about communication in contemporary dance


table of contents


Dialogue is conversation, or rather, a series of conversations over time. From pitching to funding bodies, to conversations with institutional partners, to networking at festivals, strong skills in professional dialogue are essential to the development of your career.  These professional dialogues allow the development of long-term working relationships.  In addition, these dialogues build language around the art form of dance, which is (mainly) non-verbal.  Therefore, improving our dialogue between the professionals in our field will ultimately improve our communication about dance to the wider public.

For the development of your communication strategy, in relation to dialogue, it is a useful exercise to list all individuals and institutions you are already in dialogue with.  Then, continue by listing the people and institutions you would like to be in dialogue with in the future. Besides studying whom you talk to, it is also necessary to consider how you talk to all of these different stakeholders about your work.

The groundwork you can always return to

As an artist, the start of the professional dialogue around a work begins with the articulation of your artistic fingerprint through the dramaturgical dialogue.  This is the dialogue you have with yourself, internally, and/or with your core team about the philosophy and the practicalities of an idea for a work.  Using a dramaturgical perspective is useful when discussing the development of an idea and concept, as well as the process of both questioning and decision-making with regards to the creation, composition and execution of a work.

As a maker, when initiating a dialogue with your close collaborators, it is generally the first time that you present yourself and your ideas to others.  Along with that, it is also the first time you begin developing a vocabulary to talk about your work.  This is a crucial first step.  The vocabulary, core values and priorities that are discussed, developed and crystallised through these early dialogues will serve as the groundwork you can always return to throughout a working process and will ultimately inform your communication strategy.  These conversations are often recorded in documentation materials, whether consciously or subconsciously.  That is why the documentation of each stage of the creative process is so important and can serve as a source of inspiration.  

This process allows you to seed language around your work from the beginning of a new project, from which a tree, and all its separate branches and leaves of vocabulary and expression can develop – so the mode of communication may change but the point from which they have been created remains constant and authentic.  To develop the various branches and leaves of communication about your work it is necessary to enter into a process of translation.

Translating your core message

Who says it is difficult to talk about dance? In fact, it can be done not only effectively, but efficiently, by translating the language and concepts that are the core of the work for you and your artistic team, to whatever might be relevant to each group you are reaching out to.  This sounds like a highly technical recommendation, but we all do this naturally every day in all kinds of interpersonal situations; we change our tone of voice and our attitude, depending on our partner in dialogue.  Therefore, being aware of this shift in a professional context, and trying to capture and study your own professional dialogue can be an excellent tool to sharpen your skills in this area.

It is important to underline here that everyone developing an artistic vision develops a professional dialogue around his/her work, whether consciously or unconsciously and in different expressions. Reflecting on your artistic fingerprint can be useful and is necessary not only for artists but for artistic directors, curators, creative producers, outreach officers and communication officers and their creative processes as well.  This could also inform the collaboration between artists and institutions in a productive way.

Conditions for a good conversation

When entering a dialogue we often focus on the topic: the content of what we would like to discuss or address with someone and we spend a long time preparing and focusing on this content.  However, body language and tone of voice is also important.  As physical practitioners and performers we have an important advantage here that we should not discount.  In addition to the content that is important to us to communicate in a professional encounter, we need to prioritise and practice the action of listening to the other person or people in the conversation, again, not just to what they are saying but to their body language and tone of voice too.

The importance of these other aspects beyond purely content underlines that dialogue is interpersonal communication.  To keep a dialogue open and healthy, the relationship between all partners in dialogue needs to be clear.  It helps to be aware of which attitude or expectation you bring to a conversation.  It is good practice before entering into such a dialogue to identify for yourself, your aims, fears, presumptions, hopes or wishes.

Before you start a new working relationship you may prepare yourself for a particular dialogue with a particular partner by asking yourself some questions, such as:

  • Is there a clear starting point for dialogue?
  • Why do you want to initiate this dialogue?
  • How do you make yourself available for this dialogue?
  • Are you answering to a demand of someone else, or are you answering to a desire and a core starting point within yourself?
  • How does this dialogue (potentially) serve you?
  • Can you serve your partner in dialogue as well? How?
  • How do you continue and sustain the dialogue once it has been started?

Every time you begin a dialogue with a new partner, or within a new context or collaboration, you can also start by asking yourself and your partner a simple question: what are the conditions needed for a good conversation?  By actively defining the conditions for conversation together, the awareness and the sense of shared responsibility for the conversation is heightened.  

Dialogue between artists and theatres / festivals

In addition to the more general conditions for conversation, we gathered some pointers for professional dialogue between artists and festivals.  These can help to actively foster interest in and openness towards the other, and may lead to more satisfying dialogue between professionals of all kinds within our field.

  • As an artist, be as specific as possible when you want to introduce yourself or your work to a theatre or a festival.  Articulate why you/your work would fit this specific venue or festival.
  • As a programmer or curator, give critical feedback and make yourself available to explain why you do or do not choose to program a work.  Identify a good moment for the artist to receive this feedback, and how it can have the most positive impact for their career or future relationship with you or your institution.  It will help the professional dialogue with artists you engage with.
  • If you are an artist and you would like feedback, consider asking someone for it explicitly.  Think about when might be an appropriate moment and also how to ask for it.  Responses straight after a premiere for example are always delicate, both for the artists as well as the hosting and visiting organisation(s).  

Dialogue with audiences

In our chapter on audience we spoke about the importance of trying to understand dance from the perspective of your audience members. How can we connect to their understanding of our work in order to be in dialogue with them about it?
A good first step is to listen carefully and take note of the vocabulary of your audience when they share their experiences of the work. How does an audience member articulate what is at the core of your work?

The conversation with the audience after the performance is crucial to consolidate their experience.  The more an audience member is able to grasp the heart of their experience, the better they can start sharing their experience with others in a positive manner and become ambassadors for your work, or even the art form in general.  However, not every audience member can, or wants to be, involved in a post-show discussion.  It is necessary to continue to innovate in how you create conditions for these discussions to occur in a way that is appropriate to your work.   

Support in dialogue

Having someone take responsibility for the conversation and focus on how to be in conversation, rather than the outcome, can be very productive.  Sometimes you cannot do it alone - and that is ok!  It can be helpful to have someone who functions independently to support you when starting up a dialogue, particularly with an audience.  For the range of stakeholders you have to communicate with as an independent artist it is an ideal situation to have an independent person who can mediate, take responsibility for bridging gaps and can be a source of information with regards to ways of looking at your work, ways of responding to your work and has a strength in building connections over time.  You may have someone in mind already who can fill this role for you.  They may be a dramaturge, producer or another dance artist.