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Brian McCormick
How to Write a Good Dance Review

Dance Watching/Writing Tips

by Brian McCormick
October 17, 2006
• Read the program credits and notes, beforehand if possible.
• Watch and listen carefully and quietly; concentrate as hard on watching as the dancers are on performing.
• Jot down thoughts or ideas that come into your head as you watch.

Your review should include the following elements:

A. Description
What do you see? What is the first image in the dance? What is the last image? Talk about the choreography, movement, dancers, music or other accompaniment, lighting, scenic design, costumes, props, and point out any special features. How would you describe it to someone who is not there to see it? What information can you get from the title? Describe the people and what they are doing - verbs are the language of dance. Do you recognize anything in this work? Make objective statements. Try to exclude interpretations and evaluations. A test of objectivity would be that most people would agree with your statement.

B. Formal analysis
How is the dance organized? (ABA/Theme & Variation, Motif & Development?) Is there a story or narrative, or it abstract? How do the performers relate to each other? Are there characters? Drama? How does the dancing relate to the score? What style or kind of dance is it? (Jazz, Ballet, Modern, Tap, Ballroom, Ethnic, Hip-Hop, Folk, Performance Art, Fusion?) How does the movement relate to the score? How are rhythm, speed, and phrasing used? Are they constant, or changing? How is the space used? Do the dancers stay upright, go to the floor, or upside down? What is the focal point and does it change? What about the direction the dance moves in? What shapes do the dancers and choreography make (round-linear-soft-hard-symmetrical, undefined)? What is the energy of the movement (lyrical-aggressive-weighted-light-heavy-sharp-gentle-lush)? Take note of continuities, such as repetition and of connections between the formal elements and the subject matter. Finally, note the overall qualities of the work. How are the dancers arranged in this work? How do the music, set, lighting, and costume contribute to the overall look and feel of the work? What color(s) are used?

C. Interpretation
Make statements about the meaning(s) of the work. What did it make you think? This is the most creative part of your critique. Using a hypothesis, support it with arguments, based on evidence given in the Description and Formal Analysis. Does the title fit this work? What do you think this work is about? How does the artist get you to see the message? Pretend you are in the dance. How does it feel? What are you feeling? Who are these people? What are they communicating?

D. Judgment
This is the most complex part of the critique and requires an opinion based on what was learned in the previous stages of the critique. This is not necessarily about the worth of piece, but the impression it made on you. Are you moved by this work or the performances? How did it make you feel? What do you think of it? This is not about whether you liked a piece or not, but if you thought it worked.


All of these elements should be addressed, but a review does not have to be structured in exactly that order. The best reviews integrate all of these parts into a discussion that's held together by an overall theme or impression set out at the top of the review. This leading line or paragraph should be a hook to get your reader interested in what you have to say. Of course, it should relate to what comes after. Every sentence should be a gem, but the lead line should be the crown.

You don't want to start a review by saying "The XYZ Dance Company performed on Saturday at City Center." You might want to start instead by saying something like,
    "XYZ Dance Company's performance at Fall for Dance attracted a wildly diverse audience, definitely not your modern dance crowd."
What this does is create a question in the reader - what's the special draw of this XYZ Company? Read on if you want to know more.

Read your review out loud before finalizing it. This will help catch mistakes and ensure that your review reads well.

Make sure to include the name of the performing company, venue, and date somewhere in your review. Hold on to your program so you can get the facts and spelling right.

Ideally, a dance review should be between 450-850 words, depending on the length of the performance and the number of works.
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