Story of Dance Caitlin Pellegrino

Culture is defined as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time (“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster”).” Throughout time dance has been used in many different ways and in different cultures for many different reasons, but dance within itself has a culture. Like majority of other cultures dance has a way of telling stories. Before understanding how dance tells a story it is important to understand dance culture, how dance shapes a person, why dance is important, and then one can understand how dancers communicate using their body and appreciate the art form.

For those that are dancers they may have experienced the culture that presents itself across studios. When studio dancing is used it is referring to the following types of dance: ballet, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, pointe, contemporary, and tap. Even though they have different experiences depending on the people that they encountered, the way the classes were run and how things work were always the same. One knows this to be true because when they attend a dance competition, the dancers have this respect for the other teams that are genuine. Though they are competing against other teams, each team watch each other and discuss the choreography or the costuming constructively. There is a bond of comradery when you walk off stage usually the waiting teams will tell you that you did a great job or compliment you in some way and in return wish them luck for their performance. Other performances are used as inspiration for another dance that you may be working on. Going to competitions is an experience that is rewarding because it opens up the eyes of dancers to what is possible.

The world of dance is a competitive one for anyone looking to seriously get involved with dance. For example on a team one is working with their teammates to look good overall while competing against their teammates to get the solo part in the dance or even be offered a solo. While one is wishing the best for their friends they are secretly hoping that they get hurt so that they can have that special part that they so much long for. This creates a world where one has to be mentally strong and have determination to work for what they want.

A prime example of this would be the show “Dance Moms” for anyone that has seen the show it seems like an exaggeration, but it a pretty accurate representation of how some moms act. There are moms that exists and will do anything to watch their children get whatever they want. These parents are often overly involved in the dance studio and create this atmosphere where it is super competitive amongst peers. Often on the show the moms try to confront the teacher about why their daughter is not getting a solo or is even put in the back of a dance. The spots should purely be based on the dancer’s ability, but sometimes this is not true and is motivated by personal feelings. On the show as a way to rank the dancers there is the dereded pyramid reveal. The pyramid is a way a showing who the best dancers of the week were based on how they acted the week before and how they performed at the competition. This was a method to show the girls where they stood and to motivate them to work harder to knock the girls above them down the pyramid. The competitive nature amongst peers is the bad side of dance culture, but there is definitely a good side to the culture.

Dance gives you a family

While dancers are competing against each other they are also forming a bond. Once a certain level of ability is reached majority of the classes that a dancer takes are with the same dancers. This allows them to grow close to each other, which is a good thing because they become a support group and a family. Spending at least two hours at a time together about four days a week forces dancers to form this bond. They are going through these classes that are pushing them to become better together and being able to relate to someone else during times like these are important. One example when this is important is when dancers stretch their bodies to the limit and as bad as it sounds stretching does not just mean warming your muscles, but stretching to a point where you feel a strong pull and push a little past that. So when dancers have a day where they do a lot of stretching they are all often sore the next day together and can relate. Being able to relate to people on this level knowing they are feeling the same way physically and are struggling to dance the next day makes you feel better about it. It also allows dancers to push themselves a little farther because they are able to compare themselves to the other dancers around them which gives them the motivation to do so. Usually these dancers are on a team together and they become a family.

An example that shows how close a team could be is the University of Scranton Dance Team. They are a group of ladies that came from different backgrounds and majors that did not know each other before coming to Scranton. Around campus they often sport their team logo through apparel that they wear and are often seen smiling and talking with each other in passing. They also posted a video on Youtube from their recent trip to UDA Nationals that has scenes of them in a huddle before performing supporting each other and exploring Disney World as a group (Tremont). The smiles that are on their faces and the love that they show for each other is real. This trip comes after two weeks where they were together for at least seven hours a day with a majority of that time practicing. Even though some of the girls are jealous that they were not chosen to be on the nationals team they still want the best for their team. These are two examples of how spending a lot of time dancing and working hard together brings you closer and the competitive nature of dance amongst peers. Growing up in the world of dance has impacts on the dancer and affects their life outside of the dance world.

Persepolis shows that culture has the ability to shape a person because Marjane changes as her laws and culture change around her. When Marjane moves out of her country she was trying to change who she was, but in one of the scenes she realizes that she is not happy because she is not being true to herself (page 174). The dance culture is no exception to this claim since the things that make a good dancer also carry over into the real world.

