Importance Of Dance Theory And Dance History For A Dancer

By referring to dance theory, we are talking about the theoretical or intellectual knowledge about dance.

As a dancer, I am of the opinion that dance theory plays a significant role to make the dancer better and complete. But the significance of it may vary depending on the role of the dancer. If a dancer acts as a dance teacher, then the dance theory is of greater value. If the dancer is only a performer who’s main work is to replicate dance steps then the theoretical knowledge may be of lesser worth to him or her. Similarly for a choreographer, the significance would be different. A dance observer or critique will have other reasons to be aware of the knowledge related to dance.

I believe that, to be a successful dancer in today’s competitive world, the dancer needs to perform in all these multiple roles of a teacher, choreographer, performer, judge or observer, community dance worker, dance director, dance ambassador, dance notator or even a dance therapist. And it has become more important to understand the history and evolution of dance to the current best practices of dance related activities, so as to do well in these varied roles.

For example – a performer must be aware of the anatomy to utilize the full range of motion of the body as well as know what are the muscles to be worked on to be a better dancer and help in prevention any dance related injuries. A choreographer must be aware of the various creative techniques available in order to explore and create new dance sequences. A dance observer or a judge should be able to clearly identify contemporary movements from other style of movements if he/she is judging or evaluating a contemporary dance.

The number of examples and applications of dance theory are innumerous. I have tried to list down a few of the important applications of dance knowledge below.

The main applications of dance knowledge would be – The applying of a particular technique in a particular situation needs deeper understanding and not only practice of movements. Understand the processes by which dance performance is created, realised and managed. Understanding the concept behind the movement. To develop and apply an understanding of basic principles of choreography. To be able to critique and evaluate dance work of self and others. Effectively communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings through dance. To be able to differentiate between different techniques and be aware of what is correct and incorrect. To be able to learn the best practices for a particular dance methodology. To understand impact of dance on society and the audience. Intellectual knowledge about dance is definitely needed but is not sufficient for a dancer. The dancer needs to apply what he / she has learnt effectively and be able to implement it in the body, only then will it reflect in the movement of the dancer. There is a close inter-relationship between practice and theory. The theory influences the practice and vice-versa (new practices leads to new theories).

Even though the significance of dance theory being high, I perceive it to be neglected by many dancers. According to a career guidance website, they say “Because of the strenuous and time-consuming training required, some dancers view formal education as secondary. However, a broad, general education including music, literature, history, and the visual arts is helpful in the interpretation of dramatic episodes, ideas, and feelings. Dancers sometimes conduct research to learn more about the part they are playing.”[1]
This shows that the possible reason for neglecting intellectual knowledge for dance is that – the dancer doesn’t find time for research, as they are generally involved in training during the day and performing during evening or weekends. Another reason could be that the importance placed on the dancing abilities of a performing dancer is much higher than that of the intellectual knowledge the dancer possesses. Hence the dancer perceives that it is better to invest the limited time into improving the practices already learnt without understanding the fact that the ability to perform is also impacted by learning the correct practices which is gained through intellectual knowledge.

I would like to conclude by saying that knowledge of dance theory creates a difference in the dancer similar to the difference between a well-educated person and an illiterate man. The illiterate man is still able to function and has the potential to achieve great success, but the chances of achieving his/her full potential is higher for an educated man. Also knowing how to read but not reading, is as good as, not knowing how to read, similarly having knowledge about dance theory and not applying it is as good as not having the knowledge. Hence it is very important to have knowledge of dance theory, but it is even more important to apply it and practice the same without which the knowledge gained is not of great use.