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kottke.org posts about dance

La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2019

This past weekend I was in Boston for some cultcha and went to The Museum of Fine Arts. Among several paintings, pastels, and drawings of dancers by Edgar Degas, a bronze casting of his sculpture La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans caught my eye:

La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans by Edgar Degas

This is Degas’s largest surviving sculpture and the only one he titled and exhibited. The original wax version, a portrait of a young Belgian dancer named Marie van Goethem, was shown at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition in Paris. The wax was tinted to resemble flesh, she wore a wig of real hair, and was dressed in pink slippers and bodice in addition to a skirt and ribbon similar to those on this cast. The excessive naturalism of the work offended many viewers, but the critic J.K. Huysmans called it “the only really modern attempt that I know in sculpture.”

I’ve seen many representations of ballet dancers in Degas’ work over the years, but this time around was different because I had read Julia Wolkoff’s The Sordid Truth behind Degas’s Ballet Dancers last year.

The formerly upright ballet had taken on the role of unseemly cabaret; in Paris, its success was almost entirely predicated on lecherous social contracts. Sex work was a part of a ballerina’s reality, and the city’s grand opera house, the Palais Garnier, was designed with this in mind. A luxuriously appointed room located behind the stage, called the foyer de la danse, was a place where the dancers would warm up before performances. But it also served as a kind of men’s club, where abonnés — wealthy male subscribers to the opera — could conduct business, socialize, and proposition the ballerinas.

Young members-in-training of the ballet companies were called “petits rats” in reference to their often impoverished backgrounds. As Wolkoff observes of the subject of the sculpture:

Marie van Goethem was the “petit rat” who posed for the sculpture, and she likely engaged in the sexually predatory economy of the ballet world to survive. Van Goethem disappeared from the public eye shortly after the sculpture was completed; after being late to a rehearsal, the Paris Opera Ballet dismissed her. The teenager probably returned home to follow in the footsteps of her mother — a laundress and likely prostitute — and older sister, who was also a sex worker.

Here’s a Degas painting of an on-stage practice from the collection at the Met:

Degas Dance Painting

What might look at first glance like a depiction of the beauty of dance takes on a more sinister nature when you notice the men on the right side of the painting, perhaps a pair of wealthy subscribers getting a special preview of that night’s ballet and their choice of ballerinas. You might never look at another of Degas’ ballet paintings the same way again.

The Collective Effervescence of Dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2019

Why do we dance? It’s a silly question because the answer seems obvious — “because we want to, duh” — but this video from Aeon looks a bit closer at why humans like to collectively move to the beat. It has to do with our social nature and this great phrase, “collective effervescence”.

The answer, it seems, is in our need for social cohesion - that vital glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) theorised that ‘collective effervescence’ — moments in which people come together in some form of unifying, excitement-inducing activity — is at the root of what holds groups together. More recently, Bronwyn Tarr, an evolutionary biologist and psychologist at the University of Oxford who is also a dancer, has researched the evolutionary and neurological underpinnings of our innate tendency to bust a move. Drawing on the work of both Durkheim and Tarr, this Aeon Original video explores that unifying feeling of group ‘electricity’ that lifts us up when we’re enthralled by our favourite sports teams, participating in religious rituals, entranced by music - and, yes, dancing the night away.

You can read more about Durkheim and his work here and about Tarr’s work here.

One hypothesis is that it provides an opportunity for people to come together, making them move — dance — and in doing so we experience internal hormonal cascades which are made up of ‘feel good’ chemicals. These bursts of chemicals are part of our brain’s pain and pleasure and reward circuitry, and when they are triggered they provide an experience of elation and positive reward. When we get this kick in the presence of others, the result is that of collective joy — positive, shared experiences through which we establish and maintain important social connections with others. Now we feel like we belong to a unified, cohesive whole.

