‘Artistry.’ Yet another elusive term frequently used in dance classes. This term gets thrown around so much, but it seems impossible to pin down what it actually means…and how to do it. So what IS artistry? Today, I’m going to pin it down – we’re going to define artistry in dance.
You can find a concrete definition of artistry in the dictionary, but it won’t help you in a dance class. The trouble with artistry in dance is that everyone has their own idea of what it means – this is why it’s so hard to get specific with artistry. But even among all of the different definitions, it’s safe to say that most dance teachers and choreographers agree on one point: Artistry is what brings movement to life.
Artistry is the difference between a performer who shows technical proficiency and the performer who completely draws you into their movement to EXPERIENCE the dance and connect with it.
Understanding the goal of artistry in dance is the easy part – the difficulty is in HOW to do it. Where does artistry come from? How do you get artistry or practice it?
Using artistry in dance means getting creative and finding opportunities to express something deeper than the choreographed movement. Like I said earlier, this concept can get a little confusing in practice because artistry means something different to everyone – One choreographer can say artistry and mean they want to see more emotion, and another choreographer can say the same thing and want to see more contrast in the quality of movement. This can make artistry a difficult beast to conquer in a dance class or rehearsal. I believe that the best course of action for any aspiring performer is to try to understand and become proficient in as many of the different facets of artistry as possible. This list is a good place to start – these are some of the most common ways to tackle artistry:
- Listen to the music. Music is a huge inspiration for dance – and for good reason! Paying attention to the mood of the music is a great place to start, but listen to the phrasing and emphasis of the music as well. It can help you determine which movements to emphasize or piece together.
- Get specific. Understand the picture your WHOLE body is making. If you were to move a finger, how would that change the image? What if you shifted your focus? These questions allow you to be extremely specific with what you are showing your audience.
- Tell a story. This is my FAVORITE way to use artistry! Decide what the motivation for every movement is. Why are you doing that movement? How does it make you feel? Did you decide to do it or did something else make you do it?
- Contrast movement qualities. There are a lot of subtle changes that can happen in movement without changing the choreography (unless it was specified by the choreographer). For example, you can decide how much resistance a movement encounters, whether you want to let your momentum take you or ‘muscle’ the movement. Other ideas to play with are how sharp or smooth a movement is, how light or heavy, and how direct or indirect the path is.
Becoming a master of artistry in dance takes a lot of … you guessed it: PRACTICE. One of the most important ideas of artistry is that it is supported by your technique. Having only artistry with no technique will look sloppy, no matter how in tune with the music you are. The key is to let the artistry rest on top of your technique, and make everything you do look like a choice – nothing is accidental.
My advice: practice, practice, practice! Artistry is a SKILL – it can be practiced, and with some commitment, mastered.