I’ll admit without any hesitation that I am a huge fan of So You Think You Can Dance. Maybe it’s the former dancer in me, maybe it’s the guilty pleasure of performance-based reality shows, but I find it to be so much more than entertainment; I find it incredibly inspiring. I feel like any musician could learn a thing or two from watching this show. Before you judge, hear me out!
If you are unfamiliar with the show, the basic concept is that there are 10 dancers chosen through an audition process who are then paired up with former alumni from the show (referred to as “all stars” as they are one of the best in their specific dance genre, i.e. salsa, contemporary, hip-hip, etc) who perform a particular genre of dance chosen weekly that three judges, all of whom have extensive dance knowledge and experience, to find America’s FAVORITE dancer. Note, not best dancer, but favorite. The dancers are judged on their technique, their character portrayal if given one, and their overall performance. For every genre of dance there are numerous choreographers who create pieces for their assigned coupled contestants that will not only reflect the dancers abilities in that specific genre, but express an idea of the choreographer, which is often overlooked by viewers.
Sometimes the choreographers create fun pieces to showcase personality or difficult ones to showcase certain tricks in the particular genre. Sometimes they create a story, perhaps a boy meets girl but girl doesn’t notice him, or two princes fighting for the throne, all conveyed through dance. Other times their inspirations are more personal, and those always end up being the best dances for me. I think it’s something that any artist can relate to; creating something that means something to them personally.
Here are two examples of pieces I have found particularly moving and inspirational that I was able to locate on YouTube. The first, a piece about addiction. The second, a piece portraying breast cancer.
How can artists of all genres learn from choreography? Regarding music, it’s a little difficult to translate as we can’t always give an audience something to watch.
I’m immediately reminded of a great book by Dr. James Jordan called The Musician’s Spirit: Connecting to Others Through Story that talks about this kind of connection between individual, art, and audience. I think in any art form, whether you act, write, compose, play an instrument, teach, or dance, you aim to connect to your audience and convey your message, emotion, or story. It all comes down to getting personal; share your stories.
As a songwriter, I often get caught up in the technical and commercial aspects. Is this melody catchy? Are my lyrics cheesy? Are my chord progressions too predictable? Do I really need a bridge? I tend to forget that yes, those things matter, but my real desire for each song I write is to hopefully connect with at least one person; one person that says “I can relate to that,” or “She knows how I feel.” If I can reach one person with my art, than I’ve done my job, and to me that’s priceless.
That’s why we are artists right? To depict the beauty we see, to relieve the pain in the world, to cope with our struggles, to tell loved ones we love them, to share our secrets in the only way we feel comfortable. All in hopes of just one person saying, “I get it!”
Audiences aim to have experiences when witnessing art, whether it be abstract and foreign or something familiar and relatable. For me, it’s kind of like a good comedian. I think the funniest comedians are the ones who talk about situations or people that audiences can relate to…the humor in everyday life. As much as audiences like to be taken to new worlds and be introduced to abstract and otherworldly things, when they experience reality they want it as real as possible.
If musicians, performers, teachers, and all artists can get personal, they are doing their audiences or students the greatest favor by connecting to them through something real that captivates, inspires, or moves them. Discover ways to convey your craft that will draw your audience to you and your story.