Analysis of Folk Dance with LMA-Based Tools: A Doorway to the World

Article excerpt

Dance is a universal art, and dance forms are found throughout the world--classical dance, theatrical dance, "art" dance, ethnic dance. The oldest dance form, with the greatest number of participants in the world today is folk dance. For all those who consider themselves dancers, dance teachers, and dance students, folk dance should be a required area of study.

Sometimes those trained in other dance forms, specifically Western "art" dance forms such as ballet or modern dance, have difficulty thinking of folk dance as useful, significant, relevant, or artistic. In this article, I hope to encourage readers to reevaluate the role of folk dance in dance education and dance as art by (1) pointing out the advantages to be gained from the study of folk dance, and (2) discussing how Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) can reveal the rich constellations of movement behaviors in folk dance and aid in teaching movement "style" rather than just "steps."

You may ask, "But why teach or study folk dance?" Behind this question may lie several assumptions:

* The study of folk dance is not relevant.

* Folk dance has no technique and therefore, is not, an "art"

* A knowledge of folk dance forms is not useful.

* A "real" dancer doesn't need to know folk dance (since it isn't an "art").

Let us examine these assumptions:

Folk dance is not relevant. Folk dance is the ancestor, the source, of all "art" dance forms. Any dancer who wants to know more about dancing than just movements, who wants to know the history and sources of dance forms, must study this foundation form. Folk elements, themes, and movements are seen in many ballet, modern, and jazz pieces--from 19th century ballets such as Coppelia, Swan Lake, and Giselle, to contemporary choreography such as George Balanchine's Square Dance, Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, and Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Choreographers as diverse as Ruth St. Denis in the 1920s and Mark Morris in the 1990s have found inspiration in folk movement. Folk dance, which has been "choreographed" by generations of dancers, contains certain common elements which are recognized by members of the culture, and which, according to anthropologist Franziska Boas (1972), represent that culture. The opportunity to learn about and participate in these elements of other cultures surely cannot be considered irrelevant experiences for a dancer.

Folk dance has no technique. Many dancers seem to view the patterns of folk dance superficially, seeing only the body positions and steps, the "footprints-pattern-on-the-floor," rather than the shape that the body carves through space, the motivation for the movement, and the subtleties of effort qualities that give a movement--and a dance form--character. There is no lack of technique--rather, just lack of a practiced eye and an attuned body. Kealiinohomoku (1983) points out the inherent cultural boundness of our ability to be sensitive to movement and gesture. Just as a Nigerian dancer might see a ballet plie as only a bending of the knees, without noting the vertical alignment of the pelvis and torso and the sense of upward stretch, a ballet dancer might see a basic Nigerian movement as merely a wild thrashing around, without noting the hips and shoulders moving in rhythmic counterpoint with the head, adding yet another accent to the polyrhythmicity characteristic of the style. The Nigerian, attempting to reproduce the ballet plie as she saw it, would be judged technically lacking by the practiced eye of the ballet dancer. The ballet dancer would be similarly judged incompetent in the performance of Nigerian dance by the practiced eye of the Nigerian. Dance technique in the folk style of an ethnic group is best judged by a member of that group, according to standards prevalent in that culture, and not by an American-trained dancer who has no experience in either the performance or the evaluation and appreciation of that style.

Folk dance is not useful. …