Just as we distinguish music from sound, we can distinguish dance from movement. What makes music and dance identifiable is the intention, the motivation behind them. No matter how elegantly someone walks down the street, it is not dancing until they intend it to be; the dancer literally wills a dance into existing, simply by wanting it to exist. Whatever they mean it to be, it is.
Within the dance universe, motivation plays an even larger role. Not only does motivation define dance as more than movement, but it can further define dance within itself. When simplified to the most basic principles, there are only three reasons why a person would choose to execute movement as dance: Abstracts, Audience Experience, and Self Experience.
How Abstract Concepts Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who chooses to learn, apply, and follow a technique for the reward of properly learning and executing it is a dancer motivated by abstracts. This dancer strives for flawless technical ability, wanting to refine their movement to match the abstract concept of ‘correct and incorrect,’ and they derive their deepest satisfaction by knowing that they have succeeded. This dancer will thrive through constant and steady improvement, noticed by themselves, their respected peers, or their mentors.
How the Audience Experience Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who longs to connect with an ‘other’ person and provoke something within that person is a dancer motivated by an audience. This is a common motivation—performance is very closely related to dance—and it can present in many ways.
This dancer could long for their audience’s approval and will work to gain respect or prestige from their audience. In this case, the dancer wants more than just an observer but a powerful connection that will cause the observer to have a positive reaction; this positive reaction is what they thrive on. However, other dancers are driven by audiences whether their reaction is positive or negative. In this case, the dancer is more likely to be in pursuit of art than in positive reinforcements and will thrive when receiving thoughtful and insightful feedback.
How Self-Discovery and Experiences Can Motivate Dancers
Any dancer who dances because of their internal experience is a dancer motivated by themselves and only themselves. This seems to be the rarest of motivations. However, it could be that the many people on Earth who are truly self-motivated keep their dancing only to themselves, and the outside world knows nothing of it.
This dancer will thrive as their dancing teaches them about their own body, psyche, or even how they view the world. The appeal could be a kinesthetic awareness, or a sensual pleasure in feeling the body with precise awareness, or even a cathartic way to experience emotions, but the distinguishing factor is that the dancer’s satisfaction does not rest on the correctness of their movements or any observer.
Why Understanding Motivation Is Important
Understanding motivation is crucial for both the dancer and their instructor (if applicable). Only knowing a person’s motivation for the ongoing study of dance will allow for an effective and efficient path from the given moment to the desired moment. When motivation is clear, proper rewards and punishments can be found—a dancer who falls into the ‘Self Experience’ category may not respond well if their studies are focused on technique. Additionally, a dancer who knows their motivation will have an easier time making choices regarding their training because they will have a well-defined idea of what will fulfill them and what will not.