"Tilting" the Scales: The Place of Competitive Dance Practices in Academia
Paper presented at the Popular Culture Association National Conference, Virtual, June 2021.
Walk into a college dance class and ask the students how many of them were competitive dancers prior to their arrival into academia. Chances are that at least half of the dancers will raise their hands. Ask that same class of dancers if they feel the need to suppress their competitive dance aesthetics, both in technique and choreography, in order to gain approval from their faculty. The majority will probably respond with a resounding ‘yes!’ So why is there such a divide between these two arenas of the same field? And what kind of disservice are we doing to our dancers by not allowing them to continue to access years of training when they arrive into the collegiate setting? I argue that holistic dancers need to be strong and flexible in both their physicality and their thinking, which means that opposing training grounds can actually borrow from each other. By drawing from my own experiences within both arenas, as well as secondary sources from leaders in both the academic and competitive facets of the field, I will work to unpack how two different modes of training and, therefore, sets of values, can live together and, ultimately, serve each other in how we train dancers for professional careers.
colliding concert with competitive choreographies: cultivating dancer agency in the creative process
Paper presented at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in Miami, FL, October 2019.
As dance educators, we are constantly engaged in conversations surrounding the divide between academic and commercial dance, especially related to training and choreographic practices. Academia is marked by an emphasis on the importance of choice-making, while the ethos of commercial dance is that of precision, sameness, and technical prowess by way of codified movement vocabularies. As a contemporary choreographer, I am equally invested in the competition dance scene, specifically as a national dance competition adjudicator. I’ve discovered how these two seemingly disparate arenas are actually interconnected—beyond trophies, dance competitions offer valuable embodied experiences that can carry into collegiate level, academic dance training. And this overlap goes both ways—the coaching of dancers within collegiate programs aligns with competition dance training in the shared focus on encouraging embodied efficiency. As a choreographer, I’ve noticed these connections to ring true within the creative process. This paper unpacks the creation of my evening length work, Still Lingers Here. Grounded in theoretical research through an application of Constitutive Rhetoric, the work foregrounds how dancer agency allows for a deeper understanding of the overlaps between two seemingly disparate parts of the field. I began my creative process by thinking about the different value systems and, as a result, existing binaries between competitive and academic dance training and coaching. I considered quality vs. quantity, music vs. silence, and, most relevant to this year’s conference theme, agency vs. conformity. Throughout our creative process, I paid close attention to my language choices in both the generating and coaching of the material, exercising my own agency to determine the choice-making capacities of the dancers. Ultimately, this paper seeks to encourage conversations about dancer agency in creative processes and the age-old concert vs. commercial dance debate. Attendees will gain insight into the values of granting agency, alongside strategies to do so within more commercial realms of dance-making.
unexpected applications: dance competition judging as the perfect setting for the use of constitutive rhetoric
Paper presented at the Popular Culture Association Conference in Washington, DC, April 2019.
Turn on the television during prime-time hours and there is probably a dance competition unfolding, whether on Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, or Dance Moms. These popular reality television shows highlight the field of dance as being rooted in competition—and for the commercial facet of the field, this representation isn’t far from the truth. The dance competition industry is booming, generating millions of dollars annually as aspiring artists work to prove their worth to and gain validation from a panel of supposedly expert judges. It is the job of these judges to convince the dancers, through their live, verbal critiques and scoring, that they are knowledgeable professionals. Beyond the dancers, it is also up to the judges to prove to the studio owners that they possess an exceptionally high caliber of expertise. But how can the competitions ensure that the judges are providing the level of quality in their critiques that the attendees (namely studio owners, teachers, dancers, and parents) demand? The answer is clear: dance competition judges must borrow from the field of Communication and apply the theory of Constitutive Rhetoric to their adjudication and critiquing of dances in order to increase the quality of their critiques and minimize the complaints that are constantly lodged against them. This paper unpacks the theory of Constitutive Rhetoric as it applies to the judging of dance competitions and posits the value of sharing practices in the seemingly disparate but highly related fields of Dance and Communication.
disheartening disputes: the academia vs. competition dance training debate
Paper presented at the Dance Studies Association Conference in Valletta, Malta, July 2018.
A young dancer eagerly enters the studio for her first movement course as a college dance major. She is thrown out of her comfort zone in terms of the movement vocabulary that comprises her new technique practice, and is confused by the complex language her professor uses in the studio. Despite her previous training as a competitive dancer, throughout which she intensively studied ballet, contemporary, jazz, tap, lyrical, hip-hop, and musical theater dance styles, she feels like she is starting over and has to unlearn everything she thought she knew. In American dance training, we often see this scenario, as dancers transition from the competition circuit to the college classroom. The worlds of competition dance and academic dance are in constant conflict with one another and professionals within both arenas perpetuate this division. Despite this stigmatization, this paper works to illuminate the strong connection between these two sides, via an analysis of the critical language of the competition and academic facets of the dance field. Arguably, both training grounds, competitions and academia, are after embodied accuracy and efficiency within their respective students and professionals. While the means by which educators encourage dancers to achieve this level of embodiment differs, the end goal remains the same. By borrowing from the field of Communication, specifically through an application of the theory of Constitutive Rhetoric, this paper foregrounds the ways in which language serves as the common thread that links these two often conflicting, but strongly related areas of the same field.
i want you to need me: the shared language of academia, dance competitions, and everything between
Paper presented at the Popular Culture Association Conference in Indianapolis, IN, March 2018.
