Dance & Text

In preparing students in the K-12 Dance Education program here at UTM (University of Tennessee Martin) I love exploring with them other ways of reaching students in the class. One way is the use of poetry or some form of writing. By applying their knowledge of either dance techniques or use of choreography with the addition to text then provides the learner with yet another way of thinking about dance as an art.

The idea of text in dance is an ancient one. Many cultures including Ancient Greece would have in their dramas text combined with dance or pantomime. This idea then would go to Europe in the beginning of ballet most early ballets and I am referring to 16th and 17th century, where the form is not what we know of today, explored movement that always included some form of narration or as Opera evolved singing. It really wasn’t until the 18th century that ballet which often was referred to ballet d’action with elements of pantomime became the ballet we know of today and it wasn’t until the 19th century that such classics as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker were created.

The Hula is a form which has a complex relationship with poetry and movement as does the Bharatanatyam.

I got a bit off subject here but I wanted to give some context that using text and movement is not new. It is new though in a generation which has experienced for many years the separation of language to the arts or even science to the arts. Leonardo would have something to say about this! So this semester I was so pleased to see dance education student teachers create and develop lesson plans that provided all learners with the chance to explore text and movement.

1 student wanted her 5th and 7th graders to create a group work inspired by a poem using movements they learned in class. The 2nd student taught 5th graders a way to arrange a sentence to solve the problem of what they were going to dance about. In each it showed that dance is a complex set of thinking problems at the same time the learners showed how focused and creative they could be in creating, collaborating in a group, solving a problem, performing, and finally responding on their ideas! Loved seeing young educators in realizing the potential in integrating different disciplines to what most people think as just either a simple excersice activity or a form of entertainment.

European modern dance still will use narrative or text in dance. America not so much, though, Bill T Jones still accesses text and movement as a way in which to keep the idea of Dance Theatre alive and well in America. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see So You Think You Can Dance have a series of dance and poetry?…,yah I know not going to happen, but I can dream can’t I?


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