The Power of Dance And Mass Media

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The power of dance is utilized more than most people realize in mass media advertisements such as a Ford advertisement which ran in 2008 featuring human dancers who folded themselves into the shape of a car throughout the commercial. Although the company is working to sell viewers on their brand, it is the dancers more than the words that deliver the message.

The commercial starts with a close up of some of the dancers faces as the music starts. This immediately connects the viewer with the dancer through eye-contact and the mysterious dark space the dancers occupy. As the group of dancers start moving in different, sometimes competing directions around the stage, the narrator states, “Your world is in constant motion.” The dance reinforces that initial connection as that the eye is held to the complex movements the dancers are performing and their movements illustrate what the narrator is saying and the viewer is thinking “that applies to me.” When the dancers fold themselves into the shape of a car for the first time, the fascination with their sudden stillness draws attention to the shape they’ve created and the realization that this is a Ford commercial.

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Curiosity about what the dancers will do next keeps the viewer watching. The next time the dancers move, they are doing so at a much faster pace, quickly transitioning into another car with the Ford logo visible. The viewer becomes fascinated with how they achieved the shape so quickly, tracing the lines between car and dancers, at the same time that they feel the extra sense of excitement through their bodies of a busy world and a thrilling action. By the third car, the viewer almost unconsciously connects this brand with the idea of low impact and highly recyclable without really noticing the narrator just said it. The eye is busy picking out the lines of the dancers from the shape of the car. Their graceful movements as they go to create the final car is also translated into the brand as a calming, smooth ride to keep them secure through the night as the lights of the car come on and the ad transitions to the company logo.

Dance’s ability to so captivate such a wide-range of audience interests has, as Kraus noted, led to its increased use in mass media advertisements. It’s power lies in its ability to make connections with a wide variety of other interests and abilities. “One of dance’s biggest strengths is that it is a natural partner for other art forms, bringing in audiences that are attracted as much to the composers as the choreographers: from Richard Alston’s perceptive interpretations of Brahms or Michael Clark dancing to PJ Harvey and The Fall” (Winship, 2005). In addition to the forms of dance, those interested in sports are drawn by the athleticism of the movement and the control of the body. Those interested in art are drawn by the costumes and the makeup. They, like architects and builders, are interested in set designs and constructions of moving form on the stage. Writers and poets are swept away by the experience, the story of the dance while the nature of human curiosity allows our eyes to become captured and fascinated with the appearance of the moving body.

As is suggested by Ambrosio, more than any other activity, dance has the ability to communicate and elicit a response from other people. Science has actually proven a deep connection between our ability to move in time with music and our ability to communicate. “Erich Jarvis, PhD, has argued that birds and humans have similar brain wiring that allows them to mimic sound, and theorizes that the basal ganglia — a deep brain structure involved in motor control — is important to vocal learning. That’s a crucial connection because brain imaging research on humans has shown that activity in the basal ganglia becomes stronger and more tightly coupled to the auditory cortex when people hear music with a beat, even if they don’t move in time” (Dingfelder, 2010).

The importance of dance is not just cultural, but could be biological as how dance is performed may have been an early means by which we selected talented mates, and perhaps still do. In addition, though, dance is capable of expressing a number of cultural ideas through the flow of movement. Since 60-70% of all human communication takes place at the non-verbal level, dance as choreographed non-verbal messaging is even more capable than speech to communicate an idea. “Rhythm and dance should be taken seriously as a form of communication, a performance of particular meanings, sensibilities, epistemologies, and social relations” (Rogers, 1998, p.23). Whether engaged directly with the movement or just watching it, dance has the power to communicate at a level below our typical social filters, appealing to us in ways we don’t know how to block.

Given the extreme power of dance to communicate, not all performances will be assessed in the same way by all viewers. As the dancers move in various different ways to suggest a meaning evocative of what they want to say, viewers’ individual means of assessing movements – developed as a result of culture, personality, taste, and ability – enable them to decode what the dancers are saying. As in the commercial described above, no matter what the narrator is saying, the viewer understands more messaging about the brand through the movements the dancers are creating. We understand the busy-ness of life, the need for some stability, the rush of excitement, the need for recycling, and the calm feel of security within the brand – all through the presentation of the dancers alone.

  • Dingfelder, Sadie F. (2010). “Dance, dance evolution.” Science Watch. American Psychological Association, 41, 4.
  • Rogers, R.A. (1998). “A dialogics of rhythm: Dance and the performance of cultural conflict.” The Howard Journal of Communications, 9, 5-27.
  • Winship, Lyndsey. (October 6, 2005). “Dance ‘Til You Drop.” The Independent.

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