to answer the questions of why we dance and how we dance. Written for the novice dancer as well as the more experienced dance student, Dance Appreciation enables readers to learn and think critically about dance as a form of entertainment and art.

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Close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the following scenarios:
After much anticipation, you receive the best news of your life. What is your instinctive reaction? …
You are a toddler, teetering on your toes as you hear your favorite cartoon come on the television. What do you intuitively do? …
You nervously propose to the love of your life, who promptly accepts. What are your natural reactions? …
Finally, imagine that you receive the worst news of your life. What might your reaction be?
It is likely that each of these imaginary responses included some form of movement. Great news is often met with a jump into the air or a raising and stretching of the arms. Young children bounce their knees, stamp their feet in place, and vigorously pump their arms in the air. Couples in love almost certainly embrace. Devastating news is often followed by a drop of the head or collapse to the knees. Movement of the human body is a natural response. We instinctively react to the world around us in a myriad of non-verbal manners. Often, movement can express what words cannot. Think back to the above examples. Elation and satisfaction are demonstrated with a leap into the air. Excitement is revealed in the bouncing motions of a child. Love and tenderness are displayed in a couple’s embrace. Grief or agony is depicted in a drop to the knees.
Dance becomes the result of this range of movement actions: the human body leaping, bouncing, reaching arms out to embrace, and dropping to the floor. Dance, as the ultimate expressive form of movement, has the potential to convey a great range of emotions and ideas, the capacity to cross language boundaries and connect individuals, and the power to stir an individual both physically and emotionally. From the beginning of humankind, movement has been a means to celebrate great news or victory, to honor the dying, to tell stories, to persuade others, to heal the sick, to entertain, to demonstrate hierarchical power, or to unify a community.
Before one can fully appreciate dance, one must understand it. Part I uncovers the art of dance and provides a basis from which readers may view and articulate their perceptions of a dance. Chapter 1 details the primary purposes of dance within a culture: ritualistic, political, social, therapeutic, and theatrical. Chapter 2 encourages readers to consider dance through a cultural lens, offering select and varied dance forms as examples. In Chapter 3, concepts of choreography, such as the elements of space, time, and energy, are introduced within the context of Western theatrical dance. The choreographic process is described, including the act of improvisation and ways in which dances can be formed. Chapter 4 then exposes readers to methods of viewing and perceiving dance. Readers are challenged to identify dance as art and entertainment and introduced to the aesthetic and kinesthetic responses one can have when observing dance.

1Purposes of Dance

Humans have a natural instinct, an innate impulse, to move. We stretch our bodies as we awake, we jump for joy, and we slump our head and shoulders when depressed. Some of us cannot help but tap our toes to the sound of music; others cannot talk without waving the arms around in the air. Humans communicated first through the use of bodily movement. Some psychologists even suggest that this impulse to move begins within the fetal stage, as a child “performs active movements of rotation, flexion and stretching during the second half of pregnancy.”1 What began as a spontaneous human behavior was molded into a means of non-verbal communication. Through gestures and movement, humans revealed their needs, conveyed their ideas, and expressed their fears. Humans have shaped this instinctual movement beyond a natural means of communication and into a form of art to convey narrative and abstract ideas and meanings. Dance can be considered as the oldest of all art forms, preceding music, painting, and sculpture. With the human body as an instrument, dance became a medium for early humans in the communication of ideas, expression of religion, connection to nature, celebration of life and death, means of recreation or sport, and mode of social interaction.
Dance can function in a myriad of ways, and it can also offer keen insight into a given culture, exposing the viewer to the intricate ways in which humans and their civilizations differ. A society’s way of life influences the reasons for which a group dances as well as the manner and style of the movements. While the use of the human body serves as a common denominator within the countless dances found around the globe, these dances may vary vastly from culture to culture. As we uncover the ways in which one dances along with the reasons for the dance, we learn about the innate similarities and unique differences among humans. Our views of what dance is are broadened, and our understanding of who can dance, along with the how and why, are enhanced. It is through this understanding that we develop an appreciation for the art form and its role in the world around us.
The purpose of dance can vary depending upon a variety of factors. Social class or political status, age, gender, and religious beliefs can each influence the reason a group may or may not dance or the manner in which one dances. For some, the practice of dance can generate concern for sexual promiscuity or an apprehension about the religious taboos against the body, while others may see dance as an aesthetic display of confidence in the human body, of femininity or masculinity, or as a sacred experience. People may utilize movement as an artistic representation of historical events or harness dance as a vehicle to assert a call to action and incite change. Dance can also serve as a form of worship, connecting performers and spectators to a higher being or power. It may delineate hierarchy and express respect and reverence for political order. Dance could generate group unity and social affirmation, creating a sense of belonging within a group. In some instances, dance can create a means of social interaction or even courtship. Individuals or groups of people may use dance as a form of recreation, fitness training, or means of healing. For others, dance can be a method of education, a profession, or in many cases an exhilarating form of entertainment.
Dance serves five primary purposes or functions: ritual, political, social, therapeutic, and theatrical. Before we explore these different functions of dance, let us first take a moment and consider each purpose. What role can dance play within a formal or informal ritual? How can dance convey one’s social class or political order? How can dance help heal the body and mind? What is different between those forms of dance and social or theatrical dancing? Which purpose(s) for dance do you find most often within your life?