Being part of a cohesive social group would have been really important for our ancestors — collaborating with others to find shelter, hunt, rear young would have increased our chances of survival. Music and dance are by no means the only ways we can stimulate these positive social ‘highs’. But they’re really good ways of doing it because it’s an experience that we can share with lots of people at once. In order to understand why that would have given us such a great advantage we need to look at our species in the context of primates.

(via open culture)

A Cyborg Artist Who Feels All of the World’s Earthquakes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2019

Moon Rivas, a cyborg artist, has sensors implanted in her feet that vibrate whenever an earthquake is detected anywhere in the world. A dancer and choreographer, Rivas uses the randomly occurring vibrations to perform dance pieces like “Waiting for Earthquakes”. This video from Quartz gives a good overview of Rivas’ art and process (back when an implant was located in her arm instead of her feet).

CNN and Bloomberg both have recently updated reports on Rivas’ work.

Ribas then transforms that data into dance or music, often incorporating elements of spontaneity and uncertainty. For example, the movements in the dance “Waiting for Earthquakes,” in which the artist stands perfectly still until seismic activity occurs, can take many shapes.

“I’m a dancer and a choreographer, so I wanted to experience movement in a deeper way,” she explains. “Whenever there is an earthquake, I move according to the intensity of the earthquake. It’s a bit like a duet between the earth and myself. Earth is actually the choreographer of the piece and I’m just imitating the data that she gives.”

Her partner Neil Harbisson is also a cyborg. He was born colorblind but is outfitted with an antenna implanted in his head that vibrates when it detects colors. (via @boletrone)

The Twerking Robot

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2018

Hot off the heels of their video showing a humanoid robot casually doing parkour, Boston Dynamics has made a clip of their robot dog doing a hip hop dance routine to Uptown Funk.

While the robot in the parkour video looked distinctly un-human at times, I have to say that this dog robot is a much better and more fluid dancer than I expected — it’s got better moves than most of the people I’ve seen dancing at Midwestern weddings. The robot does what looks like the running man and then twerks while mugging for the camera. I don’t know what level of cultural appropriation this is and Boston Dynamics is probably just doing this to distract from the whole Terminator narrative, but was anyone else the tiniest bit jealous of and turned on by (and then deeply ashamed of those feelings) the robot’s moves?

A Relaxing Acrobatic Performance to Debussy’s Clair de Lune

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2018

Choreographer & acrobat Yoann Bourgeois and pianist Alexandre Tharaud have collaborated on a performance that combines a trampoline, a staircase, and Claude Debussy’s most famous composition, Clair de Lune. Even though I’ve seen a performance from Bourgeois before and knew what was coming, that first drop onto the trampoline was startling.

Three is a trend: slowly shredding some pow to classical music and Clair de Lune in the moonlight. (via @alexchabotl)

Dancing in movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

A supercut montage of dance scenes from over 300 movies (like School of Rock, The Wizard of Oz, Footloose, Dances With Wolves, West Side Story, and Straight Outta Compton). A full list of the movies represented is available here.

A graceful underwater dance by freediver Julie Gautier

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2018

Ama is a short film that was written, directed, and performed by freediver Julie Gautier.

Ama is a silent film. It tells a story everyone can interpret in their own way, based on their own experience. There is no imposition, only suggestions.

I wanted to share my biggest pain in this life with this film. For this is not too crude, I covered it with grace. To make it not too heavy, I plunged it into the water.

I dedicate this film to all the women of the world.

This is really beautiful. Watch it all the way through…the end is not to be missed. (via swissmiss)

Mister Rogers learns to breakdance and moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2018

In this clip from an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, breakdancer Jermaine Vaughn shows Mister Rogers and his television neighbors a few moves, including some popping and locking and the moonwalk.

That guy is game for anything, even if it makes him look dorky…probably especially if it makes him look dorky. Rogers knew the value of not letting what others might think about you get in the way of your curiosity or a new experience.

Also, DJs and producers take note: his lines “like there’s a wave going the whole way through your body” and “then make it come back, huh” are ripe for sampling.

