More on the Choreographic Dilemma: To Blog or Not to Blog

August 1, 2010

My last

touched off a firestorm of responses. The best ones extend the discussion in sensitive ways, and the worst castigate me as trying to “gag” choreographers. What I appreciate most is that my cranky complaint has triggered a series of blogs that really take a look at this trend (of step-by-step blogging about what happened in the studio that day) and try to figure out the most effective ways for choreographers to go public with their musings.


The post from Dance Theater Workshop (written by
Isabella Hreljanovic) seemed to me the most thoughtful about the pros and cons, bringing up some perspectives that are new to me. It speculates that this kind of continual blogging stems from insecurity and the wish for early encouragement. It says,


“The constant availability of material, however, diminishes the air of mystery about a piece.”


I hadn’t mentioned that, but a number of people have brought this up—that this sort of exposure takes away the mystery—and with that goes the curiosity.


Isabella also says that college students these days are often asked to gather their thoughts and images and put them in an “information box,” so why can’t blogging just be part of this box? It proposes a clear idea of what to include in this blog/info/box, but also warns that exchanges resulting from such postings can take away some of your independence.


“The way artists use blogs should focus on the methods of recording and sharing: feeding its followers clues and small previews of the showcase to come. One should absolutely keep in mind, however, Ms. Perron’s concern that the danger of internal exploration is at stake: artists should never rely on the feedback of others to determine how to create work. The blind discovery of your process is a valued step in the creation of form, and it is that step you can blog about when you feel confident you have reached it on your own.” (Click

for the full DTW response.)


Andy Horwitz at

applies my caution to artists of other disciplines, saying, “It is probably to a young artists advantage to spend less time talking about what they’re doing and more time just immersed in the doing itself.”


On the other side, The Clyde Fitch Report attacked me full out. Which led me to this epiphany: People love to be outraged, so they exaggerate what you say. Under the heading “Pure Outrage” (Jeesh, aren’t there bigger things to be outraged about?), Fitch editor/writer Leonard Jacobs wrote this:


“According to

Dance Magazine
editor Wendy Perron
, when it comes to matters terpsichorean, the blogosphere must never toll at all. In other words, says Perron, if you’re a choreographer, please keep your thoughts, your musings, your ideas, your observations, your instincts, your discoveries, your pride, your prejudices, your fears, your insights, your revelations and your breakthroughs to yourself.”


That blew what I said wayyyyy out of proportion.
I was complaining about a specific kind of blog and I spelled it out. I do welcome musings, ideas, discoveries of choreographers, and Dance Magazine quite often prints such thoughts. I love to interview dance artists, both for the magazine and for public events. (See my talks with Ronald K. Brown, Larry Keigwin, and Shen Wei at
, and my interview with Alexei Ratmansky.)


I found Jacobs to be over-wrought and hard to decipher (e.g. the boxing match between authenticity and exploration—huh?). But I do want to respond to one point. He asks, “With so much dance criticism gone the way of the bunny hug and the turkey trot, wouldn’t it make sense to try to mentor choreographers with an interest in writing, rather than gag them?” Good idea. Actually, I have done this, by setting up a dance writing course at Dance Theater Workshop
dance artists. I developed the course and taught it for three spring sessions; dance artists of all stripes attended.


One interesting response to the Fitch Report came from someone called Patrice. She (he?) relates certain questions of mine (“What if you’re in the studio working on a piece, and you’re thinking about what you’re going to say about it in your blog? Wouldn’t that compromise your process?”) to pop music. Here is what she says:


“We have been asking this of musicians for years as “pop” music took hold. We are only now dealing with the pop manufacturing of American dance – for all its good and bad, this is absolutely a valid discussion point for dance makers in the 21st century. When your audience is potentially as wide as those who watch
So You Think You Can Dance,
it is imperative for choreographers to ask who they are working for. The blog for the dancer, much like MySpace for the musician, has become an extended avenue of communication to a wide net of potential audience members. There are multiple answers to those questions – Who is this for? How do I get it out there?— not necessarily a right or wrong, but it is a valid question.”


