Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: growth of dance in America
Siegel, Marcia B.
Dance literacy: [waiting for the past to begin], pp. 228- PDF (8.0 MB)
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. 228 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-