Dancing on roller skates with James Brown’s style

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2017

For the latest installment of the Dance In The Real World series, the NY Times visited a Chicago roller rink where people skate in a JB Style, named after the performer James Brown. I wanted to watch about 10 more minutes of that…and then go roller skating. See also Dancing on Skates.

Other videos in the Dance In The Real World series include stilt-dancing in Trinadad and the new vogueing scene in NYC. And they’re the perfect snackable size…I watched all five of them just now.

My recent media diet, special French edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I recently took a trip to France to visit friends and log some time in one of my favorite places on Earth, so this particular media diet is heavy on Parisian museums and food. If you take nothing else away from this post, avoid The Louvre and watch The Handmaid’s Tale at the earliest opportunity.

Dial M for Murder. This Hitchcock film, with its relatively low stakes and filmed mostly in one room, is more suspenseful and thrilling than any of the “the world/galaxy/universe is in peril” movies out today. (A-)

Musée des Arts et Métiers. Before ~1950, you could look at a machine and pretty much know what it did and how it worked. After the invention of the digital computer, everything is an inscrutable black box. (A)

Manon des Sources. This movie feels much older than it is. (B+)

Marconi. The chef from my favorite NYC restaurant recently opened this place in Montreal. Best meal I had during my trip (Paris included). (A)

The Big Sick. It may have been a little predictable, but I really liked this movie. Lots of heart. (B+)

Le Chateaubriand. The skate tartar and a dessert with a smoked cream were the highlights, but the whole experience was top-notch and chill. (A-)

Candelaria. You will never feel cooler in Paris than having an excellent cocktail in a bar behind a hidden door in the back of a taqueria. (A-)

Musée Picasso. Not much else to say about Picasso at this point, is there? That creep can roll, man. (A-)

Women in Physics. My daughter is pretty interested in science and scientists (she’s a particular fan of Marie Curie), so books that highlight women scientists can always be found around our house. (B)

Café de Flore. You will never feel cooler in Paris than sitting outside at Café de Flore at night, reading a book, and drinking a Negroni as Hemingway might have done in the 20s. (Tho Hemingway probably didn’t have a Kindle.) (A-)

Stacked. I recently rediscovered this hour-long mix by Royal Sapien. The two-ish minutes starting at 32:00 are sublime IMO. (A-)

The Devil in the White City. A gripping tale of architecture and serial killing. Chicago 1893 is definitely one of my hypothetical time travel destinations. (A)

Sainte-Chapelle. My favorite church in Paris. Literally jaw-dropping, worth the €10 entry fee. (A)

Rough Night. I will watch anything with Kate McKinnon in it. But… (B-)

Balanchine / Teshigawara / Bausch. An amazing building. (I got to go backstage!) The third act of this ballet was flat-out amazing. (B+)

The Louvre. The best-known works are underwhelming and the rest of this massive museum is overwhelming. The massive crowds, constant photo-taking, and selfies make it difficult to actually look at the art. Should have skipped it. (C)

100 Pounds of Popcorn. Forgettable kids book. (C-)

Kubo and the Two Strings. A fun thing to do is tell someone halfway through that it’s stop motion animated. (A-)

Musée d’Orsay. The building and the art it contains elevate each other. Probably the best big museum in Paris. (A-)

The Handmaid’s Tale. This is both a not-implausible future of the United States and a metaphor for how many women and LGBT+ folks feel about how our society treats them. Excellent, a must-watch. (A)

Musée de l’Orangerie. Two rooms of huge Monet Waterlilies? Yes, please. (A-)

Brasserie Lipp. The steak frites was so-so, but the people watching from my table near the entrance was fascinating. You’ll never feel cooler…etc. etc. (B+)

Monograph by Chris Ware. This thing is *huge* (like it weighs almost 9 pounds) and beautiful. (A-)

D3 Traveller. I bought this on sale, but even so it was an epic splurge for me. Now that I’ve been on 4-5 trips with it, I can say I love love love this bag. Will likely last a lifetime. (A)

Blade Runner 2049. Rewatch, this time on a smaller screen. Despite its flaws, I definitely like this more than the original. (A-)

The mechanics of history

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2017

From choreographer Yoann Bourgeois, a mesmerizing trampoline performance called La mécanique de l’histoire (The mechanics of history). It often looks like they’re moving in slow motion, which is tough to do when the acceleration of gravity is involved.