I thank Patrice for pointing out the pop music/pop dance relationship. I had not connected SYTYCD with the idea of pop music or with the idea of self publicizing. (It’s interesting that that TV show does not allow its contestants to blog during the season.)


Bringing up the same problem DTW mentioned, Patrice also talks about “the over-sharing of material so that an audience may feel less inclined to see it (another conversation floating about dance departments: how much do we tell before we show).” I’m glad to hear that dance departments are talking about this, and I’d love to ask Patrice which ones.


Zachary Whittenburg takes me to task, point for point, on his blog
He says that for him, it’s helpful to put into words what he’s doing at certain stages. I know very well how, when you’re choreographing, you’re consumed
by it, and may need an outlet.


Zac goes on to say that choreographers’ blogs help him do his work for
Time Out Chicago,
where he edits the dance page. I think it’s right on to use what choreographers say about themselves (as opposed to just relying on critics and publicists), and lord knows, not every dancemaker can afford a publicist. (Read his full blog here.)

However, is blogging about your rehearsals really a way to get the word out? Why not just write a really good press release, or send a link to an intriguing video? I remember once in the 70s, Pooh Kaye sent out a crumpled piece of paper to the press, and the action of unfolding it made me say, “I want to go see this artist’s work.”


So I ask you Zac, when you use blogging to clarify your work, are these the same words that will get people to come?


Byron Woods’ comment to Zac’s blog said (and this came out of an interview he did with Donna Faye Burchfield):


“A century ago, Gustav Mahler famously said that if composers could say what they had to say in words, they wouldn’t bother trying to say it in music.
 All I can say is, that must have been a really sweet deal for them.
 One century later, none of us are so easily excused. That almost ornamental exceptionalism that once held that dance artists didn’t need to possess the ability to write and speak, articulately and with some insight, about their work is falling by the way.”


I suppose I’m still back there with Mahler. On the other hand, as a choreographer, I was encouraged—required—to speak about my work at Jacob’s Pillow in 1987, and many other times. So I do know what Burchfield was talking about. However, those were situations where I was speaking directly to my audience, and I stopped choreographing before the onset of blogging. I guess I’m a relic cuz I’m not on Facebook and I don’t get the whole idea of “sharing” your life and work online. So this whole exchange is bringing me up to date; I had no idea how intensely people feel about blogging.


Mind the Gap
posted a thoughtful reaction too, and I noticed a comment from one Chris Becker that said this:


There is something really powerful about keeping things secret, close to your chest, etc. and doing so can lead to a stronger piece of work.”


Painter Deborah Barlow responded to Mind the Gap by asking herself how her last four years of blogging has affected her work in the studio. You can read her poetic blog



I want to say that many choreographers have posted writings that
worth reading, partially because they escape the this-is-my-process trap. A few of them can be found on these sites:

• Jill Sigman at
, click on Writing

• Miguel Gutierrez at

, click on Words

• David Parker at

, click on The Bang Group blog

• Deborah Hay at

, click on Writings & Notes

• Liz Lerman at

, click on Toolbox

• Tere O’Connor at

, click on Blog

• Risa Jaroslow at

, click on The Partner Project

• Kate Weare at

, click on Blog

• Bill T. Jones at

, click on Bill’s Blog

• Charlotte Vincent at

, click on Resources

• Movement Research at

I’ve been invigorated by this debate, and I thank everyone who added to it or read it.


I’ll leave you with the original Stravinsky quote, which I finally found, so I can give it to you verbatim, rather than how I sloppily remembered it.


“A composer improvises aimlessly the way an animal grubs about. Both of them go grubbing about because they yield to a compulsion to seek things out. What urge of the composer is satisfied by this investigation?…he is in quest of his pleasure. He seeks a satisfaction that he fully knows he will not find without first striving for it…

So we grub about in expectation of our pleasure, guided by our scent, and suddenly we stumble against an unknown obstacle. It gives us a jolt, a shock, and this shock fecundates our creative power.”

—Igor Stravinsky,
The Stravinsky Festival of the New York City Ballet,
ed. by Nancy Goldner, 1973, p. 36, originally from Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons, Stravinsky, 1942


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