Due to the dance content on this website, people sometimes contact me with generic questions about dance. While I don't do anyone's homework for them it is always interesting to be challenged and have to think about a specific issue related to dance. Recently I was asked what I think about mainstream media's coverage of dance, and I jotted down some rambling thoughts...
"Media" is a very multi-faceted thing, reflecting and refining the diversity of its target audience(s). We probably need to try to define "media coverage" (there are various definitions already of course, for instance in advertising where you hear them say this or that event gave an organisation £50 000 worth of media coverage). What is "media", what is "coverage", how is it measured? These are starting points that will help us get to the more interesting angles: who controls media, how do they envision their audience, how does that influence their choices of content?
..and then the eternal question of whether media should "entertain" or "enlighten"..
Contemporary dance is (whether we like it or not) something of a niche-thing. The group of people that are sometimes referred to as "the contemporary dance world" have successfully created their own channels of communication (such as the Juice magazine from Artist Development or Article19.co.uk ), probably partially to work around the media disinterest problem. I think this network is strong enough to survive much apparent disinterest, so what the media does isn't ultimately that important. However, I also think that contemporary dance is not making full use of PR opportunities, and that there is a great potential for spreading information about "dance" and expand "the dance world".
There are several questions the dance world should ask themselves. What discourse(s) are the media outlets interested in, can dance take part in those in an unpredictable way? For example, media is extremely interested in the body, in body ideals, in body enhancements of any sort -cosmetics, diets, plastic surgery. If dance tries to enter that discourse it is usually with a "moral" subtext of "body ideals damage your health". Now, I do personally believe in that but it is sort of a predictable position to take. Could a contemporary choreographer look at the topics with a less obvious angle, yet of course not leave his/her principles behind?
How accessible is "dance" content to the editor / journalist? Can a journalist for example get access to group/company dancers? Would the dancers be able to and unafraid to speak out about issues if a journalist asked?
Fundamentally, if media coverage is what we are aiming for it is really not difficult to get it. We know what they are interested in, after all :
The problem of course is that dance often isn't particularly interested in those things.
In other words, I think it would help the media interest if we could highlight individuals more, and if individuals were brave enough to go out and be highlighted. (Heck, we don't even do this internally among ourselves: check the number of photos in Juice where the dancers are not named..) Why don't we aim for a page in The Sun covering a dancer returning to performance after an injury, complete with big colour pictures Sun-sports-coverage-style? Perhaps the simple answer is: we know what the media wants but we're too shy to offer it :-p
There is also the issue of "negative" publicity. I remember when Angelin Preljocaj's "Rite of spring" came to Sadlers Wells, and they got a big publicity because at some point during the performance a woman would be naked on stage. Of course that got the usual outcry from the more conservative parts of the British press.. An interesting point was that as far as I remember the responses to the criticism came from the theatre, perhaps a comment from Angelin (don't remember) but of course noone asked the performer to comment. What was her experience and what did she think the scene expressed? Well, that's why dancers need to be more accessible, verbal, even outspoken.. Perhaps Angelin should have gone for the combat and performed an extract of the work in the reception of the paper? :-) (Well, he's probably too big a name to do such things, and since he's not British he does not really have a stake in changing those attitudes - but a British choreographer would have gotten lots of attention for a stunt like that..) However, "the dance world" is generally very bad at handling negative publicity. We look surprised and say something bland about the artistic merits. We should be lots more assertive.