dancer on stage

Responding to Dance

Attending with a Purpose: Questions To Ask, Concepts To Know

It is always a good idea to have a purpose in mind when we are asked to respond to a dance performance, regardless of whether it is a formal concert, a performance of our peers, or a showing of a film or video. Below are some good questions to consider before, during, and after attending a dance performance. They are based on standards, key concepts, and key vocabulary that all Kentucky students are expected to understand and/or achieve (indicated below in italics).

Being aware of your First Impressions allows you to think about your immediate response to the dance, both as you are experiencing it and immediately afterward. Since the Body is the instrument of expression in dance, it’s a good idea to understand how dancers prepare for a performance and to pay attention to the way they use their bodies in a performance. The material that choreographers use to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings is Movement (locomotor and non-locomotor). Finally, it is helpful to pay close attention to the Elements of Dance (Time, Space, Energy). If the dance is created for an artistic purpose, the choreographer uses the elements of dance, movement ideas, and the physical and expressive abilities of the dancers to create a dance that entertains, proves interesting, or moves (emotionally) the audience members in some way. Most dances, even social dances, have some Element of Production, such as costuming, setting, props, or lighting. Finally, dance occurs in a Social, Cultural, and Historical Context. It may be necessary to do some basic research regarding these contextual elements in order to fully understand and enjoy the performance.

Before You Go

Before you see the dance, review the questions below. Afterward, consider the same questions. Can you answer them? What more will you need to know in order to answer them well?

  • Did the dance hold your interest? Can you say why or why not?
  • Did you find it entertaining? If so, what parts did you particularly enjoy?
  • Did the dance teach a lesson or have a moral?
  • How did the dancers’ movements allow you to understand what the choreographer was trying to “say”?
  • Did you have an emotional reaction to the dance? How did it make you feel?
  • If the purpose of the dance was to tell a story (narrative), were you able to follow and understand it?

It will also be helpful for you to know some background information about the dance you are going to see before you actually see it. What research or reading might you need to do?

  • Does the dance have a specific purpose?
  • Is the purpose artistic? If so, what is the artistic form or genre?
  • Can you describe the characteristics of ballet, modern dance, jazz dance, or tap dance?
  • How could you find information about these artistic forms of dance before you see the dance?
  • Did someone choreograph this dance, or has this dance been passed down by tradition?
  • Is this dance associated with a particular culture or ethnic group within a society?
  • How can you find out more about the stylistic elements associated with the choreographer, culture, or ethnic group?
  • Rather than artistic, is the purpose of the dance recreational or ceremonial?
  • What does the purpose of the dance say about the culture or society it represents?

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Viewing the Performance

In order to understand and enjoy the dance more fully, you may need to understand some key vocabulary and concepts before you see it. As you review the questions below, what further questions occur to you? Look for words and concepts in the Kentucky Dance Core Content that you need to understand better. Make sure you have at least reviewed a definition of these concepts before you see the dance.

First Impressions:

  • How did the performance begin?
  • What were some of your first impressions at the beginning of the dance?
  • Did the dance have musical accompaniment? How did you like the music?
  • Why do you think the choreographer chose this music?
  • What made the strongest impression on you as the dance progressed?
  • Can you describe this dance? Did it have a distinct beginning, middle, and end?
  • Did you have a favorite dancer?
  • What elements of the production (music, costumes, lighting, scenery) made the biggest impression on you?

The Dancers’ Bodies:

  • How were the dancers’ bodies used in this dance?
  • What different body parts did they use?
  • Did they seem to move skillfully?
  • Can you explain the roles that the skills of body alignment and dance technique play in a dance performance?
  • Do you know when these skills are important and when they might not be?
  • How can you use what you learned from the dance you have seen to understand these concepts more fully?
  • What is it about the dancers’ training that allows them to use their bodies expressively?
  • How did the musical accompaniment affect the way the dancers moved?
  • What were the physical relationships between the dancers to each other during the dance? Did they ever move in unison?
  • How are these movements different from everyday movements or sports movements?
  • How do dancers train their bodies? What do they have to do to get ready for a performance?
  • Can you compare the ways dancers warm up and prepare their bodies for dancing with the way that athletes warm up and prepare for competitions?

