Why don't people like modern dance?

Heidi Wicks
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Neighbourhood Dance Works' Festival of New Dance explains

Dance, and contemporary dance, in particular, are often a little mysterious in most people's minds. It doesn't get the attention of film or television, theatre, music and often struggles for attention, similar to the poor visual artists. People wonder what the point is, what the artists and dancers are trying to prove as they stare in befuddlement.

As Neighbourhood Dance Works (NDW) kicks off its 17th annual Festival of New Dance, Calla Lechance, programs administrator for the festival, agrees that people find contemporary dance challenging, and attempts to dispel some of the myths about the art form.

Andrea Tucker performs Tammy MacLeod's work. - Submitted photo by Doug Alle

Dance, and contemporary dance, in particular, are often a little mysterious in most people's minds. It doesn't get the attention of film or television, theatre, music and often struggles for attention, similar to the poor visual artists. People wonder what the point is, what the artists and dancers are trying to prove as they stare in befuddlement.

As Neighbourhood Dance Works (NDW) kicks off its 17th annual Festival of New Dance, Calla Lechance, programs administrator for the festival, agrees that people find contemporary dance challenging, and attempts to dispel some of the myths about the art form.

"We live in a society that puts great emphasis on our ability to think, and logically make sense of the world around us," she said. "But dance, by nature, is a form of creativity that uses the body as its mode of expression. I think this makes people uncomfortable."

She believes people may be a little more uncomfortable with new dance because they're not aware of the history behind it, as they are with ballet, folk, jazz or other styles.

A short history lesson

"In the early 20th century you had a period which is often referred to as the Forerunner years, where teachers challenged the esthetic of ballet, breaking free from a mould that constrained women's creativity," she explained, adding it was noted for its liberating qualities.

"A number of students who studied under these forerunners took dance further down this revolutionary path, and established dance companies, which resulted in the modern, post-modern and contemporary dance eras - which pushed the boundaries even further. Here we are in the 21st century, and you'll find that people will use modern, contemporary, new or theatrical dance to categorize any movement expression that can't be easily labelled as folk, traditional, jazz or ballet styles."

'People give up on dance too easily'

Lechance also believes that just because a person sees a dance show they don't particularly like, they shouldn't give up on the form.

"People see movies and hear music they don't like all the time, but that doesn't mean they won't watch films or listen to music anymore," she said. "I think people are very quick to decide that contemporary dance is one thing, and one thing only. In reality, every dancer and choreographer has something new to say and typically are always looking for innovative ways of expression."

Creative dance can, in fact, be done with or without music, with elaborate sets or in plain, black-box theatre. It can have a strong narrative story, or be abstract, can have simple movement motifs or highly charged athleticism.

"It can also involve theatrical elements like text, projected film, and multimedia effects, or be focused on a particular theme such as relationships, societal issues or political viewpoint. It can be performed inside, outside, and involves all kinds of dancers that range in size and shape," Lechance said.

"I suppose an audience member never knows what they're going to get, and this also makes them leery," she added. "For me, what's exciting about dance is simply seeing a person be creative with their body, push themselves physically, interact with another person in such a way that makes you sit up and say, 'Hey, I didn't know two people could do that - how powerful.'"

Stellar lineup at this year's festival

With the LSPU Hall closed for renovations, NDW (Resource Centre for the Arts' sister company) has done some scrambling to find new venues to house some of the best dancers in the country. They are presenting performances at venues throughout the city.

However, this minor wrench isn't preventing them from providing audiences with artful glitz.

"Over the past two decades, the central focus of the Festival of New Dance has remained true to its commitment to showcase the very best in local, national and international dance, but it has grown in scale quite a bit," says Gordon Laurin, managing director, Neighbourhood Dance Works.

"Each year we're able to expand the range of presentations, special events and workshop. The festival is unique in that it not only provides support to local dancers, but also brings to the city breathtaking works by some of Canada's most talented choreographers that simply wouldn't be available to the public otherwise."

So take a chance, stretch the imagination, and put your Ginger Rogers DVD collection on the shelf. See if your mind can handle some new dance.

For a full schedule of featured performances and venues for the 17th annual Festival of New Dance, visit www.neighbourhooddanceworks.com.

Organizations: Resource Centre

Geographic location: Canada

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