Mar/April 2011 Journal – Part I

Dance Interactive Photo Credits (left to right): Ted Shawn, photo Shapiro Studios; Drew Jacoby, photo Kristi Pitsch; Shantala Shivalingappa, photo C.P. Satyajit

A Rose is a Rosa is a Hesperrhodos — (re)Naming an Art Form — by Mitchell Rose

It’s embarrassing. My art form is simultaneously under-recognized and over-named. I spend a lot of time on airplanes and a fair amount of that time is spent explaining what I do. If I were an astrophysicist, I could say “I’m an astrophysicist,” and people would get it. But when I say “I teach ‘Dance for Camera’” (because that’s the legacy name of my course)… they don’t get it. The listener presumes I’m teaching some sort of dance class. Marrying dance and filmmaking for the purpose of making original art currently goes by many names, including: Dance on Camera, Dance for Camera, Dance for the Camera, Dance Media, Screendance, Cinedance, Videodance, Dance-video, Dance-film, and even greater feats of punctuation. The field, burgeoning over the last decade since the advent of desktop filmmaking, is begging for a standardized name as practitioners struggle to describe their activities to a confused world. Before the field matures and in its codification people get locked into their moniker of choice, I think it’s useful that we arrive at a consensus—preferably my consensus—lest we be damned into eternal divisions like Fahrenheit and Centigrade, or even worse, NTSC and PAL. In unity there is strength. Multiple names for the same thing sows confusion and dissipation. This dancing and filming thing will achieve greater respect, and therefore support, when a single name elicits unmistakable understanding. First, a quick stab at defining what the field is: It is a visual medium that 1) has as its content dance-art that is specifically meant for that medium; or 2) has the intent to evoke an experience of dance. The difference between the two: 1 originates with dancing, and 2 does not, necessarily—it could be a randomly swirling piece of fabric. But the results of both are dance experiences. Were this a hundred years ago when English was 90,000 words fewer, we might be able to invent an original, single-word term. But I think that “Fance” or “Chorideo” will be a hard sell today. When new things emerge, we try to process and name them with language we already know, e.g., horseless carriage and airship. In this dancing and filming thing, there are two art forms coming together; it’s likely we’ll end up with similar compound phrases made up of terms reflecting the component parts. Let’s survey the current contenders: Dance on Camera The operative thing here is dance— this suggests not a hybrid form, but dance that has a camera aimed at it. Dance on Camera feels wide open—any dance shot with any camera. This term suggests simple archiving. The guy crumping in his living room on YouTube is Dance on Camera. Fred Astaire is Dance on Camera. But the camera on those dancers could have been placed in any one of a dozen positions and the result would have been nearly identical, because the film component is minimally involved for its intrinsic artistry—it’s merely involved for its ability to record.
ADVANCE, Dir. Mitchell Rose
Dance for Camera This has one good element going for it: The understood idea here is dance that is made to be recorded. This termbegins to suggest the notion of camera-specific choreography. But the expectation of “Dance for Camera” is that the product ultimately will be dance, in the same way that with “a chair for sitting,” what you’ll have is a chair. This term also suggests that the concern can be how to dance when it is for a camera. Dance for the Camera A variant of the above, with the addition of sounding like a command barked by an Old West gunslinger. Dance Media This is another wide-open term and could mean anything dance-related found on any kind of media. A How to Tango video, a Gene Kelly documentary, and a Music for Ballet Class CD all could be Dance Media. Screendance In the English language, adjectives generally precede nouns. The second word in the pair is the essence of the thing. A red rock is most importantly a rock. In Screendance, “dance” appears to be a noun and “screen” appears to be a modifier. Tap Dance and Modern Dance are two types of dance. “Tap” and “Modern” tells us which type. Hearing “Screendance,” one would expect its final form to be dance. It suggests a dance that happens on the screen. Fred Astaire again. Or perhaps, the study of dance for those who wish to appear on screen. This sounds less about the artistry of cinema and more about the dancing. Cinedance/Videodance Here too, it’s important that the final word in a compound term reflect what the finished product is. The final product is a film, so the final word should be a filmic term. Cinedance and Videodance leave you with “dance.” Dance-video This begins to get there. The filmic term is the second word and it’s clear the result is something on screen. The fact that there’s an existing term “music video” helps one understand that “Dance-video” is a creative construction, a third new entity born of its two components. But its resemblance to “music video” is also a hindrance as there’s an association with a pop, commercial product. And the word “video” has consumer, perhaps less artistic, connotations. Videos are what are on YouTube, or America’s Funniest Home Videos. Dance-film This is the term I prefer. It has all the right things of “Dance-video” going for it, without the association with music videos. And the word “film” suggests a finer, more artistic medium. Universities have departments of Film Studies because “Film” is an art that deserves respect and deep inquiry. “Dance-film” is utilitarian—but direct and appropriately descriptive. In “Dance-film” there are two words that hit you with equal force. They feel like equal partners. But it’s clear that a dance-film is primarily a film, and one that will convey an experience of dance. (I do prefer hyphenating “Dance-film” as it unifies the elements into one concept.) Few of us actually shoot on film, but the term has largely stopped referring to celluloid film stock. Many Hollywood films are shot and exhibited on video, but they’ll never be called “videos.” If a video endeavors to be a work of art, it receives the honorific “film.” As do all the other terms, “Dance-film” fails to fully convey that it involves choreography made specifically for the film, and which can exist only on film. That may be too much to hope for from a humble name, and will only come about after a standardized term is accepted and can seep into public awareness.  Another benefit of “Dance-film” is that it allows easy use of “dancefilmmaker” and “dance-filmmaking,” more graceful terms than “dancevideomaking” or any tortured form of “dance for the camera-making.” I look forward to the adoption of a single term associated with a single concept that the public can become familiar with. I’m tired of checking “Other” on grant applications. I would like to have my very own checkbox. To strengthen our political position and achieve greater public understanding, we’re going to have to reach agreement on what we call what we do. Until then, I apologize to dedicated practitioners of Fance and Chorideo and anyone else who would prefer not to have to reprint their business cards. Mitchell Rose is a dance-filmmaker (and former choreographer) whose films have won 55 awards. Mitchell currently teaches dance-film at CalArts but starting in September will be teaching at Ohio State University.
1 Comment
  • hyonok kim
    Posted at 11:12h, 02 May Reply

    I will be interested in exchanging communications.

    Prof. Hyonok Kim
    Keimyung University Dance Dept.

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