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November 25th, 2008

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09:54 pm - Singing and dancing
bookshop made a great post - not at all an infrequent occurrence - only the second part of which I intend to tangentially address today. (If the post in question becomes locked in the passage of time, no harm; hopefully this is sufficiently tangential not to require context.)

Polls before post-amble, if you please:

Poll #1304281 Does "ars gratia artis" mean that those who shake their booties necessarily have great booties to shake?

Please confirm or deny:

In the next year or two, by conventional definitions, I expect to perform some art: I expect I will sing, dance, play an instrument, act or somesuch, for the benefit of an audience.
I would like to participate in a non-performing art group: I would love to sing, dance, play an instrument, act or somesuch, in a group that explicitly did not put on performances and merely did so for the fun of the activities.
The provision of spurious tickyboxes in LJ polls continues to represent the state of the art.

As a child, I tended to disapprove (or, even now, I tend to disapprove) of my parents singing and/or dancing.

True - or, at least, truer than I should like

I have a long-standing peeve with the world that, at least in my experience, those who sing or dance (or act, or play an instrument) are often assumed to be doing so by way of performance for the benefit of those who witness the art; accordingly, it is considered acceptable to judge those who engage in art and it is considered acceptable to critique or unfavourably judge their performances. Accordingly, there are many who will not engage in such artistic activities for fear of being judged, which is very sad. I think the world would be a little brighter if people really would sing and dance as if nobody were watching. Doing so when nobody is watching is an excellent way of doing this in practice.

At one level, it's pleasant to see singing and dancing attain a higher profile on TV at the moment, not that I tend to watch the shows in question; conversely, I fear that the shows reinforce the acceptability of judging the performances and the principle of negative entertainment to be gained from mocking performances considered poor. Similarly, this gives me a principle by which to reconsider my strongly favourable stance towards the likes of Dance Dance Revolution and Singstar; surely playing and, by the context of the game, failing is to be preferred to not playing at all?

There has recently been considerable controversy about the continued performance of one participant in Strictly Come Dancing, the British original version of the Dancing with the Stars format; John Sergeant - while, I agree, markedly less accomplished than his rivals - is really not at all bad a dancer. His cha-cha-cha which earned 12/40 seemed to me to be comparable with the standard that I might have achieved as an 11-year-old having danced for an hour a week for two or three years. Considering he's only been doing it for one week, that's pretty damn good. (It's far from being as good as you would expect from someone who took part on their show to back up their claims of being an excellent dancer, but that's not necessarily the case regarding John Sergeant's participation in the show.) John Sergeant's performance compares very favourably with the likes of, say, David Dickinson.

There do seem to me to be some definite steps in the right direction. When you engage in a choir, or at least a singalong, or take part in a ceilidh (compare with contra dancing in the US, I believe, though I may be wrong) then at least there is some agreement as to the goal for which you're all headed, or at least a sense that you're all on the same team. Some won't sing or dance even in explicitly non-judgmental co-operative performances for fear of being criticised, which is not as joyful as it could be. One of the things that most delights me about baseball is the wide acceptance of the tradition that everyone sings the same song - with the possible exception of the identity of the team for whom we root, root, root - in the seventh inning stretch; I love reading about other sporting crowds similarly singing and chanting and reflecting the play of the sport in their reaction, even if the usual standard of this is, frequently, rudimentary and base. (Not that that's necessarily a bad thing!) When this is done wittily then it's a remarkable performance, and spontanaeity infecting thousands or tens of thousands to sing with one voice is a force of nature. The power of, say, a charismatic church becomes clear.

All this comes before we consider the many other artistic types of endeavours that exist: writing, drawing, artifice, handicrafts and comedy probably follow along similar lines, though there may well be boundary cases. (Comedy possibly has most potential, of these, to provide a disbenefit when performed badly.) This is probably the point at which my old contention that keeping a public LJ is, at least in part, performance art of a sort comes back to bite me!
Current Mood: artisticnot quite sure where I'm going

(13 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 25th, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
My father can sing, my mother can dance. Alas, they each prefer to do the other thing...

Dad is a cliched Embarrassing Dad dancer (I can make photos available to back up this claim), Mum is tone-deaf and freely admits it, but she enjoys singing anyway.
[User Picture]
Date:November 25th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I don't think you'd stick to 'on the same team' for long if you attended our choir's rehearsals. ;-) We're ultimately struggling towards the same goals in the same way that we're all shuffling inevitably towards Death, but there's a good deal of kicking and screaming along the way.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 12:10 am (UTC)
My mum could sing fairly well.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 01:34 am (UTC)
Well, look, this is all supposed to be hush-hush, but when you become a parent they give you this list of things to do to embarrass your children. It's all in the handbook.

Seriously, though, I think that people will always judge what a person does in public, even if it's just a casual observation, and it's really an off-shoot of judging themselves. I'm a better (or worse) dancer/singer/artist/writer than that person.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
The first full phrase I ever said: "Mommy, please don't sing."
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
Describing public appraisal as "judgement" feels to me like putting an unfair spin on it.

Sure, if I see someone dancing in the supermarket I will inevitably be aware of whether they're any good or not. But chances are it will make me happy even if they completely suck at it.

