Dancing in a Digital Age

AN: I wrote this as an outline for my Documentary Production course at 4 in the morning but I actually feel like I hit on some important things so I wanted to share.

We all know that we’re on the cusp of a transition into an Internet-dominated world. As film students we hear all the time about how the TV and film industries are adapting their business structures to include the web, and the arts world is no different. Dance has been losing its footing as a successful entertainment-business industry for years and as a dancer of a classical education background I find myself extremely interested in the role of smartphones and the Internet in the evolution of dance education.

Dance Apps Inc is the first company of its kind to make such an extensive and successful dent in the world of Apple Apps, and it’s only been on the market for half a year. They started with the idea of an online dance studio: famous choreographers and dancers in the industry sharing routines and tips to anyone with Internet access, via iPhones, iPads, and computers, for only $5 a month. Then they branched out to more personal apps in order to capitalize on big names: Extensions and Tilts with Autumn Miller, Basic Dance Turns with Sophia Lucia. Their most recent project is a collaboration with power duo, Nappytabs, a dancing, choreographing couple whose success gets them to the Emmys each year. This app acts as a yelp for dance studios, giving smartphone users access to locations and class schedules for top studios in all the major cities across the globe.

At first, the classically trained ballet dancer in me balked at the idea of a portable dance studio “bringing the LA scene to you.” How did The Dance App or its founders hope to replace the interpersonal, communicative, learning environment of a dance class just by throwing up footage? It all seemed very mercenary to me, and I was afraid that it would damage the prestige, integrity, and vitality of traditional dance academies.

I went, first, to Holly Johnston, an extremely thoughtful and talented dancer-choreographer who brought her 20 years of teaching experience to Chapman University just this semester. As an educator with deep investment in holistic, philosophical, and scientific approaches to dance, I thought she’d be a great contrasting point of view to the glamorous, commercial world of dance that DAI capitalized on.

Her response was surprising, and definitely made me take a step back from my prejudices to look at the situation with fresh eyes. The digital age makes inevitable demands on businesses to change and adapt with the times. While no mere video can reproduce the intense experience of a dance class, that’s not to say that the Dance App approach should be abandoned. The first step is to become a major force—to gather attention from mainstream cultures—and the way to do that is through commercial dance. Holly made the point that it’s definitely an avenue to be explored, although it’s vital to be clear on the purpose of the app.

Next, I set up an interview with Dance App founder and faculty member, Jerome Alexander. He further deepened my understanding of the Dance Apps’ mission. They not only want to become a part of a global community connected by cyberspace, but also want to create opportunities for people to connect with the dancers and choreographers who are blazing paths for themselves in the popular LA and New York dance scenes. The teacher-student connection is replaced with a tearing down of the glitzy walls of fame and notoriety to connect the average dancer with a mystical-feeling world. He stresses the rawness of the video footage—no color correction, no fancy edits or effects, no makeup, no mics, and no pretty costumes. The Dance App gives you famous people in their most real and genuine state.

Finally, I decided to act the part of the Dance App consumer and learn one of the routines available via subscription. And I gotta be honest, it was a lot of fun. I realized that my previous fears were irrelevant. It’s obvious that Dance Apps Inc can’t replace real classes, but they aren’t trying to. They’re just getting in on a world in which veils between countries, communities, and people of all types are being torn down every day. A world where celebrities are real people and a farmer Australia can be friends with a politician in Alaska and a talented dancer in Russia can get their ideas out to musicians in Brazil. The Internet allows a degree of closeness and global awareness such as had never been seen before; Dance Apps is on the forefront of the dance world’s leap into the great cyberspace void.  There have been websites all over the place that offer online classes, but no business has been so successful so quickly and managed to get their product available on so many platforms before.