It's a Matter of Taste (or what makes YOU, YOU in Dance)

After a long career at IBM, my husband decided to change direction and become a Sound Engineer. Yesterday, he had an “a-ha!” moment while listening to an education video in which it was stated that clients don’t hire an engineer because of their technical knowledge, they hire them because of their taste.  

It was something that he always understood, but that particular collection and order of words resonated deeply.

As I thought about what this meant to him, I realized that this is a common truth across art forms. As a photographer, my clients don’t care if I know what all the buttons do on my camera. They care about the feeling they get from my finished product. Of course, the more I know how to use my equipment, the more tools I have at my disposal to realize my vision.

As a dancer, we run into this argument all the time. It usually goes something like “Technique vs. Artistry: DEATH MATCH SHOWDOWN!!!” (said in my best WWF voice), and it creates a false comparison that you can have one or the other, but not both. That you have to choose one area to put your energy in, and to be good at one means to be deficient in another. One of the common criticisms I hear about the Salimpour format is that the focus is on drills and layering, and as a result, there is no development of personal style or emotive intent.

As a Level 5 dancer, I can tell you there is nothing further from the truth.

In Levels 1/2, it is true that we spend the majority of our focus on “understanding the buttons on the camera”. Because the highest percentage of the student body resides in these levels, I can understand why people think this is the meat of the format. This foundational work is what I call “the cost of entry” into the stuff that matters. Level 3 and 4 is where we work on developing artistry, but we do so with a solid technical foundation so that you can have freedom of expression without the worry of technical competency.

So then, if we are all doing the same basic technique, where is the ME in M.E. dance. (See what I did there? ;-) )

I think that the answer lies …. in our taste. It is in how we hear music. I was recently out for a Suhaila Level 3 weeklong, and for homework, all the attendees had to choreograph to the same pieces of music. I remember one night thinking to myself, “geesh, I shouldn’t do an exterior hip circle during what is CLEARLY the “Exterior Hip Circle Part” because eeeeveryone is going to do an exterior hip circle, and I should dig a little deeper.” Well, I was tired and I just needed to get my homework done, so I kept the exterior hip circle, and you know what? There was only one other person out of over 20 people that did the same move at the same time. It wasn’t that we were “right”, it was that everyone heard different things in the music which caused them to MOVE differently. It was awesome because I heard the same piece of music 20 different ways based off who was dancing.

This is what makes you, you in art. It’s not about trying to dance LIKE someone else, or stealing someone else’s moves…. because then you are just a copy. People want to see YOU dance to see how YOU hear music, and the subsequent emotional response it brings out in YOU.

But at the end of the day, you don’t even know what avenues are open to you unless you train. Unless you have such deep body awareness that you don’t need a mental investment to execute the “step”, and can free yourself to live in the artistry of the moment. This means not only training your glutes, but knowing the music, knowing the rhythms and maqams, knowing the great dancers and watching how they interpreted the music and studying what made them great. “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard”.

Success will not be measured in your technically proficiency alone. Success as a performer will be granted when you make the the audience feel you on a personal level, and show them the uniqueness of how you hear and feel music. That’s where your value as an artist lies.

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