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Isabelle Taylor

Professor Sandra Kaufmann

DANC 321/ 324 Modern III

22 September 2016

Dance: An Evolved Weapon

1932: a year consisting of Americas most devastating economic depression, tremendous

unemployment rates, malnutrition and starving, homelessness, intense racial discrimination,

spiked lynching and death rates, and much more; taking this into consideration, it is no wonder

the New Dance Group emerged in 1932 as well. As members of the Workers Dance League - a

culmination of different companies and groups working with dance as means for political

activism- the New Dance Group worked to use dance [as] a weapon of the class struggle.

Following this guideline, one of their main focuses was working to make dance more accessible

to all people. They would provide dance classes at low costs and teach pieces addressing

controversial political and social issues- such as racism, war, or hunger. Through the artistry and

intensity of dance, the group sought to bring awareness and inspiration to all crowds. Prominent

members of the group included Graham trained dancers- such as Jane Dudley, Sophie Maslow,

and Anna Sokolow- who carried their understanding of motived dancing and depicting universal

human emotions into the New Dance Group productions. Moving into the twentieth century,

America still battles societal issues, which have not necessarily changed, but merely evolved

from what they were in the past. Considering corruption has no plans of escaping society, dance

still needs to be utilized as a weapon of attack, inspiration, and educate; and that is what

contemporary choreographers are participating in. While aspects of modern dance have most

definitely inspired current contemporary work, the dance worlds agenda has progressively
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become more artistic and intellectual; as a result, dance has transformed into an intricately

layered weapon that stimulates and challenges audiences to interpret presented works. Through

this method, contemporary work evokes a deeper, more visceral depiction of universal human

emotions, which makes the weapon much more impactful in its efforts to fight issues that

circulate the past, present and future of generations.

Critics of contemporary dance tend to argue the genre lacks intension and depicts

ambiguity that is incredibly difficult for viewers to interpret. This is understandable considering

the style stems from the post-modern movement, such as Merce Cunninghams choreographic

technique that defies the traditional linear patterns- stating anything can follow anything (Au

155). Modern contemporary dance was inspired by this approach to choreography; it

incorporates a lack of narrative, linear continuity, and portrays events that are fragmented or

linked by associations in a manner analogous to the stream-of-consciousness technique in

literature (Au 195). While current dance is inspired by Cunningham and post-modern

approaches to choreography, it is evident that contemporary dance is opposed to the post-modern

ideology of eliminating story-telling and emotional expression in dance. In terms of performance

quality, dance now days is more in line with modern dance of the 1930s. Similar to the

innovators such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Charles Weidman, movement is meant

to elicit universal human emotions and confront the problems that real people faced (Au 119).

Essentially, the combination of post-moderns composition style and research based approach to

movement with classical moderns emotionally evoking performance style- along with

inspiration from numerous other forms of movement- merge together to create an innovative and

amplified version of The New Dance Groups weapon.

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A brilliant example of the contemporary weapon is seen with William Forsythe, a

ground breaking choreographer of the twenty-first century. His work dissects movement from

both ballet and classical modern technique to ultimately create a personal style that manipulates

spacial features and requires his dancers to engage physically and intellectually. As he test[s]

the limits of what the word choreography means, he allows performers and audiences to truly

experience his work as apposed to merely observe it (Solway). Considering this impact, he uses

his style as a tool in political activism- which is especially seen in his recent piece entitles Three

Atmospheric Studies. Produced in 2006, the piece paints an image of the war in Iraq and was

proclaimed to be his most overtly political piece, [and] an indictment of war (Solway). His

message creates a statement similar to Kurt Joosss 1932 manifesto against war in The Green

Table. Forsythe mimics photography from the Iraq war and uses auditory effects that create a

stressful, interactive atmosphere for the audience. He translates his piece into an educational

experience communicated through emotional impact. In this piece, Forsythe explains how he is

trying to come to terms with the quantification of suffering and want himself and the audience

to be affected in some way (Solway). By attaching a universal human emotion to a political

topic, Forsythe clearly uses dance as a weapon against the war in Iraq.

Another example of activism within the contemporary field regards the choreographer,

director, dancer, and writer Bill T. Jones. As a homosexual African American man, Jones has

personal experience with societal injustice, which he channels into his personally inspired work.

