The Body: A Dancer’s Basic Tool

By Pamela Trokanski

Davis Dance Project 2016 – Improvisation and Choreography: Two Tools Dancers Use. What’s the difference and how can you know? We’ll answer your questions when you come to the show!

Blood, Reciprocity & Kevin Bacon, Fall 2015
Blood, Reciprocity & Kevin Bacon, Fall 2015

First, let’s acknowledge the most basic tool of the dancer which is, of course, their body. While poets use words and painters use paint, a dancer uses the physical body to create their art. Mata Hari (probably best known for being executed as a spy during World War II and who also, interestingly, was an exotic dancer), once said: “The dance is a poem, of which each movement is a word.” Consider this concept… the more articulate the body, the more articulate the dancer, and the more articulate the dancer, the more things they can “say” with their body and the more people they can reach through their dance.

Return to the idea of a poet. Now imagine that the poet has only ten words with which to communicate. Might they be able to write something profound with those ten words? Quite possibly, depending on what those ten words are. But will they ever be able to go beyond that, if they never have access to words that communicate other ideas? Or consider a painter, confined to using only shades of blue. While many painters go through phases of using different shades of only one color, for most it remains simply that… a phase. Why? One color can’t possibly represent a whole world of ideas, emotions, relationships or interactions.

When we think about the body as the tool of the dancer, we need to consider what our bodies are able to do naturally and also what we can train them to do. Just like any athlete, the dancer trains for specific physical skills. In addition to building strength, endurance, agility, flexibility, and more, dancers also develop skills such as leaping, turning, and sliding into splits. Once the dancer moves beyond solo work, all the skills of partnering (in its broadest sense) must also be learned because, then, it’s not just one body moving through space and time, but two or more, in relationship to each other.

So while we clearly acknowledge the body as the first tool, this year’s Davis Dance Project looks at two additional tools, choreography and improvisation. Both have their own unique advantages and challenges, but importantly, the focus is on how dancers use their brains to both memorize and / or creatively problem solve. Coming up next…the comfort, convenience and challenge of choreography.

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