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Are you a dancer?

October 24, 2009

I’ve been asked this question a number of times. I can only assume that most people connected to dance in various ways are also asked this or even more broadly, ‘Were you a dancer?’

I have never been able to answer this without pausing and asking for clarification.

If, for example, someone were to ask if I was a tennis player when I was a member of the junior varsity tennis team in high school I would have said, ‘Yes, I’m a tennis player. I play tennis on a team.” But when I was studying psychology freshman year in college, which I contemplated majoring in, if someone had asked if I was a psychologist, I would have said, “No, I’m not a psychologist, I’m just studying psychology in school.”

So the question of whether or not I am a dancer is tricky. Sure I study dance in school and I have been taking dance classes since I was very young, but at what point am I a ‘dancer?’ After a certain number of years? When I reach a certain age? When I join a company that performs at reputable venues? Most people enjoy dancing to music at school dances or clubs or wedding receptions. Are they not dancers? Some people were trained in dance at some point in their life but stopped before choosing a career that doesn’t involve dance. At what point do they stop saying that they are a dancer, or that they were a dancer, or were they a dancer to begin with?

Are you a dancer?

The question becomes even more complicated when someone skips the previous question and dives right in to, “What kind of dancer are you?” What label would you place yourself under? A ballet dancer? A jazz dancer? A tap dancer? I have studied all three of these techniques, which one should I choose? Perhaps it should be the one I have practiced the most, or the one I have most recently performed on stage, or the one I am best at dancing. But how do I even compare which style I do best? And how about deciding you are a modern dancer? When it’s already difficult enough to decide which dancing is modern, post-modern, contemporary, Graham based, Limón based, post-modern pre-contemporary minimalist Caribbean dance, how do you decide that you are a modern or contemporary dancer?

I thought about what kind of dancer I would say I was while standing on the side of a rehearsal for a piece involving ‘contemporary’ Irish step-dance and decided that there is no answer. Our culture asks us to define who we are based on the careers we choose. You are a plumber, a lawyer, a nurse, a chiropractor, a McDonald’s manager, a stay-at-home mom, and you are conveniently tucked away and placed into a demographic that each individual within our society can understand.

I love to dance. I dance constantly. I hope to never stop dancing, and when I must, I will stay connected with dancing. But I, and everyone who dances, is more than a ‘dancer.’ Everyone loves to dance. There is no need to label one’s involvement with the joy of moving. The only person who needs to know the answer is everyone but you. And if anyone asks me, “Are you a dancer?”, I suppose the only thing I could say is, “I love to dance! Is that what you meant?”

How do you feel about this question?

Does it ever bother you?

Are you a dancer?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2009 7:06 pm

    I am not a dancer. But if I were a dancer, I would be a post-modern pre-contemporary minimalist Caribbean dancer. Most people cannot reconcile the infectious energy of Caribbean music with the polar opposite of minimalist dogma, and I would exploit that dramatic tension. Plus it’s warmer down there.
    YOU, however, are most definitely a dancer.

    • October 25, 2009 7:43 pm

      Well, Arthur T. Rodenberg, I do love to dance. Perhaps we can discuss further the depth which your exploitation of energetic tension-ridden minimalism pursues over Thanksgiving dinner.

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