If you’re any young aspiring dancer, there is a good chance you’ve heard of the show “Dance Moms”. If you’ve heard of the show, then you’ve probably hear the name “Maddie Ziegler” more than once. On the show, Maddie is Abby Lee’s (the studio owner’s) top star pupil. She wins most, if not all, dance competitions she enters, and trains hours upon hours everyday. She is constantly the one everyone is compared to, and she has recently stumbled upon a great amount of success in the dance world. In just the last year, Maddie has starred in three music videos, performed at the Grammy’s, and found herself on talk show hosts such as Ellen. It all began with the first music video: Chandelier by Sia.
Sia, a famous Australian popstar, found Maddie through watching her in Dance Moms. She says now that she “figured if she could cause her to tear up doing these competition pieces, she must really have a talent.” (more on this comment late). In this video, she plays a “Sia state” or a representation of Sia, and she has a somewhat “possessed personality”. It’s a very moving piece that gained a lot of attention, and with it, a lot of controversy. It’s one of the most watched videos of all time on YouTube, and the video was nominated for multiple awards.
It has become one of my favorite videos, partly because of the confusing and yet astounding choreography, partly because it truly showcased Maddie’s talent, and partly because it brought back attention to the art of dancing. It’s a much different dance than Maddie’s typical competition dances, most definitely, and while there are some tricks in it, it’s easily more striking and thoughtful than any other piece Maddie had performed previously. First, check out these two videos below. First, is the Chandelier music video. The one below it is one of Maddie’s most famous competition dances which received a perfect score. I encourage you to watch both in full screen. Watch both, and then continue reading below.
There’s common ground in both videos: a tremendous use of facial expression, great form and lines, and excellent connection to the character in telling the story. But when it comes to the complexity of choreography… well there’s not much in common.
In the Chandelier video, there’s really nothing very “competitiony” about it. It’s a lot of different intricate movements. Each movement in the piece adds to the story, each part is it’s own line of the story. Even little details, like when she is at the table and moves her hand to her mouth (which is sign language for “I’m hungry”) tells the story of the difficult life Sia is trying to depict. The whole story of the video is about the song, and the problems with alcoholism Sia had to face. Maddie is Sia. She, as I see it, is going crazy between being the “party girl”, the one that everyone loves, and her own raging alcoholic as described in the song. She’s “the one for a good time call”. In other words, she’s trying to distract herself from her own issues by partying. If you notice, she interacts with all of the windows that have light coming through them, never the darkened window. This, I believe, is to symbolize the desire to escape, to “see the light”. Notice as I say all of this, I begin my thoughts with “I believe”.
That’s just it: pieces like this are so masterfully created that there’s thousands of ways to interpret them. They could mean exactly what you think, or it could be something else entirely. Surely, the choreographer had an idea in mind when he made the piece, but it doesn’t mean that our interpretations are any more incorrect than the original. It’s like interpreting a poem; you can’t just read it once and understand it, it’s originally going to make no sense. It takes close observation and rereading to fully understand what the creator is trying to convey, and even then you might find something entirely different.
Dances like the “All God’s Creatures”, “competition dances”, they don’t have that complexity. They’re very clearly interpreted, purely just by reading/hearing the title of the piece. Sure, they are performed beautifully, and they demonstrate the dancer’s many different “trick” abilities, but they don’t really tell a story. The most the story is really portrayed is through Maddie’s expressions, costume, and music. The rest of it is turn after turn, leap after leap, and sometimes, if they get really crazy, a turn into a leap. There’s no complex movements that try to portray the story. That is what separates “artistic” dancing from competition dancing. That’s what really makes the art of dance beautiful.
There’s no denying that watching both pieces are entertaining and both are performed beautifully. But there’s clearly something more to Chandelier. The movements make you want to watch it over and over, to try and catch a hidden meaning in something you didn’t see the first time. When you watch All God’s Children, or really any other pieces that Maddie has performed, you know what to expect, and you know that it will be good but it will be typical.
That’s what I want aspiring dancer’s to see, and to strive for. To perform because you want each movement to mean something to the story in the song, and you want to leave whatever audience there is, with something to interpret. Competition dance is pretty, and fun, absolutely. But it doesn’t have the same shock value, or attention to detail as artistic dancing.
I encourage young dancers, and even choreographers, to try and give themselves a challenge. Next time you’re dancing for fun, free styling or in class, or choreographing a piece for your students, try and limit the number of turns you do in one piece. Try to keep the number of jumps to somewhere between one and three. Make the movements more about the story and less about the glory. You may just gain a whole new perspective on the song, on your talent, and on yourself.