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"Creativity" and Folk Dance
Posted by Christos on Sunday, January 23, 2005

"Creativity" means making something, making something original, something personal. But you can't make something out of nothing. And the material you make something out of makes its own rules for the way you use it. You might make a sculpture out of ice, but you couldn't make one out of water! (Already creative minds are trying to think of ways of doing this!)

In the field of Literature, creative works are made out of words, and words are subject to rules, rules of spelling, rules of grammar, rules of punctuation. Even the most adventurous writers (e.g. James Joyce, e.e. cummings), who 'bend' the rules, have to work WITH them. Otherwise their originality would not communicate.

In the field of music and drama, where there are written texts and music that have to be complied with, their interpretation requires creativity. Each new performance of a play or a piece of music is a NEW creative act, where the actor or the musician has to make something new, using his personal ability.

So with traditional folk dance. For a folk dance, there is a tradition, with strict rules, music, rhythm, steps, etc. But when the dancer gets up to make his own performance he has to MAKE SOMETHING NEW out of these materials. Each individual new performance is a new creative act.

Unfortunately, in the teaching of traditional dances, this is not always stressed! Teachers sometimes give the impression that if pupils do as they are told, they will be dancing. The idea of 'right' and 'wrong' steps is introduced, so that pupils get the impression that dancing well is simply a matter of not doing the 'wrong' steps! A dancer trying simply to do 'the right steps' is NOT being creative. A dancer trying to dance WELL, on the other hand, IS being creative - he is trying to make something fine, something beautiful, using the raw materials of the steps etc., and his senses and sensitivity, his body and his physical abilities.

It might be helpful if a teacher was to distinguish between the exercises, drills and rehearsals that are needed to train the body for performance and the performance itself. For instance, after the 'teaching' business of 'steps', 'figures' and 'style', the students should be given the chance to 'put it all together', to 'make it theirs', to produce their own individual interpretation of the dance as a whole. Such performances should not be interrupted too much by additional 'teaching'. Let the students do their own dance, their own version of the dance. Obviously, in practice, they will try to follow the rules and tradition of the dance, but they will need to adapt them to suit their own bodies and their own personal abilities. And, since no two people have exactly the same body or the same physical or aesthetic skills, it will be their own dance.

Afterwards, let the teacher accept the performance as that, particularly praising what he can find to praise, and not criticising the student because he was not dancing someone else's dance. It may, of course, be helpful to make suggestions how the dance might be improved in future performances, but such suggestions must respect the student's feelings and sense of ownership of that performance.

Dancing lessons should not be the continuous repetition of teaching, drills, exercises and routines. There should be frequent opportunities for the students to do their own versions of the dance 'for real', introduced by such encouragements as "Now do the dance yourselves, as well (beautifully) as you can."

Performance and Improvisation
Posted by Christos on Monday, January 17, 2005

Watching a performing dance group in a Greek village last week, I realised that I was becoming bored. They were very good, but I had seen them before, and they were giving exactly the same performance - same steps, same figures, in the same order.

Later that evening, the ordinary villagers danced. I watched some of the best of them. They never give the same performance twice! Each time they dance, they make up a new dance, even when it is the same music!

They are, of course, improvising, but their dancing is still undeniably "traditional". Their improvisations are based on dancing they have seen and done in the village since childhood. They incorporate traditional steps and figures, adding some that are clearly their own specialities. But they use these elements to create a new performance. Their dance is both new and traditional.

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