What is the Cultural Value of Modern Dance?

There is a huge difference between entertainment value, cultural value, and artistic value.

Entertainment value is surely sealable by popularity, and sales.

Artistic value can really only assessed over the long-term. J.S. Bach wasn’t even considered in the top-20 living composers of his lifetime (so to speak.)

Cultural value is connected to both entertainment and artistic value, but relates to inherent qualities independent of those.

I thought about this just now because Sydney Skybetter tweeted an article about The Crisis in Modern Dance, which concludes with a quote from New York based choreographer Tatyana Tenenbaum saying about dance that,

“It is a sequestered high art. There is not much of a market for it.”

Her quote really struck a cord with me. I think the sequestration of high art – including dance – is contributing to our financial crisis.

The Americans for the Arts National Arts Index Summary (2009) reports that, “nonprofit arts organizations are losing their ‘market share’ of philanthropy to other charitable areas… Between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of foundation funding directed to the arts decreased from 14.8 to 10.6 percent. The corporate giving share to the arts decreased from 10.3 to 4.6 percent during the same period.”

Somehow, we are losing our value to funders. It may be entirely related to the economy. In this down time funders are prioritizing feeding people over providing arts opportunities. But in my mind that doesn’t fully answer it. I think that the sequestration of dance is actually self-sequestration, and related to decreasing cultural value. That’s both individual product and aggregate impact.

I see how positive and entertaining dance being produced today is, and I think that the artistic value today is as high as it’s ever been. In terms of compositional innovation I’m certain our problems (in dance) aren’t dis-similar from those of classical music.

Image in this post ripped from the Guardian story.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.

3 thoughts on “What is the Cultural Value of Modern Dance?”

  1. Is there more to your rebuttal? Can you expound on the self-sequestration in dance? What are we the artists doing (or not doing) to cause funders to lose interest or change priorities? From this knowledge, what can an emerging artist like myself do to ensure funding? I too, was put off a bit by this idea that there isn’t much of a market for modern dance. But I’m the artist, not the individual or corporation with the big bucks who gets to choose philanthropic interests.

  2. I’d like to hear more, too… I read the article you referenced as well. I agree with you, btw, I’d just like to hear more of your brain burst.

    The more I make concerts, the more I make dance theatre. It’s just become more satisfying to include live music, sets, actors, musicians and more into the dance sandbox. It’s dance based theatre, but I don’t know that I make pure dances anymore; or mayhaps my definition of dance has expanded a LOT lately.

    As an audience member I want context, too. Mingling with the other arts and using a narrative of some sort – no matter how loose – grabs me on both sides: making and watching art.

    I do think that for any art to be relevant, people have to participate in it. It is very hard to relate to something you don’t do. Period. We pick up some sort of writing instrument daily – we relate to visual art naturally. Those who have ever played an instrument will go see live music concerts. Those who danced will go see dance. It is VERY hard to get someone to go SEE something they don’t do. Reason #8 to keep dance education in the schools. And, very few people (relatively speaking) participate in dance. I believe dance education and audience growth are directly proportional. Which leads to culural relevance and funding. Art without education is doomed to perish.

    More, please!

    k.k. 😉

  3. I don’t think there’s a silver bullet in this, or a single answer as to why the classical or high arts are more sequestered. I do think that there are several trends that factor in.

    No Child Left Behind has been very positive in forcing tracking (testing) of children’s progress, but more than anything it seems to have highlighted where the education system is failing children. It has resulted in increased pressure against arts education. Definitely, what people don’t experience for themselves, they feel less connected to, and are more likely to be dismissive of.

    There is also such competition in the art world that the standards we use to judge and support new and established artists are frequently far removed from the public’s own perceptions. I.e., as a field we are supporting things that the public wouldn’t pick.

    The point I’m trying to highlight with the difference between entertainment, artistic and cultural value is that the high arts — as opposed to the popular arts — could benefit from grounding in cultural value. Garth Brooks creates his own cultural value. If we need non-profit support, outside of the market’s basic capitalist system, how can we make that case?

    I’ve been contacted by the editor of DanceUSA’s e-journal, and will be expanding on this for a piece for them. I’ll put up that link when that’s done.

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