Thursday, May 20, 2010


1. easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use.
2. that can be used, entered, reached, etc.: an accessible road; accessible ruins.
3. obtainable; attainable: accessible evidence.
4. open to the influence of (usually fol. by to): accessible to bribery.

One of my dancers who performed my work last weekend works full time on Wall Street in the insurance business. Hello Corporate America. She is also a part time MBA student focused on marketing. So when she told some of her co-workers that she'd be performing modern dance in a professional concert this spring, it took them by surprise. "They don't know anything about my former life," she explained to me. "They don't realize I've been dancing since I was three, and I danced all the way through college." Simultaneously excited and intrigued by this business-woman-dancer, Corporate America visited downtown New York City to see its emerging artists.

What did they think? I asked.

Business-Woman-Dancer explained that "They thought ours was really nice and they have been thinking about it. They are not versed in dance so they don't know how to express it. And there's layers like they're thinking about the dance, and then about me, and how I'm dancing... They didn't like [some of them]. I don't think [that a lot of the work was] accessible to the average person."

You think mine is?

"Yes... I mean take the average person in this country. All they know of dance is Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance."

I started thinking about this concept of accessibility and this idea that only commercial dance work can be accessible to the broad American audience. By commercial I mean DWTS and SYTYCD, but also Broadway, music videos, pop star's back up dancers etc. The camp, the cheese, the 5-6-7-8 is all fun and fine, especially because it makes the money. Why? Audiences get it without having to think. It's easy to take what's seen for face value. People pay for the enjoyment and pleasure of getting it, of being entertained.

When people don't get it, they are put off. Think Lady Gaga. No, really... think about Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards. She had so many costume changes for sitting in the audience (my favorite being the red crown that completely covered her face... I dubbed it the "Rat King" look.) Her wild stage performance that night ended in a suicide scene with "blood" all over the place. People didn't get it, and twitter blew up with commentary on how weird this chick is. But what makes her palatable? Her sound. Her songs are contemporary bubble gum pop no matter how you look at it... and she has blown up. People sing along to her songs and pay to be entertained by her wildness.

So what is it about concert dance that isn't always so palatable? What is the hook choreographer's are missing to engage their audiences, even when they are inclined to be wild and weird? What makes audiences unsure if they should take something for face value? Why is the average American person unsure of how to critique concert dance? Moreover, is it possible to make dance that people "get" without being simplistic or dumbing down? Is it possible to make dance that is interesting, layered, and meaningful that doesn't just fly over their heads? Have I done it?
When I make dances I don't aim to create something the audience will understand on a simplistic mental level, as much as I aim to make dances people get on a visceral level. I want people to feel something; to understand something through multiple senses; to engage and sink their teeth into it; to have an experience; to feel a part of an experience. That's how I make dance accessible.

I think the disconnect between concert dance and audiences occurs when artists don't ask themselves how they will engage their audience. When artists literally make dances for themselves and then put it on stage with no regard for those watching, nothing exists for the audience to attempt to "get." I so strongly believe that if you are going to make a dance for yourself and you don't want anyone else to take part in it, perform it in your living room and just leave the rest of us out of it altogether.

So I ask again, is it possible to make dance that is interesting, layered, and meaningful that doesn't just fly over people's heads?


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