It's true that I won't usually give them any indication that I approve, but that's mostly because it's often unclear whether any acknowledgement of what they're doing might be unwelcome or embarassing. In much the same way that I wouldn't usually tell a stranger in the supermarket that they were looking good.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
I fear that the shows reinforce the acceptability of judging the performances and the principle of negative entertainment to be gained from mocking performances considered poor.

I can't help but think that if you don't want to be judged on technical merit, don't enter a competition where you're going to get judged on technical merit.

People are free to do what makes them happiest, but if people are going to foist their art upon me, they can't be surprised if it turns out I don't like it.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
I can't help but think that if you don't want to be judged on technical merit, don't enter a competition where you're going to get judged on technical merit.

*bbbboing!* An accurate counter-argument, succinctly made. Two points.

I suspect that the cross-section between those who feel sufficiently confident about their abilities to enter a competition where they will be judged and those who would make entertaining celebrities for such a show is pretty small. In short, if you have to be a pretty damn hot dancer in order to participate, the show is soon going to run out of contestants. I think the show stands to benefit, and indeed does benefit, from the participation of those with more limited natural abilities but who are willing to work hard at improving their technical merit. The people who get onto the show and voted off (say) third, fourth or fifth are likely to be pretty damn competent dancers.

Are you watching Election at all? I never got into The Apprentice or the like, but I've been enjoying Election quite a lot. Essentially it's (The Apprentice - Business + Politics) divided by two to fit into half-hour chunks. Jonathan Dimbleby plays Surallan and gives little of the benefit of the doubt about the efforts of the less successful team each week. To me, often even the less successful kids do a surprisingly good job at some very difficult-looking tasks where they appear to have had remarkably little instruction. In that regard, even the losing kids are highly impressive and to be rewarded. Conversely, if all the kids went on the show thinking that they were it (cf Simon Amstell - allegedly - on Gamesmaster, whose demise was a joy to watch) then taking them down a peg or two is fair game, but I reckon that far more of the ten (and I'm not at all sure that it's not all ten) are to be supported than opposed.

if people are going to foist their art upon me, they can't be surprised if it turns out I don't like it

Hence my interest in non-performing art groups.

You are Charlie Brooker, in more than just a younger version of him in your appearance, and I claim my five pounds. Chin up, could be worse - you could be Simon Amstell!
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Is karaoke an exception? I'd understood (never having tried it) that part of the culture was to accept all performances no matter what the standard.

I can't sing but I like to sing along to songs when I'm on my own. The reason I've become increasingly self-conscious and reluctant to sing in public - for instance, at Christmas carol concerts - isn't exactly the fear of being judged, it's a fear of *spoiling it for others*.
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
Does writing for an audience count as performing an art, because that's what I realistically hope to be sharing with people within a year or two. I expect it'll only ever be on the Internet though. It's easy to be concidered a good writer on the net, because 90% of all fic writers are absolutely horrible. :P

I can sing pretty well as long as no-one is listning, but as soon as there is ONE other person present something physically happens inside so that I can only squeak. I tried to get over it by singing in front of my parents, but even they were too much of an audience. I think I have a peeve with having to prove I can do something. I'd be shite at any sort competition.

Both of my parents had conciderable artistic skills; They both were in a choir, both of them could draw/paint really well (Dad did several comissioned works) and they both played the guitar before I was born.

Before Mom and Dad met, Dad had won several local dancing contests. He also had a "band", in which he played the accordion!!, that would go around and play wherever there was to be a dance. (This was back in pre-civilized Norway.) So it was rather my lack of skills that embarrased them, or rather, that I threw a fit in public if I failed at anything. :P
[User Picture]
Date:November 26th, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
Well, I was embarrassed of my dad when he'd play guitar and sing with his buddies all the popular songs from when he was young. However, I was video taped at our state fair dancing with my dad to one of our favourite local bands before my senior year in high school, and I thought it was fantastic. My mom played piano, and she used to play Christmas carols and we'd sing together in the house. I loved it, even if the neighbors could hear. So, I think the answer was, I was embarrassed for my dad because he put his heart into it, he wasn't that great, and I didn't want him to get hurt.
Date:November 27th, 2008 12:00 am (UTC)
I confidently expect to sing in front of an audience at a karaoke night at some point in the next two years. And if the opportunity to act comes my way, I'll certainly take that.

As for parents, my dad used to play the guitar and sing for a captive but enthralled audience of his primary school pupils, and he was by no means bad at it, even if he wasn't ever going to make the pop charts. I entirely approved of it as a kid. The only dancing he ever did was an occasional Morecambe-and-Wise-style silly walk, which just made me giggle.
[User Picture]
Date:November 28th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
Many apologies if my polling opinions are unwanted - I arrived to your journal by mistake and was enticed to stay by the lovely tickyboxes.

For the record, I am both a social dancer (I dance for the joy of what I'm doing with my partner) and a performer - I see plus points in both. Also I was brought up in a community where singing was the norm, not the exception, and my mother was in a choir (which, whilst slightly embarrassing as I grew up, was actually reasonable for a local choral group), with my gran, so singing in public always seemed very normal to me.

I'll just leave quietly now...

Edited at 2008-11-28 03:21 pm (UTC)

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