The following is an excerpt from an imaginary conversation between a student and master teacher. It explores the ideas of form and expression in dance.
Student: Master, I’ve been dancing for many years, but I’m still curious about something. Why must dance be constrained to any specific form?
Master: For the purposes of diversification and interest.
Student: But it seems to me that dance would be more interesting without an established form, and simply a freer range of movement.
Master: You mean a language without discipline. A letter without proper punctuation. In other words, everything must be written in an unidentifiable language. A formless state of being where your message will always be obscured. And therefore, not comprehendible.
Student: But as ballet dancers we seem to limit our vocabulary to only a certain number and range of movements.
Master: That’s because the conveyors of such are limited in their scope of understanding. The breadth of this language has a potential to grow with each individual that cares to express it. It depends on the limitations of the person conveying the message. The language itself has has increasing potential for any daring individual who cares to express freely with that form. In other words, a form has unlimited potential within its own structure.
Student: But why choose one form over another? It still seems to me that having to choose a specific form limits expression, not frees it.
Master: Then maybe we should make tires that are 6 feet in diameter on a Volkswagen bug.
Student: I don’t see what that has to do with anything.
Master: A certain size tire represents a form, and another size tire represents another form and purpose of expression. In the same way, another language represents another form with the perspective attached to that language.
Student: Then what does the Volkswagen bug represent?
Master: The bug and the appropriate tire represent traveling upon the highways. The large tire and the large construction type machine that it’s attached to are designed for constructive purposes, certainly not meant for parallel parking on a residential street. Therefore, the two, within their form and structure, have two different expressions. Like the tire or a foreign language, ballet has its own form and structure, with an evolving vocabulary confined within it.
Student: Yes, but what about modern dance? What about Flamenco? Why choose ballet over any other form?
Master: What you’re asking in a sense is why doesn’t everyone speak English?
Student: Well, I guess. I mean, why isn’t there just one language?
Master: But then you contradict yourself. You are confining yourself to one particular kind of tire or form. Each one has its force and magnitude, thus impressing the observer quite differently. Each form brings new life to a single premise and each person (who is a singular form in herself), brings nascence as well.
Student: Then the problem seems the difficulty of choosing the language. How do you decide which is more effective than the other?
Master: Simple matter of preference.
Student: That’s kind of boring.
Master: So be it your life, I guess. As such, your life is a matter of preference. If your preferences are limited in their scope, then your measure of expression will be constrained in the same way.
Student: But it seems that choosing a preference then keeps you from experiencing all the other possibilities.
Master: We can only experience the other possibilities through the forms of others and other things. You want the separate distinct forms so you can distinguish and enjoy the differences and uniqueness of each expression. Such differences allow the individual to develop, and challenges each person to grow in individuality.
To have no form at all would be to mush all the ingredients of a stew together. You would have no taste, nothing to call a real dish. To have no form is actually more confining, because when no differences are allowed everything becomes the same.
Student: So you have to have a form to express anything?
Master: With any sense of clarity and distinction, yes. In other words, how bugs love and how humans love are two completely different forms of expression. The universe is clearly made of infinite variety of forms that all possess a sense of distinction and interrelate like the separate instruments of an orchestra. They are all musical instruments, tires, and such that resonate with distinction and harmony.
Student: I see. The differences in the forms are what give them clarity of expression.
Master: Yes, they hold that potential.
Student: Well, I can agree with that. But shouldn’t you expand your scope of forms, expose yourself to as many different ways of expression as possible? Why would you want to focus so intensely one form, like we do with ballet?
Master: Simply to make your instrument known. A form expresses itself infinitely within its own structure. And in that distinction, it has the capacity to integrate with all other forms. For example, a prism separates all colors, allowing you to see each one. When the colors are all compressed together, you see only black formlessness.
Once the colors have differentiated, each one has an infinite potential within itself. Infinite variations of yellow, all different kinds of yellow. Infinite on all color bands. Listening to an orchestra as a whole, or viewing a rainbow of colors, has its own emotional impact and experience. But you can take each band of color or instrument and find that hidden voice, the presence that brings each different color and sound to the element and subject of its expression.