FINE ARTS COLUMNIST
I have been dancing since I was 8 years old. I am a senior theatre major, but I never did musical theatre. Some say that doesn’t make any sense when in reality it makes better sense if you understand the purpose behind it all.
Singing has always terrified me, though I love it. However, the reason I didn’t become involved in musical theatre is not due to the fear of singing but because singing is the main performing art driving it. Pure acting and dance are mere additions or spectacle in that world. That’s not to say they are not important because what kind of show would “42nd Street” be without the insane amount of amazing tap numbers?
But just because that show is centered on a dance story does not take away that dance is still not the main force driving the story. Yes, I am very aware of why that sounds wholly contradictory. Dance is super important, but what tells the story?
The lines, especially the ones that are sung, are what tell the story. The dancing surely is needed more than most shows because the story is about dancers, but the actual movements are not what tell the audience what is happening.
Dance is an aid. And in many other musicals, acting and dance are simply aids or spectacle. Yes, you act out the song, but all the lines that are spoken tend to feel like they are spoken just because they don’t work in song format.
And this is precisely why I didn’t want to do musical theatre. I grew up dancing at a studio where all you had to tell the story was a song and your movements. No flashy singing solos or lines to speak, just movement. We did ballets, so to speak, but in a different genre … or multiple genres. Now recently my studio has tapped into using a little bit of spoken lines within the production, but does that make it an acting show? No! It is an aid, sometimes just a spectacle to the show. The story is told primarily through dance.
The same goes for straight up theatre. How many Shakespeare comedies have musical accompaniment, silly songs and silly dancing? All of them! But does that make them musicals? No, because the story is told through the beautifully written language that the actors speak. The singing and possible dancing are add-ons.
I know many who think I’m hating on musical theatre when I say stuff like this. But that simply isn’t true. Sure, I am not a fan of musical theatre for many reasons that are personal taste, but I respect the art of it. And the art of musical theatre is telling a story through song. Something I wish I had the guts to do!
Dancing and acting help but are merely aids. If I dance, I want it to be because that is my only medium of telling a certain story, and my few encounters within musical theatre just felt silly to me. That’s not why I dance, as an add-on or aid. Dance can be so much more than a flashy final number of a tap show. As fun as it is, it is so much larger than the box musical theatre puts it into.