Tell Me What You See

The task of reporting the news has, for better or for worse, spread far beyond standard media. From Michael Jackson’s death to yesterday’s headlines, sharing the news is now the work of an online global community. Phones, computers and gadgets are propagating information in real time and the internet is overloaded with individual opinions on everything. This is one of the factors affecting traditional dance criticism, often said to be an endangered species. Performance discussions now happen in real time: in forums, on Facebook, via text messages; they are blogged or tweeted about within a few hours of taking place.

While it is clear readers are no longer sitting and waiting for printed media in order to form a view, the rise of dance in web 2.0 does not correlate with decline of interest in traditional reviews. A professional write-up is still valued for its educational value and for the additional insights it may bring. Many are wonderful to read. In the UK, eminent dance critic Clement Crisp produces reviews that are practically works of literature. In the US, many of Alastair Macaulay’s pieces dig deep into symbolism and meaning. As he said in this recent interview for Magazine: “There are so many ways to look at dance…So I’m always trying to stretch myself – to find more things to see and more ways of looking…I think what I’m learning from them will actually give me more to see in the forms of dance with which I’m better acquainted”.

iPad versus Newspaper. Photo: Brian Brooks ©

Traditional Dance Criticism vs. Online Media

By distancing themselves from what goes on backstage (and because they do not have to act as publishers on top of writing reviews) traditional dance critics are better able to keep standards of objectivity as compared to bloggers. In effect, some argue that only critics that are held at arm’s length from the field they write about can really be objective. Others think closer involvement leads to a better understanding and sensitivity towards the art form. Dance blogger Tonya Plank made very interesting points on this topic in her notes about this recent panel on the state of dance criticism.

Though traditional dance criticism still has the power to generate debate and to engage the reader, it continues to face a battle for survival. And it’s ironical that online media, while putting pressure on the printed business model, makes it possible for traditional criticism to go viral and reach a broader readership – think of how many reviews are shared and linked to everyday. In the same way dance companies are embracing new media to attract audiences dance journalists will also need to embrace new technologies and ways of communicating. Perhaps critics should pay closer attention to the online dance community in order to better serve the interests of their readers (an increasing number of critics are turning to Twitter). Media and journalism are changing and dance criticism has to evolve accordingly.

A review needs to become part of a bigger conversation where the critic becomes its moderator, its leading voice. This has been suggested across many fields in the arts as we embrace the age of “curation”. In this model dance reviews have the potential to become interactive, the critic would manage and select information coming from both traditional and independent media. For instance, a review that explains obscure terms / jargon (think words like rubato, legato, fouetté rond de jambe en tournant, etc.) or that includes illustrative videos is not only informative, but also useful reference.

Contemporary Dance Criticism

More recently a number of professional dance critics have started to explore these avenues. One example is Ismene Brown, former dance critic of The Telegraph, who now heads The Arts Desk, an independent arts e-magazine. Freed from the constraints of 400-word reviews, Brown and her colleagues write features and publish on-the-night reviews, often including video examples. In the US critics Roslyn Sulcas, Tobi Tobias and Apollinaire Scherr favor blogging and addressing audience queries to provide audiences with a richer, all-round experience. At The Guardian, Sanjoy Roy links to YouTube videos and other online media in his outreach series Step-by-step guide to dance.

Left to right: Ismene Brown & The Arts Desk, Apollinaire Scherr's Foot in Mouth and Sanjoy Roy's Step-by-step guide to dance

If this is the future of dance criticism, will it still possible to find dance pages in a newspaper? The answer is a “complex yes”. While the arrival of such new technologies as the iPad will increasingly drive media consumers to non-print content, it is clear that web 2.0 makes it easier for keen audiences worldwide to educate themselves and feed off good content. Consider that just over five months ago, Washington Post dance critic Sarah Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism. And in a Q&A with Post readers she was positive that dance criticism still has a place in the newspaper: “newspapers cover news. Art is news”.  Mark her words and stay tuned.

Join the conversation: use the comment form below and let us know how you like to keep up with dance (and the arts in general) in the web 2.0 age.

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.


  • November 8, 2011


    I am a fan of the printed word purely because I believe a hard copy of what’s written can be more easily stored and retrieved. That is my belief for now, while the world is still in the transit stage of scrambling back and forth between the challenges of a very fast developing digital age and the ‘real’ existence. Many fans will not succumb to the digital world (believe it or not), and even Facebook is not the best place for HONEST comment as people are ‘careful’ what they say (well, I am) because through this fast network ideas can become entangled with ambiguity. The subtle play between subjective and objective comment can only really be successfully expressed by a knowledgeable and informing critic…….

  • [...] year, in this post about the future of dance criticism, we wrote about the need for critics to embrace web 2.0 and social media, to engage with the online [...]

  • [...] The evolution of dance criticism [...]

  • April 25, 2011

    Marisa Wright

    Reviews of ballet in Australian media are rare, and always by the same one or two people (whom I know I don’t always agree with). I hadn’t thought about it, but after reading this, I realise I’m relying more on Facebook to find out what my friends think of shows instead.

    If I were still in the UK, I’d probably be using the internet to look up reviewers like Clement Crisp, whom I trust.

  • [...] Tell Me What You See: Dance Criticism Today and Tomorrow + Cherry Blossom Girl 2: Tokyo Ballet Fashions + Ballet in Peril: a Conversation With Jennifer Homans + Thrills, Chills and Spills: Black Swan Review + Ballet Meets Pop (guest blog for Dance Pulp) = [...]

  • September 12, 2010


    “use the comment form below and let us know how you like to keep up with dance”

    I know that I have posted my answers to this before. But I will again …

    I use a combination of dance magazine purchases, the Internet, DVDs and books.

    I rarely read newspapers just because I don’t enjoy the feel or smell of them and also I am not interested in 90% of the stuff in a newspaper, so why buy it. Plus, they are so flimsey and you can’t really save them decently.

    I like magazines because I like to get away from the lure of technology and the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) distractions of technology. If you are at a coffee shop with only a magazine and no PC, it means that you can’t be distracted by every little webpage that whispers in your ear. I also don’t own an I-’anything’ for just this same reason. I see students who are trying to study their textbooks and they compulsively stop every 2 minutes to text or whatever they do on those I-thingees. How do they learn anything?

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to keep up on everyones dance blogs. I have about 3 (like theballetbag) that I keep up with regularly and a few others that I visit if I have time and they pop into my head.

    Facebook has helped because me get to know individual dancers better. Facebook is kind of like a place where I can post ‘Fan-mail’. The dancers post about their latest adventures.

    Facebook also helps me keep up with our cities ballet company postings. While they have a traditional webpage, it doesn’t allow me to see how many people ‘like’ their posts or how many people comment. The traditional webpage doesn’t allow any interactivity. It is strictly read only.

    For me, Twitter still blows.

  • Great article!!! Although ideally a fan of printed copy, I see more and more that it is the electronic version that is my main source of information. STILL, I’d say it would be a sad day when art coverage, and with that, all coverage of dance, would be out of the printed issue newspapers. Let’s hope that day never comes…