I would say yes, they probably are. Not like a scary fear but a fear that they won’t understand what it is so they stay away. But here’s the secret – you do not have to be a dancer to enjoy watching dance! Yes, if you have trained and understand what they’re doing there can be a greater physical appreciation for the difficulty on stage but dance isn’t just about the athleticism, it’s about the artistry that you have to give yourself over to.
People find it easier to engage with ballet than with other styles of dance. I think this is partly the romanticised image of ‘going to the ballet’, partly the narrative crutch, and partly the flashy production value which can give an audience member enough on the surface level to come away feeling like it was worth their time and money.
But my question is: why does everything have to have a narrative? When dance productions don’t have a clear narrative (and many abstract pieces do not), this is where people feel insecure because they ‘won’t get it’ but, the thing is, there is often no right answer. Every person can and should interpret dance in whatever way their mind or body wants to. Think of seeing dance more like watching a painting than watching a movie. It’s up to your interpretation and whatever you want to take away from it, how does it make you feel? There is no right way to encounter dance, but the only wrong way you can be wrong is to not encounter it at all.
It is quite fascinating to me that audiences tend to prefer a text-based show like a play or musical so they can follow along with what is happening, rather than seeing dance in case they don’t get it because movement is the most universal language there is! I’ll say it again for reassurance: there’s no right way to encounter dance! You just have to take it in and allow yourself to feel it.
Here’s a side note, but a thought that comes to me in relation to this. Because people don’t know how to approach dance it generally does not get the full respect it deserves as an art form. Often the dance element in a show is relegated to be a background decoration that is supplementary to the main event on stage, usually singing. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t love and appreciate acting and singing (this here is a huge MT gal) but I do wish there were more shows where dance got a chance to be front and centre.
As I mentioned in my last article, audiences generally have a fear of the unknown and like to stick to familiarity, but once again I challenge you to try something new, give it a chance and see what you might take away from it. Step outside your comfort zone, support dance companies touring across the country. You can love watching dance, I believe in you!
Written by Katie Daniel