Ballet Rotoscope

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

In a short film from 2011, you can see the shapes, curves, and outlines left by a ballet dancer as her arms, legs, and body move through the dance studio. This isn’t quite dancing about architecture, but maybe dancing about geometry?

An amazing indoor skydiving freestyle routine

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2017

The 2017 Wind Games were recently held in Spain and featured skydivers from all over the world competing in a number of indoor skydiving1 events. Maja Kuczynska competed in the freestyle category and her routine/dance/performance was arresting.

My mind broke a little watching this. People are not supposed to move like this, like superheroes…it looks like not particularly well done special effects. At several points, the way she moves reminded me of Saruman toying with Gandalf before flinging him to the top of Orthanc in the Fellowship of the Ring.

Here’s her performance from another angle. Wow. Just wow. Kuczynska finished third in the event while Kyra Poh took first…here’s Poh’s winning routine.

  1. Indoor skydiving is accomplished through the use of a vertical wind tunnel which simulates an endless freefall.

Lil Buck dances with icons of modern art

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2016

Watch as dancer Lil Buck gracefully moves through an exhibit at Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Icons Of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, which includes work from Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, and Monet, is on view there through Feb 20, 2017. Lil Buck is on view at YouTube indefinitely.

Incredible breakdancing crew from Korea

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2016

Morning of Owl is a dance crew from Korea and they are from The Matrix, I think?

How did you do that? You moved like they do. I’ve never seen anyone move that fast.

Amazing athleticism and coordination. (via @aaroncoleman0)

Motion capture dance madness

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2016

People are doing amazing things with motion capture these days. (via colossal)

The dance number in Ex Machina works well with pretty much any song

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2016

In Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan Bateman performs a dance number with one of his AI robots, played by Sonoya Mizuno. It’s the scene where I decided I was going to like the movie. Mizuno is a ballerina as well as an actress, but Isaac has no problem keeping up with her as the pair dance to Get Down Saturday Night.

Now, Twitter account @oscardances is showing how you can plug pretty much any song into that scene and the dance still works. Here’s Michael Jackson’s Thriller:

Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys:

And Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears:

And there are dozens more here. (via @gavinpurcell)

Viral dance moves, 2006-2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2016

In a video from the New Yorker, dancers from around the country demonstrate viral dance moves from the past decade, including the Dougie, Walk It Out, and Dabbing. (via @silviakillings)

Rosie Perez on Soul Train

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

At 19 (so, around 1983 or 1984) Rosie Perez moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to help a cousin with her children and go to college for biochemistry. Then she was recruited to be a dancer on Soul Train.

In her line dance solos, you can see early versions of many of the moves that would be immortalized in the opening credits of Do the Right Thing.

You also see a lot of what Perez calls “face dancing.” “Face dance means you don’t know what the hell the rest of your body was doing but your face is fierce. That’s face dancing.”

According to this Esquire article, Don Cornelius was dead set on packaging Perez as part of a girl group of hip-hop/R&B dancer-singers. Perez was uncertain and wouldn’t sign the contract. This led to a confrontation where Cornelius grabbed Perez, and in response, she threw a box of chicken at him.

That fight ended Perez’s time on Soul Train, but she soon had jobs choreographing Bobby Brown, The Fly Girls on In Living Color, and more. Arguably nobody did more to bring hip-hop dance to mainstream attention than Rosie Perez.

(Via @eugenewei)

Tree of Codes contemporary ballet performance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2015

Tree Of Codes Jamie xx Olafur Eliasson

Director and choreographer Wayne McGregor, artist Olafur Eliasson, music producer Jamie XX (new album!), and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet are collaborating on a contemporary ballet performance based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes.

