My letter to a dance critic

Three dance critics got together to talk about “The art of the critic” at the Chicago Cultural Center.

— Zachary Whittenburg, Time Out Chicago

— Laura Molzhan, Chicago Reader

— Sharon Hoyer, New City

The three critics were all very interesting, in particular, Zachary Whittenburg of Time Out Chicago. I wrote an email to Zachary about several of the points he made during the panel discussion.


I enjoyed your participation at today’s “the art of critique: a dance critics panel.” (I attended a dance appreciator.) I would like to highlight some of my favorite parts of the talk–in particular the points that you made, along with some thoughts.

You made a wonderful point about the capitalism and academia in two worlds. You said that you are able to be in both worlds by taking different “containers of language to express my memory of the performance.” (and then you went to explain how you wrote about the hip hop challenge as a sports column.) “Containers of language” is such a great phrase.

It was great how you were able to give body to tonight’s discussion. At first I was afraid the panel was going to be only about the structure of critique. I had a feeling that there was going to be only a framework about the ins and outs of critique and the state of the dance world, but not about dance itself. Every time you gave actual examples of dance performances, it gave life and substance to the discussion. That really fleshed out the conversation and made it more real and relatable.

I also greatly appreciate your how a thread within your thoughts tonight was the need to understand the performers and choreographers’ history, progress and vocabulary. It shows that you truly go into performances understanding where you are coming from and where the dance is coming from in order for you to give clear assessments and interpretations.

One point you made about the media world being too concerned about the distribution models before the business models… While I see your overall point as being true… actually, newspapers were more concerned about the business model at first and thus they didn’t get into the distribution model early enough. Once they got into the distribution model, it was too late to start charging money. So in a way, it wasn’t because they considered distribution first before money. It was the money that prohibited them from even getting into the game early enough to start. (I’ve been working at the Tribune for 12 years). But I understand your point of how now we are backtracking trying to find methods of gaining revenue for the content online.

The panel briefly touched on youtube. I wanted to ask, but I didn’t want to put anyone on the spot. But I’m wondering if anyone has considered doing dance critiques via youtube videos. And not just a talking head video. But have it include short quick, engaging videos of the dance. Dance is so immensely popular on youtube, it would be great to see some critiques take part in curating some of the dance on youtube.

You also brought up a very realistic point of view of the future of dance criticism. One thing I am excited about the future of dance and dance criticism, is that dance is such a basic expression. Even with naysayers of dance, there is still something very powerful about the expression of the human body. Dance will always be around. And with dance always being around, there will always be people who talk about dance.

Now I’m going to subscribe out your blog and make sure to read your writings in Time Out Chicago.

You can also find Zachary on twitter, @trailerpilot

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