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Naked Dancing: A Cautionary Tale

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4dancers.org
4dancers.org

In 2010, Alastair Macaulay seriously pissed me off.

His gross review of NYCB's Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and specifically his comment on their waist sizes, sent shockwaves through the interwebs. I wouldn't say that he's necessarily done it again, but there's a little buzz beginning on the social media about his new editorial on naked dancing.

I'm hardly shocked that Macaulay's first paragraph, and most of the essay, are comparing modern experimental dance to porn and strippers. To be honest, I fully expected to be writing another rant about sensationalism in dance writing... but I have to say, I'm aligned with Mr. Macaulay on a couple of points.

Dancing in the buff has serious implications that you can't avoid (no matter how much we want them to). It's an artistic choice that instantly personalizes dancers and makes them into real people, with legs and hips and -- other parts. Depending on the degree of naked, your costume (or lack thereof) also creates the distinct persona of sexual beings, and if that's what you want, then go for it.

But...

Naked is not a decision you should make lightly as a dancemaker, or, in my opinion, frequently. That's not because I don't want to see naked people; it's because the one thing that you think is so extreme and unique and impactful is actually quite overdone. It's sort of like making a dance to Barber's Adagio. Like it or not, most audience members are going to have preconceived notions about nudity. Maybe you can prep them in program notes and pre-show talks to depersonalize the dance and see the beauty of the human form in motion, or maybe you're OK with the influence of the giggling 12-year-old boy in all of us seeping into the overall impact you want your piece to have. If not, find another way.

I'm not frustrated by nudity in dance because I find it offensive. Rather, I'm put off by the fact that the choreographer couldn't find another way to represent vulnerability, or truth, or love, or whatever. Getting naked isn't as extreme as you might think... I've used it (more than once), along with almost every dancemaker in my acquaintance.

My point is: Go ahead! Get naked if you have to, but recognize that there will always be that guy giggling in the back comparing your art to a strip club. Just, whatever you do, please don't make a naked dance to Barber's Adagio...

This post first appeared on 4dancers.org