What’s in a name?


I figured for my first entry I should tackle the biggest question looming over the art form of dance for the camera today, and that is: what should it be called?

There are so many names being batted around: screendance, dance film, cinedance, kinodance, videodance, media dance. I’m sure there are more I don’t even know. Each one has its merits and problems. Each one is has its staunch following of supporters and naysayers.

But what is important about having a name? Everyone is always complaining about being pigeon-holed, mislabeled, stuck in a category. Isn’t one of the great things about this art form that it’s still emerging and being defined? Practitioners in the field now are like pioneers on the new frontier. As my friend Matt Cook, a Milwaukee-based poet says: “It was easy to write the Great American Novel when there were only 5 American Novels.” How exciting to be on the vanguard of a wave that hasn’t crested yet!

However there are huge downsides to not having a recognizable
name for what you do. As any marketer will tell you, it’s all about
branding. How can your movement grow if it’s lost in obscurity? People
need a sound bite, a hook that they recognize and can grab hold of. As
artists, we need an audience! And to attract a following we need a name
for our craft. Successive generations may groan and complain about it
forever, but without the name they wouldn’t have a job in the first

So what should it be? Obviously this question will not be
answered in this entry. I have my preference for the term “videodance,”
but I know that eventually I will have to concede to the popular
winner. The winner will not be decided by any one person, but by the
audience and market forces. Some day soon someone is going to figure
out how to market this genre, and whichever name they can sell, will be
the one we have to use.

So, let the games begin! Post your
nominations here for the best name for this genre. Give us your
surefire pitch, and in a few months, once this blog has blown-up, we’ll
have a vote. So start campaigning now!

(PS: for an interesting discussion of this topic check out Karen Pearlman’s 2006 essay “A Dance of Definitions” http://www.realtimearts.net/article/issue74/8164)


4 responses

  1. Matt, I agree with you that this area as a whole has already splintered into various subsets. However, I disagree that the subsets should be defined as you describe by their aesthetic approaches and technical formats. To me it’s not obvious how cinedance is different from videodance, screendance, or any of the other names we’ve listed. To separate them based on technical formats and qualitative budgets is not intuitive or helpful in thinking about the form. That sounds like a grading system to me.

    I respect your choice of screendance as a name. I think it does include everything that could make up this art form, but it just sounds kind of dry and boring to me. From a marketing perspective, I’m not sold on it, but I do think it works as a accurate description. In terms of subdividing the form I think this should be based on style and content like other film genres. Everyone understands what a Western is or an Action film. I think the average person would distinguish between Lloyd Newson’s “Cost of Living” and Edouard Lock’s “Amelia.” According to your and Karen’s categorizations they are both cinedances, but content wise and stylistically they are very very different. I think they should live in different genre categories, but what to call them I don’t know. Maybe we should look to the music industry for clues, they have no shortage of new categories being made up all the time, usually coined by fans. To look at genres in music is to examine the Smith Family Tree. Here’s an example of one thread: Rock – Hard Rock – Heavy Metal – Hair bands. It goes on and on… And the names are fantastic too… Grind Core, Speed Metal, Punk, New Wave… I want to see videodance get juicy like that. I guess that requires some more sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll though…

    Matt, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts about the clear definitions of these forms. Thanks also for inaugurating my blog with its first comment!

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