The Art of Ballroom Dance and Its Complexity

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About this sample


Words: 3122 |

Pages: 7|

16 min read

Published: Mar 3, 2020

Words: 3122|Pages: 7|16 min read

Published: Mar 3, 2020

Table of contents

  1. SpillOut
  2. Beating a Path
  3. The Concept of Bodyspace
  4. bodySPACE

It is surprising how much common ground someone can find between dancing and architecture. Starting from a fundamental principle, all the architectural constructions in order to be able to stand, they need to obey the laws of physics, such as gravity. Moreover there should be a complete accordance with geometry and the general shaping for every construction for it to be able to get upright. This is the case for some dances as well. From the classical ballet, to the more recent dancing genres like tango, figures and movements will be incomplete or even non-feasible if the dancer is not in total accordance with geometry in space.

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In my experience through the years, classical ballet consists one of the strictest and most demanding disciplines to teach and to learn. Taking it as the first dancing reference in this research, the basic principle that ballet has evolved around is symmetry through the body and space. From the initial posture, which has to be vertical to the ground balancing with gravity, to several figures and combinations between them, everything requires a concrete symmetrical approach. Moving to the leg, head and arm positions, angles consist a crucial entity. From 45° to up to 180° degree angle and straight lines, the body can create various shapes and be able to face any demanding dancing amalgamation.

Digging deeper into the geometry of ballet, we will start with the simple spin, an essential figure, which hides so many and complex machinations that each dancer should be cautious about. The most famous rotating movement in ballet is the pirouette. All a dancer should do is turning around its own center for 360° degrees, with only contact point the ball of the foot. The center of the body (located approximately in the stomach area) has to remain strong throughout the figure to assist balance and to control the floor force used from the dancer. Important detail for a successful pirouette plays the head and hands alignment. Both hands should alternate into circular opening and closing position to give the appropriate brunt, and the head should remain stand with the eyes using the ‘spotting’ technique (keeping the head fixed for as long as possible, and then quickly rotate the neck to catch up with the body)(Mathscareers).

On her ten-minute speech in TEDXLAU, the architect Lidea Hajjar confirmed from her own perspective the similarities between dancing and architecture, this time by sharing a new perspective on buildings and tango. Having this last one as her actual hobby, she proved that there are several principles that coincide in both fields such as “foundation, axis, space and form” (Hajjar). Buildings around cities and tango figures are so different yet so similar as they obey the same laws. Even when these rules are broken the results can give an outstanding and original result, worth inspiring and provoking admiration.

Similar to what is described above are the principles of architecture. For a construction to be able to stand and stay still, an architect should take into account several axes while creating a building. These axes come in various forms such as walls, columns and beams. Deviating from the axis can result to a fatal collapse of any construction. Analogically, a dancer that diverges from his axis misses the figure. Another postulate is symmetry. Tightly linked with proportion and balance, symmetry concerns the respect of custom spatial relationships that follow geometry. In other words, as Klaus defines it in his book, symmetry “seems to represent perfect order, beauty and divine harmony”. The same principles stand for a dancer also, as the whole body has to be in complete symmetry to achieve any figure.

Ready-Made Space & Space in the Making

Initially, dance and architecture seem to be two entirely different worlds, and the truth is they are. From the artistic until the functional spectrum, traditionally the one is called art and the other one science. Although they may not appear so similar at first, they both share a common factor that connects them, creation. Architect Bernard Tschumi defines architecture as, “a spatio-temporal form, interweaved of time, space and successive events within”. (Tschumi, B. cited in Ersoy, p. 129). From this brief yet meaningful definition, it is visible that architecture is not only about putting together space in a visual result. It implies also the sense of time, as a construction can be experienced throughout a particular timing. Important here seems to be the notion of movement, as the point of view changes – at times drastically- depending on the perspective a construction is seen. Thus, movement means perspective.

Therefore, moving in space can impact the final experience in an architectural context. Here is the point where they meet with dance, as dancing is primary focused on the movement of a body in a certain space. Having found the common ground to the relation between dance and architecture, their correlation can still reserve some limits however.

Doris Humphrey, major figure and one of the founders of modern dance, dedicates a special place to architecture as one of her inspirational column throughout her career. Characteristically she declares “architecture, especially for those who live in the city, speaks to us and for us with the most insistent cry” (Humphrey, p. 29). Witnessing a new aspect of architecture beyond the visual satisfaction she continues adding “in the extremely complex network of influences around, architecture impresses me the most as it not only provides for visual inspiration but also speaks about the social attributes and values of the city” (p. 30). Thus architecture appears to have another dimension, a more ethical one. Not only about Humphrey herself but also at the same time about all dancers, she finds that “there is an inevitable relationship between the young dancer’s store of the accumulated visual and mental patterns dominant in our age (cities and architectural pieces) and what he will come up with in composition” (p. 30). Therefore, the conclusion made is that architecture has such power to penetrate in the proper influence of a dancer and at times affecting and switching even his dancing style.

