by Kallee Lins (Charlebois Post Dance Editor)
Introduction: Writing and talking about dance is something that intimidates a lot of people. As a performance scholar (who is going on a lot of dates these days), I am often met with blank stares at the inevitable response to inquiries about my area of study. Even worse, my conversational counterpart will attempt to hypothesize what the study of dance entails, asking something like, “PhD in dance? Is that mostly routines or do you look at historical and social context too?”
- Start with the tone. My immediate first step is to take a look at the small sheet of paper I’ve scribbled on throughout the show and pull out words that seem to resonate with the performance as a whole: frantic, hurried, exaggerated, diminutive. I let those words set the score for the rest of my writing.
- Technical vs. specific. Are you a former bun-head who knows her arabesques from her attitudes? It’s often easier to rely on technical names than to describe what is really going on in a particular sequence. Sports writers can get away with unexplained talk of ‘icing’ and ‘doubleheaders,’ so it’s tempting to rely on specialized terminology without doing the work of identifying what part of the adagio was really brilliant, or what specific quality made the pirouettes worth mentioning. Go back to those few hyper-detailed movement descriptions you made note of during the show (and that we discussed in Part 1). What quality was present in that movement that made you take note of it? Chances are you’ll recall a similar quality or texture in the movement phrase you’re having trouble describing. Maybe the dancers never reach a full extension, and kept an uneasy angle in every shape they carved. Talking about the feeling this produced—a precarious, off-kilter feeling within the choreography—is far more interesting and accessible than saying “the leg extensions in second were really great.” You may tell yourself they were really great, but tell your readers why.
- Be selective. Know when to give up and cut. It’s inevitable; there will be moments or aspects of a dance performance that will not adequately fit into words no matter how hard you try. I used the word ‘translate’ earlier very deliberately, to highlight the shift or slippage in meaning that necessarily occurs. Just as some words lose their resonance when you translate them to a different language, some movement might feel flat when you try to describe it. If you’re reading over a piece of text and it just doesn’t feel close enough to your experience, try zooming out. If it’s a particular movement phrase you’re having trouble speaking about, can you talk about the larger staging or thematic concerns of that part of the piece? What about flipping your analysis around? Instead of talking about what you saw, talk about your response as an audience member.
If it’s too much to press ‘delete,’ strike them, highlight them, put them in Comic Sans and banish them to the bottom of your page to deal with later. After considering the suggestions in Part 3, you’ll probably notice they don’t fit with the larger aim of your article anyway.