Sunday, September 3, 2017

Special Topic: Choreoliteralism Revisited

Back at the outset of the 2015-16 season, Step Sequences devoted some space to the newly-coined matter of choreoliteralism: moments of choreography that literally depict song lyrics. This concept could be further expanded to include forms of choreographic pantomime based on theme rather than vocals, such as the telephone calls and rope-skipping depicted in the 2016-17 programs of world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, though for purposes of simplicity, we'll continue to reserve the term for a less narrative-based literalism.

We did not outline last season's strikes in the choreoliteral vein, but those that did appear were also mostly less overt than those on offer in the previous year. However, the summer competitions have already revealed one program that presents multiple demonstrations: this "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" / "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" free dance from Dubreuil/Lauzon team Olivia Smart and Adrià Díaz:

When watching, consider these keywords:
  • man
  • train
  • load
  • looking out

As the season unfolds, we'll add any further acts of choreoliteralism to this post.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Special Topic: Ballroom Roots

Ice dance began its life as "hand-in-hand skating," something separate from the "combined" skating also en vogue around the turn of the twentieth century, and analogized to waltz and polka by Captain J.H. Thomson in Norcliffe G. Thompson and F. Laura Cannan's Hand-in-hand Figure Skating (1896). Indeed, forms of the waltz and other simple in-hold dances were the first real ice dances, and this is no accident; concurrently, no social dance had greater stature than the waltz in Europe and North America of the late nineteenth century.

And as I hope this blog has amply suggested, these fortuitous turns -- so many ballroom styles paired with compulsory patterns of a related name -- were no sort of pure good fortune at all, but entirely deliberate. Ballroom dance expanded in scope and public success in the 1910s and '20s courtesy of popular performers like Vernon and Irene Castle, a shift in societal perceptions of moral propriety, and an overall turn towards social good times in the post-Great War era. The Blackpool Dance Festival, contributing to the process of codifying the ballroom dances, began in 1920, while the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing began formulating its ballroom syllabus in 1924. A decade later, under the auspices of the National Skating Association, British rinks would host ice dancing competitions with an eye towards developing and codifying new ice dance patterns like tangos, waltzes, foxtrot and quickstep. If it's a constant challenge to discern the link between today's ballroom figures and yesterday's compulsory steps, it's not to argue that this kinship with ballroom was ever meant to be forgotten or discarded.

But perhaps most telling of the relationship between disciplines in this foundational period is the gift figure skating left to ballroom in 1938: a scoring program still called the skating system. Though today such a link is more irrelevant to ice dance than a foxtrot is to Dancesport, it's worthy of recall.

Ice dance has developed far beyond its initial strict requirements of hold and close skating, the more staid ballroom trappings of its first decades as a world-contested discipline. But in a scored, competitive system -- and in the absence of alternative dance standards to draw upon, like ballet's strict and clear-cut steps and demands of technique -- ice dance must either find a wholly new form of legitimately difficult, objectively assessed separated movements upon which to base itself as a discipline, or accept its roots as a couples' discipline, one that sets itself apart from pairs by virtue of the literal partner connection.

Given the ever-changing and ever-curious tweaks to the discipline's rules and syllabus on a near annual basis, some small heed to history -- and a form of objective fact no matter how scored -- seems essential.