The Basics: Writing about Dance

In order to DESCRIBE what you are seeing, it is helpful to provide CONTEXT in a basic, no frills approach. As Sgt. Joe Friday used to say on Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
It’s perfectly fine to eventually address the meaning behind the movement, or how the movement brought on emotions and feelings for you, but first – just the facts!

WHO? Identify the creator(s). If there is no single creator (as with many cultural dances) identify the group or cultural influences that are present within the dance.

WHAT? Identify the title of the work. Titles should either be in quotation marks, as in “Falling Angels” by Jiri Kylian, or in italics. Example: Tari Puspanjali is an Indonesian dance of welcome. If the title of the piece is unknown, give other pertinent information which can help define the dance. Example: “freestyle wedding dance” is not a title, but it gives a fair amount of information (an improvised dance which occurred at a wedding).

WHEN? Date of the creation of the work – this is the most critical piece of information. Date of the performance can be a secondary piece of information when the creation date is unknown. The date of the actual recording and/or uploading of the video IS NOT the date of creation or performance!

WHERE? Location of the dance is important. Is it a traditional performance space, (as in a venue, such as the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles), or an unusual location, such as a coffee house, or fountain? Perhaps the location “fits” the dance presentation (for instance, a dance presented at a church or temple might be a vital part of worship). If a dance is performed outdoors, is there a designated “stage” or platform, or is the dance performed out in the open? Give as much information as possible, especially when the location is unusual or distinctive.

WHY? Give a brief assessment of the purpose of the dance and/or the intent of the creator. THIS IS NOT YOUR INTERPRETATION OF THE DANCE, just a hint as to why this particular dance is being performed. Example 1: Speaking in Tap is a tap dance performed to Indian rhythmic patterns, as sung by Sheila Chandra. Example 2: All of the pieces performed in Kinetic Conversations are created and/or performed by Riverside City College dance faculty.

HOW? Start the description with a few basics. For instance, how many people are dancing? What body parts seem to be used most often? Are the movements pedestrian, or do the movements seem to be a certain technique or genre? Are gestures and facial expression utilized by the dancers? Are the dancers facing the camera, each other, or an audience?

It’s been a wonderful two weeks with all of you in D6H, and I hope this short tutorial has been helpful!