02/23/2011 06:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What the World of Dance Can Learn From World of Warcraft

My son plays World of Warcraft. He is one of more than 12 million subscribers, according to the game's creator, Blizzard Entertainment. As a concerned parent, I know all the statistics: doctors claim anywhere from 10% of the population to 40% of Warcraft players are addicted to online games, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on WoW every year, and people remain sedentary and glued to a computer for hours on end. However, rather than continuing to begrudge my son's World of Warcraft habit, I decided to learn more about it. Given the strong community aspect of WoW and the level of commitment players maintain, I was fascinated by the choreographic aspects of this technologically interactive platform -- outside of the game itself. I wanted to see if there were elements of this structured collaboration that I could apply to an on-going quest to challenge the World of Dance[craft] to grow and thrive.

In learning more about World of Warcraft, I see several things that could be of use in the dance, and the larger art world. My understanding is cursory at best; however, bottom line, this game -- beyond the activity of playing -- fulfills three elements of human need.

1) Community Engagement: First, you can play the game as a solo player, but you can also join a group and go on raids together, engage in teamwork, and build your collective effectiveness in the game. Also, before new realms are available to the public, they are tested by WoW players. This serves the double purpose of exciting people about new aspects of the game, and testing/tweaking this new WoW product prior to the official release. Players who participate in the test feel a part of the end result, and players in general come to trust the product because they know (the quality of) people who have tested it.

Additionally, on the community forums there are areas that display WoW-inspired artwork and comic strips made by fans. Thus the lines of live-gaming and real-life creativity are blurred. WoW filters into many aspects of player's lives and, in turn, the players' lives flow back into the game.

How this translates to the dance world: For a very long time we have focused on "educating audience" about dance -- how to see, experience, and appreciate the art form. This will not work in today's world. Nor would it have worked in the performing arts world that preceded Louis IX's influence. Art came from the people and was easily understood by the people -- it was built for pubic consumption and participation. 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.

2) Recognition of strengths / a sense of personal achievement: Although players of WoW are cloaked in their avatar persona, fellow players know a lot about one another and recognize each other's accomplishments in real time.

How this translates to the dance world: I grew up seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov in magazines, newspapers, and films. I actually thought that dancers were known and respected in the mainstream. But today, when Danny Tidwell left American Ballet Theater only to later join So You Think You Can Dance, he was demonized by the dance world. This has to stop. Let dancers shine. I encourage us all to step down from the fictional plateau that is allegedly "so above pop-culture thinking." Hardworking dance professionals deserve a pat on the back and a shout-out for being fabulous. This makes dance more accessible to people outside of our community and promotes the good work of dancers, dance-makers, and dance-innovators.

3) Attaining / earning [something] (points for health, weaponry, etc): This is a tried and true way of getting people motivated: rewards. Whether you are looking at credit cards or WoW, getting, keeping, and using points are key. Additionally, in WoW, these earned points are time-sensitive, and if a player does not play for a period of time he / she loses their points. There is also the team aspect of the game that encourages people to show up or else lose all the benefits listed above.

How this translates to the dance world: Give people something for attending a number of events -- something that is usable and ties your work into their lives, while fortifying their participation in the community. Note that this is not "your community," but a group that the audience is already a part of. The art itself isn't reward enough, unless it is a community project that your audience had a real voice (not just dollars) in creating. Partner with other community (not only arts) organizations. The rewards system works when it transcends your niche and makes best use of people's time.

Arts organizations face an uncertain future. However, I see a huge possibility -- one that largely hinges on the re-engaging of audiences and the stimulation of collaborative projects.

This article is the continuation of an on-going exploration of choices and opportunities we have to better understand and participate in: health, art, education, and our communities. I look forward to continuing the conversation.