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"ONE HOUR WITH BILLY SIEGENFELD AND JUMP RHYTHM WILL NOT ONLY CHANGE THE WAY YOU VIEW THE WORLD, IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU SEE YOURSELF. BILLY CAN GET A STONE TO DANCE WITH A FULL SPIRIT."

JEANNE HERRICK, SENIOR LECTURER, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

before-wedgeOnline vs. Live Conversation

Online vs. Live Conversation

In May 2011 (Dance USA’s e-journal: From the Green Room) dance writer, Jennifer Edwards talked about the “Shifting Landscapes: 3 Impact Points of Technology on the Future of Dance.” Here is an excerpt citing the first impact point.

Technology is taking the lid off of dance somewhat forcibly. The only way dance will thrive in this climate is by adapting, innovating, and meeting its audiences where they are. While the primacy of live dance performance is not in doubt, its scalability is. The relative popularity of television programs like “Dancing with the Stars” and entirely online dance spectacles like “The LXD” attests to a national interest in dance, which the contemporary dance community has been slow to address. The NEA study, Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation, reported that “over half of all U.S. adults (53 percent, or 118 million) participat[e] in the arts through electronic and digital media.” Therefore, we need to see dance in non-dance-focused tech-space: on Facebook, YouTube, monitors in the local mall, in the iTunes store, on Netflix, on airplanes, on hospital room TV screens, and in classrooms. In order to remain visible, the dance community must build new stages across multiple media platforms.

Audience expectations have changed. People are no longer as receptive to being talked at. Audiences want to have conversations. They expect a certain level of interaction and two-way communication. They want to be engaged and to see the results of being heard.

For a very long time we in the dance field have focused on “educating audiences” about dance, e.g., how to see, experience, and appreciate the art form. However, by actively listening to the needs of our communities we: 1) become trusted resources, 2) use our creative talents to fuse our vision with a collective desire, and 3) make our jobs easier—because we can spend time on sell-able programs. Sharing information of value, and generating solution-focused conversations are the currency of fruitful collaborations,[…]”

Interesting.  Audiences want to have conversations, to share information, and expect a certain level of interaction.  They also seem to want it via Facebook and YouTube.  Interesting that they don’t want it live, or face-to-face, or in a group setting (like a classroom or seminar).  Yet, they want to be validated for being a part of the conversation.  Hmmm….

That strikes me as interesting because Jump Rhythm® has been setting the scene for, and indeed engaging in conversations with its audiences for more than 25 years.  Live conversations, that is.  At rehearsals, in classes, on college campuses, in theatres, backstage areas, hallways, classrooms, conference rooms, prisons, schools, hospitals, backyards, and gardens.  Inviting people to participate, and take risk.  To learn – about themselves, and each other.  The Jump Rhythm® point of view involves getting people

“…to move in, in the psychological sense of the term; to figure out how to get them to move toward their inner selves and become interested in getting unstuck what’s sitting inside them. If that were to start working, we might then get some of them interested in expressing themselves creatively.” (B. Siegenfeld, The Art of Misbehaving: Youth, American Rhythm Dancing and the Need to Not Be Good, 2011)

Once in touch with what’s sitting inside, expression becomes inevitable.  You have to get what you’ve discovered out. What better way to do that than with, “The human voice,…”

Which, “when it talks or sings, reflexively serves as a carrier of whatever emotion the speaker or singer is feeling at that moment. The strongly rhythmic singing participants do in Jump Rhythm® classes helps them channel outward what they’re feeling when they move.” (B. Siegenfeld, The Art of Misbehaving: Youth, American Rhythm Dancing and the Need to Not Be Good, 2011)

This leaves the Facebook and YouTube followers a little out of the loop in terms of being engaged and seeing the results being heard right then and there.  I am just guessing, but I don’t think that there is a whole lot of self-reflection going on for those digital audiences – little in the way of getting unstuck what’s inside them. Sure, you can go back and forth; even have a live chat, but live interaction is where the A-HA moments come.  And, maybe I am missing something, but aren’t conventional conversations conducted with our (natural, non-digital) voices in a turn-taking exchange?  When those engaged in conversation can see each and hear other, they also benefit from facial expressions, head tilts, gestures, and sounds we might make with our feet and hands, and the shared energy that is created.  You could even argue that the lilt, or volleying cadence of a back and forth dialogue embodies rhythm.  You might even call it

“Full-bodied rhythm-making®,” or “…the tool that levers this release. It helps students who do it break through walls of fear, self-consciousness, or defensiveness – and the body-rigidity that accompanies these states – by freeing them to turn their voices and bodies into articulators of emotion-charged rhythms. When this happens, the dancing the students do becomes as much about communicating feelings as muscling movement and “getting the steps.”

So Facebook and You Tube aren’t truly ‘live’ – so engagement can’t be an energized exchange, really.  You can leave comments, but what about the other parts of the communication mentioned above – gestures, head tilts, reactive sounds?  In Jump Rhythm® Jazz Project Founder, Billy Siegenfeld’s view,

“Using the voice to help students sense this inward aspect of dancing opens them up to working cooperatively with other people. That is, once students get practiced in using voice-generated body movement to wake up their insides, they become more available to working in partnered relationships with another person.” (B. Siegenfeld, The Art of Misbehaving: Youth, American Rhythm Dancing and the Need to Not Be Good, 2011)

So, by my logic, it follows that this type of communication works for any body who partakes in full-bodied rhythm-making®? It teaches us how to cooperate.  To share, to know when to speak and when to listen.  These are skills that every/any human person needs, and can always get better at.  That is the beauty of this technique. It is for all humans, people, not just dancers.  This remarkable aspect creates an accessibility for audience members to/with the performers that is undeniable, unavoidable, and unmatched.  It sparks every conversation Jump Rhythm® has with its audiences.

That exchange gets taken even further. The Company’s elevator speech states that “JUMP RHYTHM® Jazz Project is a 25-year-old Chicago dance company whose members use their bodies and their voices to bring human stories to life with infectious energy, raw emotion, and unbridled joy.  The company’s uniquely percussive form of American Rhythm Dancing® creates a powerful connection between performer and audience for a heart-pumping, heart-felt experience.”

Well, there’s no ‘not responding’ to that! YouTube and Facebook are a lot of things, but I’ve never heard “heart-pumping, heart-felt experience” being associated with either of them. How about we consider the conversation started – the Jump Rhythm® way.  But, where does this telling of human stories with infectious energy and unbridles joy come from?

Originally, and again, drawing on Jump Rhythm® Founder Billy Siegenfeld’s research,

“…it comes from the concept of traditionally African and African American music and dance process of working together in rhythm-driven relationships: “call-and-response.” Call-and-response is crucial to Jump Rhythm because its conversational approach teaches students how democracy can work. It acquaints them with the freedom to assert one’s own voice and, at the same time, the need to give another individual the time and space to say what she or he wants to say.” (B. Siegenfeld)

Come and see our 25th Anniversary Season opener at Stage 773 starting October 24th, and meet the Company.  Have the heart-pumping, heart-felt experience.  Join us for an energized, rhythmic conversation.  I can say with confidence that you’ll get your expectation for a certain level of interaction and two-way communication not only met, but exceeded.  And, you’ll definitely be engaged; and, see the results of your being heard. Let’s start a conversation.

Thanks for reading,

Suzanne Scott

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