about communication in contemporary dance


table of contents


Improving communication starts with a clear articulation of your identity as a dance professional. With defining what is at the heart of what you do.

How you choose to communicate should flow from that source. Tasks such as writing applications and developing your PR & marketing campaign are aligned with developing the identity of your work.  How you approach and execute each task helps to further establish and evolve your artistic fingerprint.

This means improving your communication about dance is a process fuelled by your specificity as an artist - which starts very close to home. Big relief, right?!

Artistic fingerprint

In dance, when we talk about articulating an artist’s identity we often refer to this process as defining one’s artistic fingerprint.

Defining your unique artistic fingerprint is about articulating your personal motivation to be a dance artist.  It is about why and how you create work; the way you organise your creation process as much as the resulting piece(s) of work.  It is about defining which value systems you choose to work from and what you identify as your desired impact.  Of course, to make matters more complicated, all of these motivations are intertwined and connected and they evolve naturally over time.

In the long run, defining your artistic fingerprint is outwardly expressed through the creation of a body of work, which, to a follower of your career, contains recognisable elements or characteristics.  With this in mind, talking about your artistic fingerprint in dance relates to autonomy as much as the recognisability of an artist and his/her work. If this is a thought that resonates with you, make use of your colleagues and audience members by asking them to help define what is specific about your work. 

In going through this exercise with different publics, you will probably end up with many different definitions of your identity as a dance professional, as those who are closer to you and your work personally or professionally might define what is at the heart of your work differently than those who are encountering your work for the first time.  In the end of course, it is up to you to decide what you relate to as being the most relevant or useful for you in your current practice.  However, it is also necessary to accept that no matter your desires, you, and your work, will mean completely different things to different people at different times.  Context really is everything!

Using the word ‘dance’

As you will see when answering the questions about your artistic fingerprint, there are no right or wrongs. There is only your personal experience, preference and specificity.

However, going through the process of defining our own artistic fingerprint as dance professionals, we did bump into specific challenges regarding this point. The term dance, more specifically contemporary dance, is hard to define. We could not find a satisfying collective definition anywhere. No wonder, as contemporary dance is, by nature, an ever-changing art form and its’ definition is specific to each individual dance artist. Besides that, the label “dance” generally triggers the expectation to see performers move, which in contemporary dance is not necessarily the case.  

As representatives of dance institutions which exist to support dance artists and to advocate for the art form as a whole, we highly value the use of the word dance (even if sometimes it would be easier to be free of that responsibility). 

So, how do we balance managing the general audiences’ expectations of ‘dance’ with advocating for the diverse reality of the contemporary dance landscape?  

If we wish to advocate for the art form and enhance its’ position, we need to use the term ‘dance’ and underline that, in particular, contemporary dance can appear in many different ways.  It is in the fluidity of the term and the diversity of practices that our strength lies, and the specificity of our art arises.  That is where we find our unique selling point.

Therefore, the only way to communicate effectively about something so fluid is by articulating your individual, tailor-made definition of contemporary dance.  To be very specific about what your dance practice entails, in terms of (physical) tools and knowledge.  To find language to express your artistic fingerprint in (perhaps) new ways, consider using these questions.

The personal within your professional identity

Questions regarding artistic fingerprint highlight that in our field the personal and the professional are very much intertwined.  The personal within your professional identity raises some challenges for dance artists and dramaturges, producers, artistic directors and communication professionals alike.

  • How do you identify your artistic fingerprint when this is so intertwined with who you are as a person? 
  • If the above it true, how can you be objective about your own work?
  • How much is the way we operate based on our personality and our own taste and personal preferences? Can we identify when this is not helpful to us in our work and create strategies to deal with this?

To be able to answer these questions it is important to understand where your identity as a person and the identity of your work meet, in your practice and your communication, and to what degree.

Acknowledging that communication is something so personal also challenges institutions in many ways. 

  • As a representative of an organisation, do you build relationships through your work or do you build it from a personal level?
  • As programmers and curators, do you see yourselves as gatekeepers?  Whether yes or no, how do you rationalise this?

Considering these questions in the context of our own work, highlights for us that re-thinking our modes of communication requires re-thinking our modes of operation as well.  They also lead to thoughts around our next key term: Trust.