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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.