For example, his newest work Analogy explores the life of his Holocaust surviving mother-in-

law and troubled nephew. The piece addresses matters regarding black lives and escape of

cynicism through the lens of personal ties. In general, his work has attempted to provoke, in the

manner of a person intent on steering a conversation toward the uncomfortable, in order to yield
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understanding (Mason). Through his address of topics such as race, identity, the AIDS

epidemic, and gender, his approach proves similar to The New Dance Group and early modern

pioneers. As a result, Jones utilizes the universal understanding of dance as means to educate the

public about political and social issues.

While many of Jones work have specific personal ties, works such Fondly Do We

Hope Fervently Do We Pray use historical topics to address and connect to current issues. In

Jones piece, he provides a interesting view of Abraham Lincolns life. Upon the composition of

this dance, Jones recounts his childhood teaching him that Lincoln was the only white man [he]

was aloud to love unconditionally (Kartemquin). Jones dissects this statement in his portrayal of

Lincoln and assesses why this concept is true within black culture. Ultimately, he states that the

piece is not a biopic [...] it is supposed to be, 'How can we use Lincoln and his time as a mirror

through which we look darkly at ourselves?" (Bill T. Jones "FONDLY DO WE

HOPE...FERVENTLY DO WE PRAY). Joness portrayal of racial and societal issues depict

contemporarys complex method of approaching change. Through education and innovation, he

makes a powerful statement equivalent to those made during 1930s.

In addition to brilliant choreographers, the contemporary world has begun using

videography as a tool to broaden the impact of dance as a weapon. Specifically in the video

entitled Color of Reality, the art of painting is combined with movement artists Jon Boogz's

and Lil Bucks dancing to convey a powerful, mesmerizing reflection, a moving 2D art

representation, of the state of todays society (JonBoogz5). Considering the unnecessary gun

violence illustrated in the video, the theme seems to support and surround the current Black

Lives Matter campaign- which brings awareness to police brutality and the racial injustices

present in current society. Videos such as this inform the public of rising issues in an informative,
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intriguing matter- making it extremely essential for the progression of activism. Upon my

personal encounter with this video, I connected it to the piece Lynchtown by the renowned

modern choreographer Charles Weidman. While the two works have extremely different

aesthetics- visually, musically, and movement wise- they both address racial tension. Contrary to

JonBoogz5s video, Weidmans work is a very ugly depiction of mob mentality; this

characteristic of his work is especially applicable to current attacks on specific cultural and racial

groups. In contrast, JonBoogz5s video presents a more relaxed, aesthetically pleasing and

intriguing template, yet the conclusion portrays the same outcome as in Lynchtown:

unnecessary death. Unfortunately, both depict reality. Drawing a more specific connection, I feel

that the monstrosity of Weidmans masterpiece shows the mentality of those who seek out the

victims portrayed in Color of Reality. With the use of both pieces in modern society, dance is

still being used to attack injustice.

While features of classical modern dance have been modified for the like of the current

contemporary movement, the technique has left an ever lasting impact on dance as a whole. The

1930s brought rise to activism in dance, and to this day movement is still being used as a

weapon. Personally, I believe dance is an art that speaks the most universally impactful language;

and while it can serve as an a joyful escape, it is important to be mindful of its capabilities. As

artists we must be the activists who spark revolutions. It is [our] responsibility to increase

comprehension of what it is like to be conscious and to be recipients of the arts (Edward Albee,

33rd Kennedy Center Honors).

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Work Cited

Solway, Diane. "Is It Dance? Maybe. Political? Sure." The New York Times. The New

York Times, 17 Feb. 2007. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

O'Mahony, John. "John O'Mahony on Dance and Politics." The Guardian. Guardian

News and Media, 28 Sept. 2006. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Mason, Wyatt. "The Transcendent Artistry of a Legendary Dancer, Four Decades In."

The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 June 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Http:// "BILL T. JONES


YouTube. YouTube, 23 Jan. 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Kartemquin. "A Good Man - Official Trailer - Bill. T Jones Documentary for American

Masters." YouTube. YouTube, 04 Apr. 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.


Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Au, Susan. Ballet and Modern Dance. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002. Print.

JonBoogz5. "Jon Boogz | Alexa Meade | Lil Buck| "Color of Reality"" YouTube. YouTube,

06 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016