Since the last century, architecture and dance have started to cooperate more and more, by giving a new perspective to that final combined performance. Thus, new ideas have started to inspire the science of architecture by dedicating and by creating a new branch, which is primary focusing its attention on the construction of pieces that will assist or have a protagonist role in a dance performance. It is a fact that many of them represent brilliant spatial art pieces, but when it comes to the performance they have to interact with, they tend to be considered as exclusively solid constructions by being independent. As further analyzed in the book Geographies of Dance: Body, Movement, and Corporeal Negotiations, this condition can force or forbid certain moves and interactions with the dancers, causing troubles with the artistic creation in the so-called ready-made space. On the other hand there is the ‘space in the making’ notion, which mainly concerns on the constructive progress within a certain space.

Digging more into this above mentioned notion, Adam Pine and Olaf Kuhlke in their book about body and space, borrow the initial concept of the philosopher Bruno Latour about the opposition between the ready-made space and the science in the making and by developing it, they emerge with the notion of ‘space in the making’. Latour’s fundamental idea treats the notions of ‘ready-made scienc’e versus ‘science in the making’. Furthermore, he proceeds to a cross-examination on “whether the profile of an experiment and its outcome will change based on its context” (Latour qtd. in Pine & Kuhlke, p. 159). Briefly, he is seeking to find out if there will be a different result according to the context used each time.

To illustrate this phenomenon, the works of Frances Bronet can essentialist demonstrate the space in the making in action. On the dancing performances SpillOut (2006) and Beating a Path (2005) the constructions on stage interact with the dancers in real time. Each movement the performers will make is being used as the initial point for the space in the making. What this principal basically stands for is that by each action there is a certain reaction on the architectural environment happening live on stage, and the combinations someone can make are endless. These actions escape every directed move, in the sense that each time the result produced is different due to the difference of the bodies, which produce them.

“One of the year’s most innovative regional performance works” (Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company) as stated by the American newspaper Times Union, SpillOut constitutes an avant-garde idea that uses more than one type of art to achieve a new way of expression. On the other hand, Beating a Path examines the reciprocal relationships between movement and architecture in an original environment.


Within the space of one hour, dancing, electronic music, video and lighting collaborate and present “themselves within a complex installation of a 40’ long, 12’ high and 3’ wide box wrapped in hundreds of electric blue elasticized bands” (Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, par. 2) The performance starts from the moment the audience enters the Gasholder Building. With an interesting yet original architecture, marked by its circular shape and the industrial vibes both on its interior and exterior environment, this building hosts on its center the complex installation of Bronet. Once the audience is seated, and everything is set, the performance starts with the music, which includes the soothing chirp of peepers, causing the dancers to awaken.

The reviewer Tresca Weinstein addresses these thoughts considering the concept and the performance of SpillOut:

They do so organically, stretching their limbs by sliding them along the bars. As our vision is obstructed by the spandex walls, they seem suspended in water or air. Those one top, step high like long-legged birds. When the stop, to survey the audience, they do so with authority. They clearly have domain over their environment. When the music shifts, which it often does abruptly, so too does the movement quality. It swings from serene to eerie to violent. Rather than caged creatures that have mastered their confines, they look like humans being laid to rest. When they rouse, shaking off their brush with death, they start to bounce off and bust through the cuts in the stretchy walls. They fling their bodies off the spandex, which ricochets them backwards with frightening force. Finally, they emerge from their cell, like toddlers who discovered how to escape their playpen. While we celebrate their liberation, once the dancers slip out of the box, the spell that “Spill Out!” casts is sadly broken. Regardless, there is much to praise, including the video by Ralph Pascucci and costumes by Kim Vanyo (Weinstein).

Beating a Path

Following the same artistic logic of Spillout, Beating a Path is also an interactive performance set. Dancers are called to express themselves by hanging from spandex strips, rolling on the floor, or dancing on moving platforms. “The idea is that, just by moving through our environment, we change it” underlines the creator F. Bronet (University of Oregon), a statement that makes more than obvious the fact that both space and movement, even though they are different as perceptions, seem dependent on one another. A groundbreaking detail this performance brings is the fact that the audience is in constant movement. Extreme is the case of the rolling platforms. Every time the dancers moved them, these platforms would be pushed towards the standing spectators. Due to the phenomenally uncontrolled reaction of dancing of the performers, the objects on stage move and may hit anyone from the audience. Therefore the bystander should be cautious and move in order not to get hurt. As a result, part of the performance consists also the constant movement of the spectators, giving a dynamic dimension to the final result (Pine & Kuhlke).

The main principal this project is based to are the interactive bonds between pure movement and architecture as the creator F. Bronet discuses herself:

…the work emerged from a concern that conventional architectural designers and architectural pedagogy work to develop spatial envelopes independent of the way that people moved in and around them. This project deliberately set out to explore how dancers moved and how to construct or evolve space generated by their movements… We are investigating how design in movement can motivate new ways of liberative building and inhabiting that challenge the hegemony of design in (ready-made) space (qtd in Giannachi & Stewart, p.285).

