Why Write?

In an article published by The Atlantic in August, 2015 titled The Death of the American Dance Critic, author Madison Mainwaring posed the question: “Why are there so few mainstream outlets covering the art form [of dance]?”

Mainwaring proceeds to detail a wave of dance journalist losses, as popular papers including The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker have released their dedicated dance editors and writers. “One could argue that though this trend is unfortunate, it’s almost expected given that dance concerts cater to small audiences, and the constituency reading about them tends to be even smaller still. But for a medium that can be difficult to understand, generalist coverage remains vital to the accessibility of the dance scene.”

The article prompted reflection on both the why and whither of dance journalism by professionals in the field.  Christine Jowers, founder and editor-in-chief of the Dance Enthusiast blog, writes, “How about changing our mindsets for a minute? Does the loss of the mainstream “expert” dance critic signal a great American tragedy, or does it portend the beginning of a necessary metamorphosis—a communication revolution? Perhaps the dance field needs to open itself to new ways of thinking, writing, funding, and interacting with dancers, audiences and media. Perhaps all sectors of the dance world need to realize that we are interconnected and figure out how we can be more relevant and helpful to one another.”

“Interest in dance [on the part of general news consumer] might be picking up again,” suggests political science professor, dancer, and writer Tatiana Rathelot. “The United States is employing cultural exchange as a form of diplomacy, which we haven’t seen as much since the Cold War. The arts can be used to create a more favorable climate of understanding between countries. It’s still marginal, but it’s picking up momentum.”

Dance writing does face a challenge common to all forms of journalism: keeping pace with technology to remain relevant. Courses such as the English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word are helping to train up-and-coming dance writers to help connect new generations of audiences with dance. “It’s important to bring dance to the public,” says Rathelot, herself a Dance is the Word alum. “Whether through adult classes or dance writing, it’s important for potential new audiences to experience dance. It’s demystified and it makes you curious.”

Erin Carlisle Norton, dancer and founder of the Movers and Shapers podcast, points out that innovative uses of media for sharing stories about dance artists is important for generating interest in the field. “Stories are compelling,” she says. “You might hear [or read] a story about an artist you’d never heard of and really want to see what they do after you learn about him or her as a person.”

While funding for journalism and the performing arts is always a challenge, both professions are adapting and evolving as culture produces and integrates new technological platforms for the dissemination of information. These may shift audiences and readers away from traditional modes of consumption, such as attending exclusively live shows or reading a physical newspaper, but they also create exciting opportunities to share ideas and visions with more inclusive groups of people—and to invite their creative input as well.