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The Nexus of “The Arts” and “Entertainment”

Angela Harris

I read Robbie Telfer’s insightful post about the tie between the arts and entertainment. I am reminded of a conversation that I recently had about the effect that So You Think You Can Dance and similar commercialized entertainment has had on the dance community.

For many years, I was so frustrated with how dance was being portrayed on television. I disliked the judges’ comments. It would irritate me that the show would highlight those dancers that could do tricks and entertain the crowd by kicking their leg to their head, instead of the technically trained dancers.

I feared that the new interest by the general public in these shows would make audiences under-whelmed if they were to experience a live concert dance performance and not see back flips. If this trend was taking over the public’s perception of dance, would other artists begin conforming? Would we in jeopardy of losing the artistry of our discipline?

But, after numerous questions from the general public, such as, “Do you watch So You Think You Can Dance?” and “What do you think of Mia Michaels choreography?” I realized that not only could this show be a teaching tool and an opening to dialogue about dance, but it could be a great promotional tool to get audiences to see live dance performances.

I adopted this philosophy within my company, challenging our choreographers to “make dance mainstream without watering down the content.” With this new challenge, we put the audience’s experience as a priority within our show. What drives audiences to our shows? What keeps them ‘buzzing’ afterwards? What conversations do we hear in the lobby during intermission and after the show?

We know that entertainment value is huge with the performing arts. We want to give audiences a chance to connect with the work of artists on a creative, intellectual, and just plain enjoyment level.

I also use my student’s love for the television shows as an entrée into a conversation about choreography techniques. They search YouTube for their favorite pieces from the shows, and then we “pick apart” the choreographic techniques and critique the pieces based on their new knowledge of the process.

Last season, my company, Dance Canvas, was asked by Fox 5 Atlanta to assist with organizing, National Dance Day, an event conceived and marketed by Nigel Lythgoe and the So You Think You Can Dance brand.

As you can imagine, I had thoughts that I may be crossing over to the ‘dark side’ by embracing a commercial dance competition show, but I also reconciled that the excitement behind the event would be a catalyst for participation.

“The Arts” and “Entertainment,” can partner together to bring the best out of each other. And we did! Over 1,000 people came out for dance classes and professional dance companies had the opportunity to perform for new audiences.

Was it worth the partnership? I am looking forward to hearing thoughts or similar experiences.

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