The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines function as “the special purpose or activity for which a thing is used”. The same dictionary defines form as “the shape of something”. These definitions can be applied to dance technique very directly. Are we teaching and learning the purpose of a plié, or are we merely bending and straightening our knees?
Steps can be taught as form or function.
The first tactic is it’s function, the later only its form. With that in mind I would contend that learning the function of a position or movement principle will lead more consistently to a technically sound form, but if it is only learned as a ‘step’ or form it will not necessarily become functional in its execution.
The phrase ‘form follows function’ is attributed to the architect, Louis Sullivan, who first used it in an article in 1896. It is a principle associated with 20th century architecture and design expressing the idea that the shape or form of a building or object should be primarily based on its intended purpose or function. This is a very apropos concept when applied to dance technique.
All techniques will have their fundamental movements and positions that form the core of their technique. For classical ballet and other western performance dance forms I don’t think anyone would disagree that sound functional plié and battement tendu are critical for students. They must have strong alignment, correct muscle patterning, aesthetic line, effective use of energy and functional tension. Out of those things the form of the plié and battement tendu will emerge and provide the foundation for all other movements that follow, building technical facility into the body of the student.
Function first, form second.
So I weigh in and agree with Louis Sullivan. Form follows function. Do this and the emerging dancer will have greater skill, ease of movement, healthier physical development and will have the necessary tools to become an expressive dance artist.
Photo this page by Cathy McKelvey.
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