Dancing and Technology

Any art form must adapt over time to express the changing culture of which it's a part. Today's culture is unavoidably technological and the dance field is reflecting technology in diverse ways.  It may seem counterintuitive -- after all, dance is so essentially embodied --but the intersection of art and technology provides a fascinating new dimension of creativity, where innovation thrives and traditions are being preserved and made accessible in exciting new ways.

Tech-savvy choreographers are experimenting with new ways of incorporating digital media. For example, QWERTY, by Yuzo Ishiyama, explores the idea of digital extensions and representations of the physical self with an interplay of dancers, light, shadows, and computer animation. University dance programs have begun to embrace this trend. Many now offer conferences and certificates in dance and technology, teaching a mix of traditional classes alongside newer skills like video production, projection and digital sound editing.  


"Imagine waltzing with someone who is 1,000 miles away. Or watching a ballet with no dancers at all, where wisps of light form the illusion of dancers performing. At places like Arizona State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Texas Christian University dancers are using computers and other multimedia technology to do that and more," writes author and dance teacher Sheri LeBlanc.


Technology is making inroads with dance pedagogy as well. Videos make techniques and ideas from remote places (or times) more accessible through virtual demonstrations. The dance-tech interface also attracts different demographics of dance students. Young dancers who might bristle at the hierarchies and fairly rigid syllabi of ballet traditions may "be excited by a creative fusion of dance and technology. Since creativity is fuelled by experimentation, it is important to encourage students who think outside the box of traditional dance," writes dancer and dance coach Emma William.


Technology is also providing valuable tools for the preservation of dance. Traditionally, pieces have been passed down to upcoming generations from dancers and rehearsal directors who were involved in original performances and worked with the original choreographers. This system has obvious limitations. Film helps, but the recording quality is often low and the film itself endures for only so long. "We've got all these different ways that people have tried to preserve dance, but there isn't a way to preserve the spirit of dance....But some really exciting things are happening," says Doug Reside, Digital Curator for the Performing Arts at the New York Public Library. Motion capture of dancers, digitally recording performances from multiple angles, computerized notations, and digitally recorded interviews are some of the ways archivists and dancers are beginning to use technology to capture and "store" performances, choreography, and the "spirit" of dance pieces.


As more people become comfortable and creative assimilating dance and technology, it will be interesting to see what new artists, works and ideas emerge.