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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: growth of dance in America
(Summer-Fall, 1976)

Siegel, Marcia B.
Dance literacy: [waiting for the past to begin],   pp. 228-[235] PDF (8.0 MB)

Page 228

by Marcia B. Siegel
Dance critic for the Hudson Review and the
Soho Weekly News.
Dancers are a people without a past. They
have adopted neither the historical-aesthetic
perspectives of American liberal education
nor the pop culture's obsession with record-
ing and describing itself. Despite its extreme-
ly high level of performance and production
skill, dance is back in the Stone Age when
it comes to developing the techniques and
technologies by which other achievements of
the human mind get fed into the ideological
mainstream of civilization.
The reasons for this are deeper and older
than we fully understand. I'm sure dancers
suffer a heritage of conflict, between the
primal, total expressiveness of which their art
is capable and the puritanical attitudes that
society has clamped on it for hundreds of
years. Dancers are our scapegoats and
shamans. They act out in public what we
would most privately like to be, and we strike
a certain bargain with them. We'll allow them
to represent us on the dancing-grounds of
confession and affirmation if we both agree
that what has taken place between us must
remain a unique, momentary, and unfathom-
able experience.
Actors, singers and musicians share this
cathartic role in society with dancers, but the
essence of what they do is much more easily
captured, more readily repeated. Drama has
language at its heart, and that is a very
slowly changing resource to which the whole
culture has access. Music has the tonal sys-
tem of its particular epoch, for which harmon-
ic structures and the instruments to produce
them have evolved. By eliminating the almost
infinite number of sonic possibilities and
limiting itself to a certain sequence of sounds
called a scale, Western music assured itself
of a literature.
The only given in the history of dance is
the anatomical structure of the human body.
But each body has different proportions, dis-
tribution of weight, tensile development, per-
ceptual acuity, stamina, and each body has a
different head. The way dance looks is
affected by all these things and by many
others, and the way it looks is what matters.
From the time the choreographer goes into
the studio and asks his dancers to try some-
thing so he can see how it looks, till the time
those dancers perform what has become a
sequence of steps to a particular score and
with prearranged costumes, lights and sets,
a dance looks the way those dancers make It
look, and no other way. Every time the dance
is repeated after that, it will also look differ-

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