Several years ago I took my dad to the ballet. Despite the fact that he took me, when I was about 5, to my first ballet performance (and what we remember most is how the male dancer’s sweat flew off his body and out into the audience), and despite another fact, that my dad’s never without opinions about everything, he turned to me at the conclusion of the opening piece and asked, “Was it good?” “Yes,” I answered him, smiling. “Very good.”
Still, his reservations about having, much less attempting to articulate a response to what he’d just seen, felt and experienced stayed with me. And I’m asked similar questions often about how to watch dance: What should I look at? How do I know if it’s “good” or “bad?” What does it mean? So here’s a primer to looking at ballet (classical and contemporary), modern dance (in all of its variety), post-modern or experimental dance (perhaps the form closest to theater these days) and Bharatanatyam (since classical Indian dance, of diverse styles, is so prevalent in the Twin Cities).
To create this primer—which is intended for neophytes and experts, students and teachers, professionals and beginners alike—I enlisted the expertise of four dance artists in the Twin Cities who practice and perform the dance forms about which they’ve written. If there’s a common theme to their suggestions on how to look at, understand and appreciate dance, it might be this: Dance is adventure, an experience, so allow yourself to think, feel, imagine and be carried away. There aren’t any rules to watching dance, nor does any single dance piece have one single interpretation. So relax and enjoy the show.