That saying is old, but very true. Just as we distinguish music from sound, we can distinguish dance from movement. What makes music and dance identifiable is the intention to express something - joy, anger, sadness - and the motivation behind it. No matter how elegantly someone walks down the street, it is not dance until they intend it to be; the dancer literally wills a dance into existing, simply by wanting it to be expressed. Whatever they mean it to be, it is.
The true urge to dance doesn't or shouldn't come from a desire to impress. Champions come and go. If someone aims for the external impact or the "promised" happiness of attaining a certain goal, you can be greatly disappointed.
Within the dance universe, motivation plays an even larger role. Not only does motivation define dance as more than movement, but it can further define dance within itself. When simplified to the most basic principles, dance is a form of expression, and there are 3 things that motivate people to express dance - Abstracts, Audience Experience, and Self Experience. What are these and how can you apply them?
How Abstract Concepts Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who chooses to learn, apply, and follow a technique for the reward of properly learning and executing it is a dancer motivated by abstracts. This dancer strives for flawless technical ability, wanting to refine his/her movement to match the abstract concept of ‘correct and incorrect,’ and they derive their deepest satisfaction by knowing that he/she has succeeded. This dancer will thrive through constant and steady improvement, noticed by themselves, respected peers, or mentors.
How the Audience Experience Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who longs to connect with an ‘other’ person and provoke something within that person is a dancer motivated by audience. This is a common motivation—performance is very closely related to dance—and it can present in many ways.
This dancer could long for the audience’s approval, and will work to gain respect or prestige from his/her audience. In this case, the dancer wants more than just an observer but a powerful connection that will cause the observer to have a positive reaction; this positive reaction is what he/she thrives on. However, there are other dancers who are driven by audiences whether their reaction is positive or negative. In this case, the dancer is more likely to be in pursuit of art than in positive reinforcements, and will thrive when receiving thoughtful and insightful feedback.
How Self Discovery and Experiences Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who dances because of his/her internal experience is a dancer motivated only by himself/herself. This seems to be the rarest of motivations, however it could be that the many people who are truly self-motivated keep their dancing to themselves, and the outside world knows nothing of it.
This dancer will thrive as his/her dancing teaches them about his/her own body, psyche, or even how he/she views the world. The appeal could be a kinesthetic awareness, or a sensual pleasure in feeling the body with precise awareness, or even a cathartic way to experience emotions, but the distinguishing factor is that the dancer’s satisfaction does not rest on the correctness of their movements or any observer.
Why Understanding Motivation Is Important
Understanding motivation is crucial for both the dancer and their instructor (if applicable). When motivation is clear, proper rewards and punishments can be found, for example, a dancer who falls into the ‘Self Experience’ category may not respond well if his/her studies are focused on technique. Additionally, a dancer who knows his/her motivation will have an easier time making choices regarding individual training because he/she will have a well-defined idea of what will fulfill him/her and what won't.
Whatever your motivation may be, remember that your goal is not to impress. You will not please everyone, and at the end of the day you are left with only yourself to answer to. If you ignore yourself and attempt to become what you think others will be pleased with, you are guaranteed to fall apart. You are the only one you should please. There is no satisfaction in other people regarding you as "great". Maybe at first it is thrilling, but it is a cheap thrill which doesn't last and leaves you craving more.
It is not technique or champion status that makes a dancer great. It is the energy of the mind and the sheer joy of dancing expressed.
What motivates you? How can you use it to your advantage in the next year?