Ritual Dance

One of the ways in which dance functions within a society is in the form of ritual. Rituals are prescribed sets of procedures or actions that are followed in a formal manner in observance of a religious or other ceremonial event. Cultures, both past and present, have incorporated dance into various forms of sacred and secular rituals. We find that the original use for dance as ritual lies deep within early cultures. Dance in prehistoric civilizations did not begin merely as a separate recreational activity within society, nor did it serve as a profession. Dance functioned as a central element of religion and played an inherent role in daily life. Belief systems, similar to those of many groups of people today, maintained that gods and spirits had powers of influence over daily life. These groups looked to gods or supernatural powers that influenced reoccurring events such as the rising and setting of the sun, the changing seasons, the growth of crops, and even their own life and death. Early ritual dances were designed to please or placate the gods or to ask for favor or blessing from the spirits. These events contained a group of traditionally established actions and dance. This interconnected faith between the human and the spirit world was woven throughout all facets of early humankind’s existence and remains present today. As a result, various forms of ritual dance have emerged.
There are a great number of purposes for which a culture, society, group, or individual may engage in ritual. For example, some groups perform ritual dances as a means to prepare for war or promote healing among the community. While many rituals may have been originally rooted in sacred meanings, rituals today can be sacred or secular in intent. Themes can range from healing to fertility, from lifespan to war. Rituals are considered to be either specific or cyclical. Specific rituals are done only one time and for a very distinctive purpose, such as marriage, whereas cyclical rituals are more general and may be repeated each season, such as those performed at harvest time. Rituals can extend over the course of several hours or may even last many days and can occur within a central location of a community or in a designated public location, such as a hotel ballroom. Often, the circle is an important element of many rituals, as it provides a sense of unity among participants, allowing each to see the others and maintain a sense of belonging. Historically, additional elements of ritual dance have included the use of fire, which provided not only light but a focal point around which a dance was performed, along with body decorations, such as paint, feathers, colored stones, and the use of masks to further enhance the dance and the experience. Masks enable the performer to assume the identity of the god or spirit imitated. The use of masks not only helps in the performance of the dance, but in fact merges the identity of performer with that of the spirit and assists the performer as the god is summoned in order for communication to occur throughout the ritual.
As societies have evolved, the practice of many dance rituals has declined; however, cultures have preserved the tradition of certain rituals or have altered them to suit their group’s needs. Following are a sampling of rituals seen throughout time and around the world. Cultures and individuals that engage in dance rituals uncover great power in dance, not only to pray humbly to their gods or to honor traditions but also as a means for social connections within the group, as recreation, and as entertainment!

Fertility Rituals

Fertility rites are performed for the abundance of food and life. Without nourishment and healthy offspring, a community would cease to exist. Plants and animals provide not only food but also shelter and clothing. For example, lumber is used to build structures; animals and plants are used for clothing. Their ample supply is essential to survival. Society relies on agriculture, and people often danced in an effort to secure necessary resources. For example, the kagura is a Japanese Shinto dance ritual wherein practitioners dance to ask the gods for blessing over their harvests. In some cultures, rain dances are performed in which individuals dance to ask the gods to release the rains to help the crops grow or sustain human and animal life. People still appeal to higher beings for rain; cons...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Dance Appreciation
APA 6 Citation
Clark, A., & Pecina, S. (2020). Dance Appreciation (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
Clark, Amanda, and Sara Pecina. (2020) 2020. Dance Appreciation. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
Clark, A. and Pecina, S. (2020) Dance Appreciation. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Clark, Amanda, and Sara Pecina. Dance Appreciation. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.