What is Dance?

Updated: Apr 16

1 — Dance is an eternal and universal art. There are no people who do practice it in any of its forms. As far back as we go over time, we find it developed, more or less in honor, but always present. From a slow elaboration over the centuries came out one of the most beautiful forms and the purest: classical dance. It is not the work of a man, nor a people, nor of an era. It is the long evolution that has gradually selected the best movements in agreement with his ideal.

2 — Before establishing the grammar of classical dance, let's try to define what dance is. It is a movement: it is the result of a succession of poses in Time. It exists only at the very moment of its creation and leaves no trace. This inability to leave tangible evidence of its existence may explain why dance has been denied the place it deserves.

3 — What elements differentiate the choreographic movements from all others? They are not anarchic: they must be in harmony with the aesthetics of time and the place of their execution.

4 — A related element coordinate these harmonious movements over time: the rhythm, the rhythm of which can vary almost to infinity.

5 — There are smooth and rhythmic movements caused by an agent. The rotation of the earth causes the stars to describe the circles on which the planets evolve in smart loops. So perfectly harmonious that mathematical formulas can define them, and at a pace that, to be strong slow, is no less regular. Electrical jolts cause muscle contractions with which one could get movements similar to those of dance. We could multiply those examples. However, these are just pseudo-dances. For there to be a real dance, the movement must result from the will of the subject.

6 — All voluntary, harmonious, and rhythmic movements are not dance from the dance an antelope, progressing by leaps, voluntarily perform elegant and rhythmic actions. It's not a dance; it's a race. A sower who carries his seat on the left side, dips his right hand in it and then reads, makes a large semicircle by throwing the grains on the fly. The dancer who puts himself in position at the barre you have the same gesture. So, what is the criterion? It is that the sower does not care about the beauty of his movement, nor his rhythm. He seeks to spread his grain over the broadest possible area with the minimum of tiredness. It was by chance that his gesture took this aesthetic form and rhythm. The dancer, on the other hand, does not pursue any real purpose; his gesture exists only in function of itself; it is its end. It is not the result of the movement that counts; it is its execution: an athlete who makes a saut de ciseaux aims to rise as high as possible. He uses this movement because he deems it most suitable for carrying out his purpose. If he thinks another move is better, he'll re-use it. This is how we have seen, in athletics, the saut de ciseaux gives way to the roller. No matter the movement, what it takes is to jump high. The dancer who performs a Temps de Fleche makes about the same movement as a jumper athlete. However, he will not give up his flow to win some Centimeters. For him, it is the Temps de Fleche that counts, not the height, although He jumps as high as possible. If the dance movement has no purpose outside of it, it can. On the other hand, translates a feeling. A merry-go-round of dives can express intense joy, deep panic despair, but it is a merry-go-round of pitches. It's a little bit such as a brick, which will be used to build a house, or a wall or bridge; it will be its use, not its purpose or cause. Similarly, the dance movement is not caused by the variation in which it is used, it pre-exists. The variation is his use not his goal.

7 — In summary, we will define dance: Movements voluntary, harmonious, rhythmic, with their end in themselves.

8 We have said that the dance is made up of a succession of poses killing moments of movement. Not all these moments have the same value or role within the movement. Two are the very constituents of the movement. Two others are particular cases to the first two translate a feeling. A merry-go-round of dives can cause deep despair, but above all, it is a merry-go-round of pitches. It's a little bit such as a brick, which will be used to build a house, or a wall or bridge; it will be its use, not its purpose or cause. Similarly, the dance movement is not caused by the variation in which it is used, it pre-exists. The variation is its utilization, not its purpose.

9 — The crucial moments are the main stages of the movement, from which they form the frame. Let's take as an example a simple dance step.

10 — Like the battement a la seconde. It has two essential moments: the fifth, and the second to the height. Two crucial moments are the minimum possible for the execution of a movement: moving from one pose to another. If then the foot comes back to close in the fifth, we will have three crucial moments: fifth, second at the height, fifth. All the crucial moments of a movement are necessary and sufficient to define it. For a given dance step, the number of crucial moments is usually low.

11 — Between the crucial moments are the secondary or intermediate. They are in unlimited amounts because the more you consider a small time interval, the more you find. Critical moments and secondary moments make up the movement.

12 — The role of secondary moments is generally minor. But some are formed by a particularly harmonious combination of lines. These are the aesthetic moments. The beautiful moment plays a significant role in dance. It is particularly essential that sought for motionless poses when it, at the beginning of a variation or its end is not conditioned by a very rapid movement, the balance of which imposes positions. 13 — There is finally, in some steps, a particular moment: it is an essential moment whose combination of lines is not found in any other step. It is enough to specify this step alone. It is precious for those who study movement. Example: the typical moment of an entrechat.

14 — We defined the word "dance" and saw the moments of the movement. We will move on to the systematic study of the steps of classical dance, establishing a logical order ranging from the simplest to the most complex, and looking for the fundamentals of the components of each step family.

Source: Grammaire de la danse, Germaine Prudhommeau, Georgette Bordier.


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