  • Selfawareness
  • Perseverance
  • An outlet
  • Tough skin
  • An appreciation for the art form
  • Teaches you how to express yourself

Over the years one learns to communicate with their body in a way that some people do not understand. This communication allows the dancer to become more self aware with how they are feeling physically and in relation to how their body is movings. Part of a dance is knowing where their body parts are at all times because there is a difference between an arm that is completely straight up and in a high v. Along with the basics of technique dancers are taught to strive for perfection in everything that they do. No performance is perfect there is always something that they can fix or do better. A dancer’s leg could always go higher and their toes could be pointed more, which forces them to try and improve the dance each time they perform it. Mikhail Baryshnikov said “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself (Eiss,x).” This speaks to after a dance is made one is not working to dance better than the dancer next to them, but to be better than the last time that they performed the dance. After dances are made there is no changing the dance so there is no point in a dancer trying to prove that they could have done a better job. The only thing a dancer can do it to improve themselves so that next time the choreographer sees the improvement and hard work and hopefully rewards them.

The perseverance they learn comes from always trying to stretch to the limit where they cannot take anymore pain because it is becoming a bad sort of pain. It also stems from doing a dance and being so tired that they can barely finish, but dancers need to push through the tiredness and finish strong. Unlike other athletes dancers are not allowed to stop halfway through a dance or performance because dances depend on every person being there. Even if a dancer gets hurt on stage, drops a prop, or even have part of their costume come undone they keep going. The only time a dancer is allowed to exit the stage before they were supposed is if their costume is completely going to fall off. Tough skin comes from understanding that when they are given a correction it is not meant to be in a mean way and that it is constructive criticism. It also comes from not being given the best parts all of them time and causes a dancer to know that they may not always get what they want, but it is for the best. As a dancer they cannot take things personally because the point of being told they are messing up or being pushed extra hard is to make them better. Dance is an art form that is appreciated by many, but as a dancer they are able to appreciate all forms in a way that is different than most people. As a dancer they know all of the hard work and practice that goes into a dance to make it look perfect. Most people will watch a dance and see that it looks good, but they are not understanding how amazing it actually is.

As seen in Persepolis as Marjane grows up she expresses herself through the way she dresses and western culture. Dancers use dance as a way to express themselves, they are able to use their bodies to convey how they are feeling the way Marjane was able to use her clothing choices. Being a dancer one learns not only how to move to the music, but how to convey an emotion and story with every part of their body. There is a million different things that go through the mind of a dancer while they are dancing that truly makes it a beautiful story. They are concentrating on what movement comes next, counting, remembering all of the technique that they have ever learned, and to make sure that they are conveying whatever emotion they are looking to convey. All of these moving parts are what make a dance tell the story they are hoping it will. Ballet is the most obvious for telling stories because of the fact that there are ballets such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker. Ballerinas use their bodies and movements to convey the story to the audience members by exaggerating certain movements. One example is in the ballet Sleeping Beauty when the last good fairy is talking about the child she says that the child will be beautiful, but will prick her finger and fall asleep instead of dying. For the dancer to convey what she is “saying” to the audience she takes her hand and circles her face in reference that the child will be beautiful and to show that the child will not die she takes her arms crossing her hands back and forth to say no. Ballets are often easy to follow because of these movements and music, but there there are two other types that convey stories, they would be lyrical and contemporary styles. In these styles the story is more reliant on the dance and the emotion themselves rather than a set plot like the ballets have. Choreographers take a song interpret its meaning and choreograph movements that convey the emotion and story of the dance. Meanwhile the dancers are responsible for taking these movements and adding meaning and faces to convey the story to the audience. Stories in dance can be compared to parables in the sense that they are both stories.

The following video hopefully conveys the story of not being enough for someone no matter how hard you try from two different dancers points of view. Choreography done by Rachel Kollar and performed by Rachel Kollar and Caitlin Pellegrino.

Parables are “a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that illustrates a moral or religious lesson. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objectives, and forces of nature as characters while parables generally feature human characters (Crossan, 29).” Crossan goes on to talk about how there are different types of parables that have different purposes. Example parables are stories that have a moral purpose that is portrayed metaphorically as to force the reader to interpret its meaning and apply it to their own lives. An example of an example parable can be found in 2 Samuel 12:1-4, the purpose of this parable was to teach David a lesson that he should not have taken the wife of a man because it was like the rich man taking the only sheep a poor man. David was able to discern that the rich man that took the sheep was in the wrong, which was the lesson of the parable. The second type of parable that Crossan talks about is a challenge parable which is a parable that challenges the reader to think about its meaning and application. The last type of parable that Crossan presents is a riddle parable are stories that have severe consequences for the wrong answers. Each type of parable is used for a different purpose and the same story could be seen as two different types. Crossan says that the same parable being seen as two different types is because of the person that is telling the story (Crossan, 13-64).

