Art—three letters used to describe the diverse range of creativity in our world. The word itself is small, but it encompasses a vast collection of human accomplishments in creating auditory, visual, or performing pieces that express an artist’s skill, imagination, emotion, and view point.
Art can be broken down into various forms. Auditory art includes languages, literature, narratives, poetry, prayers, proverbs, and music. Visual art includes ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, design, crafts, photography, video, film-making, literature, and architecture. Performing art includes drama, music, and dance. Many of these artistic disciplines even intertwine to generate a whole piece of work.
So why do we have art?
One of the first known visual artistic expressions are cave drawings—the invention of symbolic expression. Anthropologists even believe cave drawings were used as visuals which aided storytellers to captivate their audience. Even before the drawings on the cave, the stories themselves were spoken and passed down through generations. Therefore, art has always been a way to share experiences and to express emotions.
What’s interesting and different about dance, as an art form, is that it is not concrete. A dance performance is a collection of auditory, visual, and performing pieces that showcase the dancer's skill, emotion, and energy as well as the choreographer's imagination, emotion, and view point. However, the dance performance itself is not a tangible artifact. Merce Cunningham said, “You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”
Is this true?
I think it is. Yes, dance can give dancers life-long friends, mentors, and life skills, but if we are talking about the performing art aspect of dance (which we are), then I agree with Cunningham.
Of course dance performances can be filmed and viewed again. However, by viewing the dance on film, the viewer can never feel the atmosphere of the theater during the performance—they are not part of the audience participating in the exchange of emotion between the performer and the spectator. They are not part of the giving and receiving of energy which is part of the performing aspect of dance. Yes, the choreography and music can be used again for another audience (and sometimes with new dancers), but the original performance can never be recreated—it can only be lived and experienced once.
Every dance performance will be different and the energy of every audience will be different. That's what makes the art of dance so special and unique.
So as dancers, we must acknowledge that our artwork is intangible. By recognizing that our dance performance is a single fleeting moment then we are privileged to understand that we need to live in the moment of the performance –we need to quiet our nerves and our worries and enjoy the collaboration of the music, the lyrics, the movement, and the emotion. Your work in rehearsals and in class have prepared you for your moments on stage. Enjoy each and every piece, enjoy each and every performance, and live in every moment.
“All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.”
― Martha Graham