Cover Image: Why Dance Matters

Why Dance Matters

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Member Reviews

I haven't finished this and I probably wouldn't because there is something about the way it is written that puts me off dance entirely. 

To her credit, the author IS passionate about ballet as an art form. I especially enjoyed reading her descriptions of Balanchine's choreography and choices that were considered forward, unusual, or inventive at the time of their first stagings. As a non-dancer who is enthusiastic about all kinds of dance but has no formal training or education, I was really looking forward to reading this in the hopes of filling my heart with knowledge that my chronically ill limbs cannot perform. Instead, what I got was a cut direct; an unwelcome reminder that I should have been inducted into the hallowed halls of its art by watching productions in prominent theaters in the US, UK, or Russia. If I don't know these choreographers or these canon ballet scores, then I am nothing. In some of the earlier chapters, the author had the same story: she wasn't a pro dancer, but she loved the art so she pursued it through other mediums and other connections. I had hoped to be the same way, but apparently I wasn't welcome.

In addition, this volume largely focused on ballet and considered it to be the pinnacle of expression, when there are other kinds of dance and their corresponding traditions. I had expected this book to take me on a field trip through other dances and conclude each stop with a universal joy and appreciation for dance, but it didn't. I don't want art to be gatekept like this, and trying to finish this book just felt like inserting myself into a circle where I obviously don't belong.
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Why Dance Matters is part of the "Why X Matters" series from Yale University Press, and based on the blurb, I expected a more sociological analysis of the role dance has in our lives, and how dances from diverse countries and cultures both express and form a part of who we are. This impression was not accurate — although it does mention a variety of dances, the book primarily focuses on western concert dance (especially ballet and modern dance) and analyzes specific works, choreographers, and performances in detail.

If you enjoy western dance history and critique, and especially if you're interested in the many ways that dance connects with pedestrian life (quite literally in the extensive analysis of walking and dance), this could be a good book for you. Aloff's nuanced descriptions flow from one choreographer to the next, from one genre to another, and from anecdote to performance in a way that brings these dances to life. I remain disappointed that the book glosses over non-western and social dances, but the analysis that it does offer is well worth it as a deep dive into how these dances connect with the rest of our lives.
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Why Dance Matters by Mindy Aloff is an enjoyable look at dance and its many uses, both pragmatic and pure enjoyment.

This book is heavy into formal dance with mention of other places and uses, from religious and cultural ceremony to all around the world. I think I was expecting something that spoke more to the value of dance in every person's life, even those who may never have seen any kind of formal dance, whether ballet, modern dance or even cultural ceremonies. Just the pure joy and release of moving one's body in time to some sound and/or internal catalyst. It isn't that these aren't touched on here, they are, but this reads as much like a broad review of dance performances and productions as about why dance might matter to someone who doesn't care about traditional forms and just loves the joy of movement.

That said, and shifting my expectations to what is offered, this is an enjoyable and educational read. The passion of dance comes through as well as the work that goes into dance as a traditional art form.

While I would recommend this to anyone interested in dance, I am more likely to suggest this for those who love ballet and other modern dance forms that are more regimented and less about just moving.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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Anyone who loves dance will enjoy this title. The author looks at this art form from many perspectives; while many think first of ballet or modern dance, dance can also be part of traditions outside a theater, as in religion and ritual, as the author points out. Ms. Aloff takes on a wide portfolio in this title. She understands the full impact that dance can have upon both dancers and viewers.

On a lighter note, I also enjoyed many of the stories that the author shares. For example, find out why a ballerina said that she always takes a cab if she has to travel more than one block.

The holidays are approaching. Think of promising this title as a gift to a dance aficionado in the new year. They will then have the opportunity to spend time exploring why dance matters so much.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for this title. All opinions are my own.
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