As seen from the abovementioned performances, both productions are based on the principle that the architectural installation has no meaning without the dancer and vice versa. This is the so-called ‘creating through the making’ as it is used in the book Geographies of Dance. By this term the authors want to present the perspective that space and movement are so tightly connected that the “space of construction and of inhabitation cannot be fully determined without movement, without face-to-face interaction” (p. 160). With these installations, which assist the simultaneous interaction between space and performer, architectural design heads to another level encouraging the creation of original constructions and therefore buildings that constantly evolve (Pine & Kuhlke).

However, when it comes to the way space and movement cooperate, the bonds start becoming less distinguishable, by forming a sort of fluidity on their interactive relation. This is another dimension of space in the making itself; boundaries are so thin, almost inexistent and therefore several merging combinations become possible. The abovementioned book refers to two fundamental conditions an architect should take into account while being in the process of creating an installation for artistic purposes. Firstly, “the space of the project must emerge from the specific context” (p. 160) from how the dancers will move until the small staging details such as the placing of various objects, etc. Secondly, there is always the unpredictable factor of the audience; people’s reaction and understanding of the message every producer wants to deliver, can have some unreliable reactions (Pine & Kuhlke).

By making this division more practical, we will refer to architecture throughout the notion of ‘space’ and the notion of ‘body’, which in turn will be submitted under the prism of dancing. What matters the most in this case is the relationship they both develop, and the points where their ends meet, taking into account the fact that they are two entirely different notions. Biggest and most important difference that will guide the research is however that the one is alive and the other one is not.

The Concept of Bodyspace

With the differences being more prevalent than the similarities, both space and body have their custom functioning, especially when they have to interact with each other. The main visible borderline that keeps them apart is the skin. When merging has to occur, the preset frontiers start diminishing, allowing the regular and constant flow to give and take elements from one pole to the other. This transaction of elements has been given the name of ‘bodyspace’, exactly because there is a certain point where the two can possibly meet. Further analyzing the abovementioned term, this sort of interaction has several levels, each one giving the accent to a specific type of relationship in-between.

Even this new term can be interpreted from different spectra, giving attention to a certain notion each time. The categories are four in total, and each of them being marked in a distinguished graphical way, with the lower and upper case letters respectively showing the custom differentiation each time. Thus, we have ‘bodySPACE’, ‘BODYspace’, ‘BODYSPACE’ and ‘bodyspace’ as defined by Uysal, V & Markus W. The capital letters in any of these cases mark the dominance of each element on the other one, giving it the lead role in a performance. In any case these terms do not wish to eliminate one another, as it is not a matter of a battle. They rather act as other alternatives and perspectives on the same artistic problematic.


Starting with the concept of ‘bodySPACE’, it is rather evident from the typography that the main focus rallies around space, as it is the dominant element in this type of performances. The area in which the performance will take place does not function just as a simple embellishment in the background, but is in fact the main protagonist. It helps the body move around and gives a meaning to its existence. More than that space itself gives the opportunity to the performers to interact with the installations throughout. Additionally it can serve as a semiotic reference such as creating subconscious meaning-making elements that assist and guide the direction of the audience’s thinking (Uysal & Markus).

The most characteristic example of the application of ‘bodySPACE’ on stage is the production Magnanimous Cuckold by Crommelynck. The innovation in this act stands on the fact the creation process did not concern the stage setting, as it used to, but introduced a new aesthetic able to radically change the performance of the 20th century. Under the name of constructivism, a new movement that made its debut in the Soviet Union, the primal principal was the belief that art should be a reflection of the modern industrial world (Tate Modern). Therefore the constructivist Poppova, Meyerhold’s typical scenographer, declined to be in charge of the stage decoration and painting which he casually did and decided to bring to life an installation instead.

The wooden structure was composed of two windows and two doors, ladders, platforms, wheels and the blades of a watermill… Essentially it was a spatial formula whose components, as well as their interactions and correlations, were abstracted and reduced to a minimum level of expression…It was through action that Popova’s construction came to life. Energy seemed to pulse through all the crossbeams and planes, stimulating the performances of the actors… In performance, action and construction were inseparable. (Kovalenko, pp. 145-155)

As seen the body is left with no other option but to submit itself to the dominance of the newly constructed space, which is the only factor to decide the outcome of the performance. The dancers had to adjust their bodies and their movements according to the set and therefore the Magnanimous Cuckold consists one of the first performances that apply the ‘bodySPACE’ factor.

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Actors could forget the existence of a painted backdrop, but they could not help taking all the elements of the construction into account as its spaces and rhythms defined all of their movement possibilities. The use of such a construction in Cuckold demanded not just actors trained in Meyerhold's biomechanics, but also a new kind of theatrical costume. All the actors were dressed in identical work uniforms (Kolesnikov).

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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The Art Of Ballroom Dance And Its Complexity. (2020, February 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from
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