Dance: A Device for Social Change
By GRACE VAINISI ‘19
“Never Again,” a dance choreographed by Emma Bradley ‘20 and Alli Reilly ‘20 in this year’s Winter Dance Concert, depicted the terror of the all-too-frequent school shootings but also the importance of standing with survivors and remembering those lost. Their work perfectly encapsulated the way that dance can be used as a powerful tool to further a cause: the combination of their visual and auditory elements created a dance that promoted greater emotional understanding and opened opportunities for dialogue.
Dance exists most often as a blending of different facets of the arts; sometimes the visual and auditory parts of a dance, like the lights, the setting, and the song that the dance is set to, are just as important as the choreography itself. Like many dances, the idea for “Never Again” was born from a particularly striking song. Once Emma and Alli heard “Found/Tonight” by Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the two choreographers were instantly drawn to the power of the song and the potential choreography that could spring from it. After they had established the song, they knew they wanted to create choreography that had an impactful message but was neither triggering nor over the top. So, they worked closely with Ms. Edwards and their dancers to create movement that leaned closer to being realistic rather than theatrical. In their choreography, they were also able to portray the story of a human being’s ability to uplift someone else after a tragedy; therefore, while remaining a tribute to those who have lost their lives because of gun violence , their dance also acted as a message of hope. The more natural choreography allowed the dancers to perform with a more raw and real sense of emotion, an effect that added immeasurably to the emotional impact that their performance had on its audience.
Because of the realistic but well-crafted choreography and portrayal of emotion, every time I watched the dancers in “Never Again” as they danced with intention and grace, a palpable weight was left on my heart. This effect is one of dance’s greatest assets: choreography done well, as it was with Emma and Alli’s dance, can connect with people on a level deeper than most news articles or reports ever could. When they elicit this emotional response, dances like “Never Again” allow audiences to connect with the tragedies they see on the news, potentially in a much deeper way than if they were to read the facts alone. By adding emotion to such issues, dance encourages empathy and takes a step towards a greater understanding for what so many people must go through.
“Never Again” was neither divisive nor an inherently political dance; while the dance shed light on the reality of gun violence in schools, it encouraged students to stand united, and it in no way furthered a political agenda or was designed to create controversy. Even so, the dance was still productive in starting dialogue. After experiencing the emotion that the dance drew out, more students chose to become better educated on the reasons behind these shootings and to buy shirts that Emma and Alli were selling to raise money for the Sandy Hook Promise Organization. All of the following dialogue, research, and fundraising was a direct result of Emma and Alli’s work in Dance Concert. Thus, their dance and its ripple effect reflects the greater power that dance has as a political tool.
Events that attract large audiences, like Dance Concert, provide an often-overlooked opportunity to further a meaningful cause. When Emma and Alli took the responsibility upon themselves to point attention to gun safety, they found their voice not only as choreographers but also as young people who wanted to send a message to their community. Because arts connect to us as people and appeal to pathos rather than logos, we are able to gain a much greater capacity for understanding through tools such as visual art, music, and dance. We should all follow Emma and Alli’s footsteps and use dance as a device for lasting, positive change.