Almost since the inception of moving pictures, those pictures have often featured dance. The obvious reason for this is that the natural subject of moving pictures is movement. And dances—along with hurtling locomotives, car chases, cattle stampedes, tennis matches, intergalactic dog-fights, and the like—move. Thus, a significant portion of the history of moving pictures involves dance movement. Many moving-picture makers have devoted admirable amounts of effort and imagination to portraying dance in or through media as diverse as film, video, and computer animation. The purpose of this essay is to attempt to offer a philosophical characterization of this field of activity; that is, I will try to define moving-picture dance.
Many readers, learning of my intention, are apt to groan “labeling again, how boring.” To a certain extent I can sympathize with that sentiment. It is far more interesting to talk about work than it is to set about classifying it. The concrete achievements of the field are more important than abstractions about it. Nevertheless, despite my ready acknowledgment of this, I will persist for several reasons.
First, whenever festivals of this sort of work are held, it is very likely that at one time or another almost everyone present will be tempted to say of some work that it doesn't really belong on the program. Everyone complains about labeling, but sooner or later most people feel compelled to invoke some favorite definition of their own. For human beings, categorizations are unavoidable, even if we like to pretend indifference to them. And most of us can feign indifference only for so long; most of us have a breaking point. Thus, it seems to me a good idea to get this issue out in the open and to discuss it abstractly—to compare and contrast the various categorizations in play and to develop dialectically from them a comprehensive framework that makes sense of our practices and that resonates with our intuitions about its compass.