Defining dance in terms of strength

One of the most comprehensive definitions of dance comes from Joann Kealiinohomoku. She wrote, “Dance is a transient mode of expression, performed in a given form and style by the human body moving in space. Dance occurs through purposefully selected and controlled rhythmic movements.” This definition allows for a great many things to be considered dance as long as it meets the following:

1) The movement is performed by the human body. (i.e. dances with wolves is possible; wolves dancing is not.)
2) The movement is purposefully selected and controlled. (Lots and lots of technique class!)

The criteria above are not necessarily concrete and immutable, but one thing is certain—the definition of dance revolves around movement, which is readily defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act or process of moving; especially, change of place or position or posture.” Combining this with the above produces a slightly more specific definition of dance—the transient expression of purposefully selected and controlled change of place, position, or posture by the human body in a given form and style. Simplifying form and style to aesthetics yields the transient, aestheticized expression of purposefully selected and controlled change of place, position, or posture by the human body.

However, this exercise in minutiae can get even more esoteric. First of all, the human body is a vast organization of multiple different and synergistic systems. Though all contribute to human movement to some degree, the musculoskeletal system is most directly involved. The muscles and bones of the body form a complex system of levers which enable the change of place, position, posture, or—in other words—interaction with the environment. Secondly, recalling Newton’s First Law of Motion (an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force) concludes that this interaction is caused by forces produced by the musculoskeletal system. By once again combining all this information together, the definition of dance becomes the transient, aestheticized expression of purposefully selected and controlled forces against external objects by the musculoskeletal system. This is admittedly cumbersome. Yet by applying the physiological definition of strength—the ability to produce muscular force against an external object—dance is then simply the transient, aestheticized expression of strength.

Truthfully, this is not an earth-shattering revelation. However, it is helpful to reframe the discussion about what dance is such that dancers and dance educators are better able to study and perform their craft. By defining dance in this way, it is clear that strength is the most important characteristic of human movement and developing strength should be the foundation and focus of every physical activity, especially dance.