Award-winning choreographer Wayne McGregor’s groundbreaking practice embraces dance, science, film, music, and technology to generate intriguing, expansive works. For Tree of Codes, McGregor is collaborating with artist Olafur Eliasson and producer/composer Jamie xx to create a contemporary ballet. Eliasson’s large-scale projects, including The New York City Waterfalls and The weather project at the Tate Modern, have captured the attention of audiences worldwide. Mercury Prize-winning Jamie xx blurs the boundaries between artist and audience in sonic environments like the one he created with his band, The xx, at the Armory in 2014.

Triggered by Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes (an artwork in the form of a book which was in turn inspired by Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz), this new, evening-length work features a company of soloists and dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet and Company Wayne McGregor.

Two performances are planned so far: at the Manchester International Festival (July 2-10) and the Park Avenue Armory (Sept 14-21). (thx, michelle)

Pixel, a dancing light show

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2015

Pixel is a dance show that premiered in November at Maison des Arts de Créteil in France. The dancers are synced cleverly with an elaborate light show that makes it seem as though the two are interacting in real time. The effect is very convincing:

Old school hip-hop dancing

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2014

Dancers from legendary Bay Area hip-hop dance crews in the 1970s and 80s reminisce about the old days and show that they still have the moves.

Wonderful. There’s no school like the old school. (via waxy)

Ballet stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2014

city.ballet is a video series about the workings of the New York City Ballet. The twelve episodes of season two cover everything from apprentice dancers to injuries to the sacrifices the dancers make to pursue their onstage dreams.

Imagine a city unto itself — a place where 16 year olds are professionals, 18 year olds are revered and many 30 year olds are retirees. Imagine a world so insular that nearly every one of these virtuosos has trained together in an academy since childhood, their lives forever intertwined by work, play, competition, friendship and love. Imagine a world in which the bottom line standard is to be, simply, the best on the planet, and where each night, an empty stage, in front of thousands, beckons with a challenge. This enclave has a name — New York City Ballet — and you are invited into this world, one that has never opened up to the outside before.

Season two just came out and is available at AOL. (via cup of jo)

On pointe

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 30, 2014

Three dancers from The Australian Ballet share their prep routines for their pointe shoes.

Take-aways: Ballerinas’ feet are really not attractive, they soup up their shoes in all sorts of unusual ways, but the end result is beautiful. (thx, fiona)

Dancebot 2014

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2014

This guy Fik Shun? He knows how to dance.

The thing he starts doing with his chest around 2:10 is some Exorcist-level shit. (via digg)

Difficult ballet moves in slow motion

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2014

Professional dancers from the Washington Ballet show off their most difficult moves, filmed in slow motion.

(via colossal)

The Heather Project

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2014

Heather Project

Heather Ogden is a principal dancer for the National Ballet of Canada and The Heather Project is a series of short videos shot by Christopher Wahl that shows how beautiful and demanding ballet can be. (via cup of jo)

Folk dancing sorts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2014

Programming sorting techniques visualized through Eastern European folk dancing. For instance, here’s the bubble sort with Hungarian dancing:

See also sorting algorithms visualized. (via @viljavarasto)

The origins of the moonwalk

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2014

We all know Michael Jackson invented the moonwalk on-stage during a performance of Billie Jean at the Motown 25th Anniversary show. What this video presupposes is, maybe he didn’t?

What the video shows is that as early as the 1930s, performers such as Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Cab Calloway, and Sammy Davis Jr. were doing something like the moonwalk. Now, Jackson didn’t get the move from any of these sources, not directly anyway. As Jackson’s choreographer Jeffrey Daniel explains, he got the moves from The Electric Boogaloos street dance crew and, according to LaToya Jackson, instructed Michael Jackson.

Which is to say, the moonwalk is yet another example of multiple discovery, along with calculus, the discovery of oxygen, and the invention of the telephone. (via open culture)

The A-to-Z of dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 07, 2014

Super-cool video from i-D of dance styles for each letter of the alphabet.

(via @Han)