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Dancing in the Digital Age

There was a time not so long ago when, if you wanted to dance you had to go to a dance studio and learn steps and technique from a teacher. The same was true of performances. Short of a handful of specially-recorded events, the vast majority of the time watching live dance involved being present in a theater or performance space. The advent of the digital age sparked a radical shift in performing arts and dance was no exception. Over the past fourteen and a half years, since the ubiquitous content sharing platform YouTube launched, many of the in-person processes associated with dance have made their way online. This in turn has created a new paradigm in both dance performance and education. 

Dancing for the screen 

Modern genres of dance, like Contemporary Dance, are no strangers to technology. Numerous high-profile choreographers and dance companies across the globe have experimented with and integrated digital technologies, with ongoing exploration continually being carried out by grassroots artists and performers. More recently, however, the tech that we would ordinarily associate with our screenlives has been embraced by the centuries-old genre of Classical Ballet.

For the latter half of the decade, this genre that is steeped in tradition and polarising views on the dancing body has attempted to become more accessible by turning to technology. It’s no longer uncommon to have live footage of company class and rehearsals from world class companies like Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada streamed to our mobiles, tablets and smart TVs. A quick search on Vimeo and YouTube will bring up more specially-choreographed and filmed ballet performances than would be possible to watch in a day. But there are also a number of companies who are taking the integration of digital and screenlife technologies a step further, making dancing for the screen a core part of their performance output. 

Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema / YouTube

The UK’s Northern Ballet (based in Leeds, West Yorkshire) and Scottish Ballet are leading the way when it comes to screendance. Northern Ballet has recently created a dedicated Digital Dance programme, headed up by former Premier Dancer and Choreographer in Residence, Kenneth Tindall. By producing a series of short films and digitalising works currently performed live by the company, the programme will provide year-round access to dance on mobile, computer and television screens, 24/7.   

Further north in Glasgow, Scotland and Scottish Ballet has just finished its second digital season — Under the Skin 2019. This month-long programme saw the creation of a number of exciting works choreographed and filmed especially for smartphones, as well as a three-part collaboration with Digital Artist Zachary Eastwood-Bloom, all of which can be viewed directly through the company’s website.

A digital education 

Content sharing platforms are one of the most popular sources of information, therefore web-savvy dance enthusiasts can find a world of dance training and education at their fingertips. The likes of Dancio stream classes from qualified teachers and choreographers across ballet and contemporary genres, dance fitness and barre classes regularly make an appearance on platforms like Grokker, and that’s not forgetting the huge amount of tutorials and dance class videos that are posted to YouTube every day. 

The modern dance maker and performer needs a thorough grasp of digital technologies, so educational institutions are playing their part in future-proofing enquiring minds by offering dedicated degrees in dancing for the screen. 

London Contemporary Dance School has recently become the first conservatoire in the world to offer a Masters Degree with the sole specialism of Screendance — “exploring the intersections between choreography and moving image”. Meanwhile, students pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Dance at the University of Utah have been able to take courses and gain a graduate certificate in the practice and theory of Screendance since 1998. 

Even professional dance artists and teachers currently working in the industry can consolidate their skills and experience, as well as gaining a Masters Degree by studying the University of Middlesex’s Professional Practice MA entirely online. 

Then, somewhere in the middle of performance and education we have choreographers and filmmakers like Tim Milgram. A professional dancer and filmmaker who is currently putting a professional spin on the ubiquitous dance class video trend that the more commercial genres thrive on. 

Tim Milgram / YouTube

For dance, digital technology plays two vital roles. It acts as an online repository of dance history and culture, educating anyone anywhere in the world about work that they’re far-removed from, as well as being a strong beacon for the future of dance as a global art form that surpasses cultures, boundaries and expectations.

Melissa Wong

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