Photography Dancing verses Snapshot Dancing.

I had an art teacher who liked to say "Pictures can be photographs or snapshots.  The difference is that a photograph has artistic merit and matters to the viewer, even if they don't know the subject personally.  A snapshot only matters if you know the people in the picture.  There's nothing wrong with snapshots!  But you're here to learn photography."

We might have been there to learn photography, but a lot of the people in the class spent the first several weeks just learning how their camera (and light) worked, and only a few of us were, by the end of the semester, capable of (occasionally!) taking a photograph--generally it was those of us that had already been hobbyists, and knew what the controls of our camera were meant to do, even if we weren't particularly good at applying them.

So people spent some time learning how cameras worked, and what the controls did, and how light interacted with their cameras--and something about how to relate to their subject in terms of composition.

I believe dancing is kinda like that.

Genre dances (dance styles that have some level of codification due to evolving out of generations of dancers all choosing to dance to the same genre of music), when done well, have meaning to anyone that knows that dance genre, and, as you progress in skill, even start to matter to people who don't know how to dance at all.

They generally have a strong, well-defined aesthetic, and if I take a couple of dancers that are masters of Salsa and put them on a dance floor with nine other couples who love to dance but have no idea what they are doing, the outside observer is going to choose to watch the masters, unless they know one of the other couples personally.  The dancers in the room who know salsa are also going to make a mental note to ask those two people to dance.

Fusion dancing (what I spend most of my time thinking about, teaching, and doing, when there's music on) often lacks that meaningful-to-the-outside-observer element.

Why?  Because much of my study and teaching is the equivalent of your first camera class.

Not your first "photography" class.

Your first camera class.

So I'm mostly teaching things people don't learn as they grow up about dancing--especially if they don't come from dancing families.

For the photographer, these equate to : "Here's what the aperture control does.  Here's how to put your model at ease.  Here's how to angle your face to get the picture you want as a model.  Here's how to adjust the light so you get the right level of Bokeh.  Here's how to recognize when you are backlit and move."

Not "here's how to take a good landscape photograph."  Not even "Here's how to compose a shot of a person."  This is far more basic stuff than that.

Often, genre dance instruction, in an effort to maximize the ability of the student to do a very specific type of photography well, skips over all that basic stuff.

At its worst, it says "Here's a table with fruit on it(partner).  Stand here(frame).  Turn on this light(music).  Set your shutter speed to 1/125 and your F-stop to 8(steps).   Take the photo(You're Dancing!)."

And a person who doesn't know what camera controls do, but knows what they are,  could do all those things.  And the photograph they take might be excellent.

But they won't know why they were able to generate an excellent picture that way, even if they can recognize it as excellent or looking at it feels right.

It's not that genre dances don't expect you to figure it out!  It is just that many of them seem to rely on time to supply that knowledge of why.  They have the person take thousands of pictures and let the patterns blossom in the person's mind through repetition and "this is just how we do it here." classes.

And lots (maybe all) advanced dancers eventually "get" dancing at some innate level, even if they never realize what it is they've "gotten."  Most (good) dance teachers try to seed their genre classes with arrows that will point you towards the "why" so that you discover it for yourself faster.

But the fusion approach is "here's how your camera(body) works. Here's how you can change your body to relate to light(music).  Here's how you can relate to your subject(dance partner connection) in ways that will improve the picture."

And that's huge for a lot of people.  It brings me great joy to help a person understand what dancing should feel like, and then let them seek more codified instruction in genre dances when they want to refine or hone certain aesthetic elements of their dancing.

And then things get interesting.

We've all got a camera, these days, right?

How many of us take pictures that matter to strangers?  How many of us take photographs?

The majority of us don't.  At least, not often.   Most of us have Instagram followers we know personally (and that one weird dude from Istanbul that loves our pictures of Tea kettles? Why did we hashtag that with #imalittleteapot? Who knows).

I digress.  We send snapchats to lovers and friends and aunts.  We take a picture of the family for the Christmas card.  Knowing how the camera works helps us take better snapshots, but most people just aren't all that interested in photography.  But almost everyone is interested in taking pictures.

For a Real Photographer (ha!), there is a temptation to sneer at these people.  We are tempted to look down our noses at people who just use their cameras to take pictures of themselves in the bathroom mirror.  And even if we can always tell the difference between a person who knows good lighting and one who doesn't by scrolling through their Instagram, only some of us will say "oh, hey, that person is good with a camera, but these are all still snapshots" and move on.  Otherws will get angry.  Because "that's not art, and that person is just vain and why should they bother.  They're so self centered. I hate people that take selfies."

"It's just so masturbatory!" They'll say.  Then they will justify their artistic elitism and vitriol with high-minded phrases like artistic merit and rants about "form".

Fuck those people.  Do I like you?  Then I probably like your bathroom selfie.  Do I not care about you?  Then, news flash!  I can keep scrolling.

In the dance community, these are people who are so infuriated by the idea that a person would dance only for their partner and themselves and the moment that they will take to the internet to write furious screeds about how much they hate Fusion.

Direct (hilarious, to me) quote from a total shit-storm that developed on a friend's wall after she mentioned going out Fusion Dancing: "Self-expression without form is movement masturbation. It serves a purpose, but only for one person, and left unchecked long term, contributes to a pattern of selfish behavior."

These people have learned how they think all art must work, and they hate you for taking pictures that make you (and other people) happy.

They're probably miserable.  And frankly, I hope they stay that way.

And the vast majority of people that might love and enjoy dancing are never going to move past the selfie stages--and that's ok. They're going to have a good time, hopefully put a smile on their partner's face, and go home at the end of a long night of dancing happy, and maybe a little bit more fulfilled.

Those that want to move past that, from a fusion background, have a very strong platform to work from in their study of genre dances.  If they turn their gaze outward, towards a specific dance, they can push against the foundation of "why" that they have from fusion to pick up a new style and benefit from what it has to offer.

Assuming they can get past the prejudice of their genre dance teacher, that is.

As for me?  I love taking photographs.  Getting a good enough picture that it counts is a meaningful, rewarding endeavour for me.  But I also know that I'm only going to get there consistently if I understand the why.  And all this snapshot practice will make me a better photographer in the long run.

So I don't see fusion as a thing to hate, or a thing to suppress, or a thing to avoid.  I see it as a way of embracing the core of my dancing and spreading it to other people who will enjoy it.  And I see it as a way of letting myself experience just a little bit of joy in the arms of a friend.

So if you need me, I'll be in the bathroom, taking a selfie to send to someone who will smile when she sees it.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017