“I don’t get dance.”
The intonation he puts on the word “get” is laden. It’s laden with a sensibility that implies “dance is weird and I never understand what it means, which makes it boring.” He then spends the 20 minutes expounding about the complex intricacies of the great new sound by that underground band out of Stockholm.
He is blind to the irony that his dismissal of one art form for the sake of another is drastically reducing our respect for him and this conversation. Close-mindedness aside, he’s not the first person to get flummoxed looking for meaning in an unknown medium. Whether it be a dance recital, poetry, or even a whiskey tasting, dipping your tippy-toe into an unknown art can be daunting business. The good news is, it shouldn’t be.
The wonderful trait all of these media have in common is that they are mostly subjective. Taste, in reality, is shorthand for personal taste. There is no such thing as impersonal taste (though horrid B.O. could potentially qualify). And with subjectivity comes one of the most comforting phrases in the English language: There IS no wrong answer! This is the key to understanding art and impressing the upper crust with your knowledge of the finer things.
Let’s explore dance as an example. Do some dance pieces have meanings and intentions that the choreographer hopes to convey? Absolutely. Sometimes these messages are difficult to miss (it is very difficult to ignore the African America heritage invoked in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations), while other times the messages are more subtle (think about most modern dance pieces). Occasionally, there is no message at all. Like a breathtaking painting, some dances stand on their ocular beauty alone. David Parson’s Caught enlists a strobe light to highlight the dancer as he or she appears to float across the stage, three feet above the dance floor. The dancer’s repeated leaps are shrouded from the viewer in the strobe’s dark pauses.
More often than not, however, a dance’s meaning is not a singular entity. If the choreographers exact meaning doesn’t get conveyed, all is not lost. Thankfully, no matter what message you take from the dance experience, that is what it means. For you. And in the case of taste, you are the only one that matters (FYI. This does not work as a worldview.) Even if a particular intention isn’t transmitted, whatever you felt as a viewer is still valid. Actually, it is more than valid, it is that dance’s meaning.
“But wait,” you ask, “What if what I felt during the dance is wrong and completely removed from the choreographer’s intent?” “What if I didn’t even feel anything, I just thought that how they moved around was, like, cool and kind of amazing.”
To your first question, there IS no wrong answer remember! And to your second question, you are still right. If you went up to a dancer after a show and said, “Look, I don’t know anything about dance per say, but the way you all moved was just amazing.” I promise you that she or he will take that as a heartfelt compliment.
What is even more wonderful about personal taste is that it lends itself to discussion. When asked about the dance you just saw, instead of wondering if you ‘got it,’ focus more on what you did get. You can then compare your feelings, interpretations, and invocations with the other dance-concert goers. And then, all of a sudden, you realize you’re having an educated conversation about dance, without having taken a dance class. You’ve come a long way baby, uh-huh.
David Parson’s Caught visually amazes its audience:
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