There is different types of stories that dance can portray because dance is able to convey any story possible. These stories can be taken in two different directions based on the choreographer and the dancers. For example the song “Clarity” by Zedd is a song about someone being an important part of someone’s life and it is not necessarily good for them. The original version is an upbeat song, while the cover by Madilyn Bailey is slower, which changes the type of moves that would be put into a dance.

The story from the song is the same, but the choreography will tell a different story. For example there was a dance choreographed with two possible endings and the dancer was able to pick the ending. One ending made the dance about someone not being good for them, but then they stayed on stage it meant that they were willing to stay and fight for the person. The second ending was that the dancer would leave the stage that was symbolizing that they were now done with the person. Though the basics of the storyline are the same the ending changes the way in which the story is interpreted. This is similar to Crossan’s explanation that a parable can be seen as a different type depending on the person telling the story. Depending on the dancer the meaning of the dance changes for them and thus changes for the audience. In Fiddes’s book “Seeing the World and Knowing God” he introduces a concept that the it is the dancers job to embody the meaning in the performance. The dancers get the interpretation of the movement from the choreographer who interprets it in their own way. This supports Crossan’s theory that different storytellers can change the parables meaning just based off how they tell the parable.

As mentioned above different people have different takes on stories, which comes from their different backgrounds. Dancers all come from different studios and in each studio they may have different styles of dance. Fiddes quotes Deborah Kilgore who said “there is more than one way to know something and more than one thing to know about it” (Fiddes, 367). This shows there is more than one way to know how to do the same thing. In the world of dance a move can be done in different ways based on the style of dance. For example a simple plié combination usually consist of two smaller ones and a larger one known as demi plié and grande plié. However, in different studios they perform them differently because there is no right arm combination to do with it or if port de bras should be included. Some even may skip the grande plié in fourth position because it is not needed, while other studios include it. Studios shape the styles of their dancers based on their own style, but because another dancer performs a move differently does not mean it is wrong. It is the style of the dancer that contributes to the story that they tell through their dancing.

Watching the first section of video you see the different combinations that the dancers use to do plié. Majority of studios stick to a certain combinations for doing pliés as you can see the two dancers one continues on to second position while the other does a cambré forward. The next thing is a calypso and you can see ever so slightly because the second dancer holds the arch a little longer so she is focusing more on the arch rather than focusing on the picture that is in the air. The last move is called a turning fan kick and the difference is that the one dancer adds a lean to the fan that would allow for a different look in a dance. The other dancer did the basic move that has a completely different look yet they are the dame move.

Dance culture shaped these dancers in such a way that they are able to tell these stories using their bodies. As in other cultures stories are used to entertain people and the stories that dance tells definitely entertain people. Between the shows such as “Dancing With the Star”, “Dance Moms”, and “So You Think You Can Dance” and ballets people find entertainment and learn about the culture. These shows also teach people about the dance culture, which is good because it makes people aware of someone else’s culture. Learning about different cultures makes people more aware of the differences between people. This is seen in Persepolis when Marjane moved out of Iran one of her friends would constantly ask her about where she was from. They were intrigued by how she grew up in a war torn country. It is something that most people are lucky enough not to have to face, but is a culture that shapes who they are as a person. Marjane talks about how through writing the book she received closure and realised who she really was. She was also able to shed light on the Iranian culture from a point of view that was different from the usual conception of the Iranian culture.

Overall the culture of dance is one that has good and bad sides. Each side shapes the dancer for the better since it teaches them how to form bonds and how to deal with not being the best at everything they do. This is on top of the tough skin, perseverance, and a self awareness that they are able to carry into their everyday life because they can able to work hard for the things that they want. Dance relates to Parables in Pop Culture in the way in which it tells stories and how it is present in popular culture. Fiddes and Crossan both present arguments that relate to dance as a method of storytelling and how different writers change the story.

Works Cited

Crossan, John Dominic. The Power of Parable How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. HarperOne, 2013.

“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/.

Eiss, Harry. The Mythology of Dance, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/


Fiddes, Paul. Seeing the World & Knowing God. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. 2003.

Tremont, Sophia, director. University of Scranton Dance Team UDA Nationals 2018. 18 Jan. 2018.


Created with images by TheDigitalArtist - "silhouette ballerina northern lights" • Sergei Gavrilov - "Ksenia Kern, balerina" • Lorraine Swanson - "Female Dance Feet in Different Shoes" • David Hofmann - "dancer jumping at sunset on the beach" • nikidinov - "ballet swan lake ballerina dance swan elegance" • 3938030 - "slipper dance ballet dancer foot classic dance" • sobima - "ballet school class" • 3938030 - "slipper dance ballet foot classical dance dance"

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