Given the popularity of reality television shows that highlight competitive dance, and the simultaneous springing up of new academic dance programs throughout the country, these two sides of the dance field—commercial and concert—continue to remain at odds with one another. As a choreographer, I am interested in how I can bridge the gap between these two modes of learning, performing, and teaching and, ultimately display their overlap in the proscenium setting. Through an application of linguistic analysis to my own choreographic process, this paper illuminates--via video footage of my M.F.A. thesis work, Still Lingers Here--the ways in which vocabulary, both in terms of movement and language, connects these two often separate, but highly related arenas within the same field.
choreographing conflict: how jewish american choreographers are tackling israel
Paper presented at the American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association joint conference in San Diego, CA, April 2017.
Understanding identity through corporeal experience is especially complex for Jewish American choreographers who are grappling with their identities via the Jewish nationalistic movement, Zionism, and the ever-rife Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This paper explores the various ways in which contemporary Jewish American choreographers, including David Dorfman, Nina Haft, and Kristin Smiarowski, make dances about the current status of the Middle East as it relates to their Jewish identities. By defining the types of questions that these artists are asking in their creative research, this paper pinpoints a list of strategies for how Jewish American choreographers continue to engage with the complexly layered, relevant, and challenging topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
the use of the voice in bebe miller's a history: functions, strategies, and opinions
Paper presented at the American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association joint conference in Seattle, WA, March 2016.
In her iconic discussion of Richard Bull’s choreography, Dances That Describe Themselves, dance scholar Susan Foster argues, “words can be as fervent as motions. Both communicate through their capacity for articulateness” (Foster 2002). Since the birth of post-modern dance, stances on speaking in dance performance have evolved. Some choreographers view the voice as a critical part of the body, necessary in all dances they make, while others believe in the communicative power of the physical body and see the voice as a departure from “dance.” This paper looks specifically at the use of the voice in Bebe Miller’s 2012 work, A History, by first defining the role(s) of spoken text throughout the work, naming the various techniques Miller employs. Following the explanation, the paper analyzes the purpose of the speaking and uses my own viewing of the work, as well as reviews and interviews to draw conclusions about how the spoken text contributed to both the criticism and praises A History received.
choreography as tikkun olam: making dances to “repair the world”
Paper presented at the American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association joint conference in New Orleans, LA, April 2015.
Tikkun Olam is the Jewish philosophy and practice of “repairing the world.” Like choreography, Tikkun Olam is active; it necessitates enactment of an idea through its doing. Three of today’s leading Jewish contemporary choreographers who note a connection with Tikkun Olam are David Dorfman, Liz Lerman, and Victoria Marks. In their choreographic processes, they describe using this philosophy in different ways. Lerman’s work sources Tikkun Olam via community-based projects, Dorfman explores this Jewish principle through thematic material for the proscenium stage, and Marks alternates between these modes of making. What connects these different research approaches and aesthetics reflects multiple dimensions of an embodied Tikkun Olam concept through strong gravitation toward community outreach, social justice, and political commentary. This paper unpacks Tikkun Olam as a theoretical and artistic framework in select choreographic projects of these three artists, followed by conclusions about my own creative process as an emerging Jewish American choreographer, “repairing the world” in the studio and on stage.
on the flip side: perspectives on teaching, learning, and choreographic thought
Paper panel co-presented with Annie Kloppenberg (Associate Professor, Colby College) and Sara Gibbons at the National Dance Education Organization Conference, Chicago, IL, November 2014.
Recognizing that the nature of the work of the discipline may at times be at odds with the systems and structures in which we teach, learn, and practice choreography, this panel offers experiential insights about those processes in the context of higher education. It looks at the relationships between pre-college and collegiate dance education and between the academic experience and the field. It examines multiple sides of the same experience: a professor discusses her pedagogical approach; an undergraduate student explains her current interest in collaborative authorship and the historical research that interest has inspired; and a graduate student reflects critically on her undergraduate experience. The two students unpack their own trajectories and transformations as college dancers, explaining how they came to embrace seeing, making, and researching dance in dramatically different ways from their pre-college trainings. Their professor puts forward a pedagogical value system that privileges choreographic thought, includes a heavy emphasis on collaboration, and proposes an important relationship between success and risk-taking.