Movement has always been one of the core aspects of human functionality. We have been able to erect monuments, write documents outlining human rights and create culture. Within the arts specifically we see movement as a refined process. A cellist’s placement of a bow to articulate sound, or how lightly an artist’s adds shading to create depth on a portrait.
Dance is an artform that explores movement more thoroughly than almost any other medium. This past week, I was fortunate enough to talk with Professor Janet Lily about dance and how it is relevant to both people within and outside of the arts.
“Dance is so important because it’s a basic human impulse” explained Lily. “I don’t know how many times we’ve heard from a parent looking at their child in utter delight saying “Look they just love to dance!’… It’s just something that humans like to do.” Lily herself was a performer for some time and mentions how dance has been a constant throughout her life. “When I was young I wanted to be a dancer; that’s all I wanted to do. I was totally immersed in that… I performed for 15 years as a professional; and then moved onto to the university.”
Since moving into academics, Lily has managed to further dance education in several capacities. She was crucial in the creation of MFA program while teaching at the Peck School of the Arts at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. Alongside that she has received grants for Arts Creation and Planning from the National Endowment for the Arts, has been honored with as a Fulbright Lecturer and has maintained a status as a guest artist and instructor at colleges on the international level.
One point that Lily underscored was the importance of viewing dance as a medium that anyone can appreciate. “The best way to engage or to learn and appreciate is to see it, to watch it, to come and be curious” Lily explained. “Be curious in such way to not be over worried whether one is getting it or not. I mean people listen to music without words and they ‘get it’. So dancing is something that you can appreciate the body moving in time and space. It’s like moving poetry.”
This especially rings true for people who are already involved with the arts. Dance is a heavily collaborative art form that not only engages dancers, but composers, visual artists, stage designers and lighting technicians as well. “If you’re an artist yourself, you realize that there is a long history of dancers collaborating with other art forms,” says Lily. “All of the great choreographers have worked with important artists. For example, Merce Cunningham worked with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who were very important visual artists at the time. Martha Graham worked with composers like Aaron Copland, and these are just some of the big names that I’m starting with! Dancers and dance makers lend themselves to collaborative projects because we’re making an artform that takes place in space and time.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about dance, is that it is translatable into a perception of the outside world. “Just the watch the world; watch how people walk down the street, watch even how the cars are moving. Watch the world around you because ultimately everything can be scene as choreography. So in a way, if you think about it, everything in the world is dancing all the time; and millions don’t realize that.” Lily very much focuses on how dance exemplifies the human form. “Everybody on, on some level, is a mover; or on some level, everyone is a dancer.”
Lily has served as the Chair of the UNCG Dance Department since 2011, and has been instrumental in the coordination and planning of events that bring dance to local audiences. One such upcoming event is the Greensboro Dance Film Festival. This event showcases entries from all over the world and seeks to explore dance beyond its conventional staged aspects. Faculty member Duane Cyrus leads an event called “An Evening with the Creative Class,” which focuses on artistic collaboration between dance and other mediums. Alongside this there is the Prime Movers dance concert that focuses on choreography created by dance students, as well as the Fall Dances which features works created by the dance faculty,
Janet Lily shows us how dance can be more than a staged act. It is a multi tiered collaborative process that not only focuses on how the human body moves and operates, but also shows how it can interact with other artforms. Being able to view the world as an extension of choreography and movement helps to explain how the arts permeate our lives everyday. Even when we don’t realize it.