Movement (Locomotor and Non-Locomotor):

  • Using the elements of dance, can you describe some of the movements in the dance, especially the ones that made a big impression on you?
  • What did the dancers’ movements remind you of?
  • How did the dancers combine locomotor and non-locomotor movements?
  • What do you remember the most about the movements of the dancers?
  • Did the movement seem to “go with” the music?
  • How are the movements that are part of the dance similar to or different from everyday movements and sports movements?


  • What shapes did the bodies of the dancers make?
  • What floor patterns in space did the dancers make as they traveled through space?
  • Did the dancers change levels at any time during the dance?
  • Were there many “lifts”?
  • In what sections of the dance was space emphasized the most?
  • Were the shapes they made symmetrical or asymmetrical?
  • How did the choreographer use aspects of the element of space to make the dance more interesting or to communicate the theme of the dance?
  • Did the music seem to have any impact on the way the choreographer chose to use space?


  • What aspects of the element of time were used?
  • Was the dancing fast or slow? Were there changes in the tempo?
  • What did you notice about the dancers’ rhythms?
  • Were any of the movements accented?
  • Was the tempo of the movement always the same as the tempo of the music?
  • How did the choreographer use aspects of time to communicate his or her ideas or to make the dance more interesting?


  • How would you describe the energy of the dancers and the dance?
  • Can you name all the different movement qualities (the way force and energy were used) you saw in the dance?
  • Did the dance have a mood?
  • How did the energy in the movement affect the mood of the dance?
  • How was the energy of the movement similar to or different from the dynamics of the music?
  • How did the dance make you feel?

Production Considerations:

  • How effectively did the dance incorporate sets, lights, costumes, and sound, if at all?
  • How did these elements complement the movement and the choreography?
  • Can you describe at least three different ways that lighting was used to enhance the choreography?
  • Were the costumes elaborate or simple?
  • Why do you think the choreographer and costume designer made this choice?
  • What skills do lighting designers and costume designers need to have?
  • Did the choreography “fit” the dancing space (the stage)?

Historical, Social, and Cultural Context:

  • How does dance in general contribute to society, both as an activity and as an art form?
  • How does this dance reflect the personal history of the choreographer or the culture of a particular country or culture?
  • How does the dance portray thematic ideas or societal issues?
  • Does the musical accompaniment seem to reflect a particular culture, style, or historical period?
  • Does it communicate or “comment on” any social or political beliefs?
  • Put yourself in the role of the dancers for this performance. How is their participation and preparation for the performance similar to or different from your own and other audience members’?
  • Why did the choreographer create the dance?

Analysis and Interpretation:

  • Did the dance tell a story?
  • Was the dance expressing feelings or an idea?
  • What was the theme or the subject matter of the dance? How effectively was it carried through in the choreography?
  • What choreographic form did the dance take?
  • What was the meaning of the dance to you?
  • If you observed more than one dance on the same “program,” how were the dances alike and different?
  • Did the dance work for you (make sense to you) as a whole?
  • What relevance does this dance have for you or others who might see it?

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Now you are ready to make a judgment and communicate to an audience about the dance production you have seen. In responding to the questions above, you needed to describe movement and the elements of dance, analyze how they fit together, and explain or justify your response. Review your responses to the questions above and use your understanding of the concepts contained in these questions to help you determine your personal reaction to the performance. Now you are ready to write a critique!


  • Who are the intended readers of your critique?
  • How will you interest them in what you have to say?


  • Keep in mind your goal or purpose in writing for your audience.
  • Are you trying to persuade your readers to see the performance (or not) or merely to persuade them to agree with your opinion after they have seen it?


  • What are the most important things to comment on when writing about your analysis of the performance? Remember to support your opinion with specific facts or examples from the performance.


  • What was your overall impression of the performance?
  • Was it an enjoyable or otherwise worthwhile experience? Why or why not?
  • What entertained or impressed you the most?
  • Were there weaknesses in the dancers’ performance, the choreography, or the production elements that you need to point out?
  • On the other hand, what were the strongest aspects of the production?
  • Would you recommend that others see it? Why or why not?

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K-12English Language Arts and LiteracyThe Arts