Classic Dancers On the Art of Dance

I love to dance, there is nothing like it, I dance ballroom, Latin, swing, and Argentine tango. It is the only activity I have found that involves the mind, body, and soul. Dance is the soul in flight – it’s the fountain of youth.

We are hard-wired to dance, science shows we have a ‘dance gene’. Primitive humans naturally danced for fun, communication, religious ceremonies, and art. Infants will naturally dance to rhythm. Even chimpanzees dance in a circle beating sticks. Weddings, social events, galas, youth clubs, and entertainment, all have dancing. Dance in stage musicals and films are forever popular. Dance is a glue helping to keeping ethnic and community heritage and tradition.

Dance is mentally challenging, offers social interaction, is uplifting and inspiring, improves memory and coordination, keeps your body limber and flexible, and provides cardiovascular exercise. An MIT study shows that the activities that best improve brain functioning are chess, golf, music, and dance.

America loves to dance and watch professional dancers perform. Dance has played a major cultural activity since Colonial times. European immigrants brought dances to the Americas, such as Ballet, English Country, Contra dances, French Quadrille, Spanish Flamenco, and Eastern European dances Waltz and Polka. These dances have evolved into today’s Ballet, Modern Contemporary, Ballroom, Waltz, Foxtrot, Polka, Country Western, Square dancing, Clogging, and Argentine Tango.

African dances were brought by slaves and greatly influenced popular dance in America and the Caribbean. These dances have evolved into today’s Jazz dance, Tap dance, Swing, Hustle, Salsa, Bachata, Rumba, Cha Cha, Rock ‘n Roll, Disco, and Hip Hop.

Today, a total of 62 million, which is 24% of adults, social dance in the U.S., according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Dance event participation involves 39 million who attend dance events and 5.1 million who take dance lessons. There are 681,250 professional dancers in the U.S. and there are 66,266 private dance studios, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Note: there are numerous other great dancers to choose from but there is an insufficient number of their quotes to include them below.

Martha Graham (1894-1991)

Martha Graham | Smithsonian Institution

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”

“One becomes in some area an athlete of God.”

“Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.”

“The body says what words cannot.”

“You are unique, and if that is not fulfilled, then something has been lost.”

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”

“Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It’s a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”

“In a dancer’s body, we as audience must see ourselves, not the imitated behavior of everyday actions, not the phenomenon of nature, not exotic creatures from another planet, but something of the miracle that is a human being.”

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.”

Alvin Ailey (1931-1989)

Alvin Ailey Preserving the African-American Experience Through Dance | by  Patrick Oliver Jones | Why I'll Never Make It | Medium

“Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.”

“I feel an obligation to use black dancers because there must be more opportunities for them, but not because I’m a black choreographer talking to black people.”

“We talk too much of black art when we should be talking about art, just art. Black composers must be free to write rondos and fugues, not only protest songs.”

“The creative process is not controlled by a switch you can simply turn on or off; it’s with you all the time.”

“No matter what you write or choreograph, you feel it’s not enough.”

Bob Fosse (1927-1987)

“Dance expresses joy better than anything else.”

“Don’t dance for the audience; dance for yourself.”

”Choreography is writing on your feet.”

“If you think you can do better, then do better. Don’t compete with anyone; just yourself.”

“Life is just a bowl of cherries, don’t take it serious, it’s mysterious. Life is just a bowl of cherries, so live and laugh and laugh at love, love a laugh, laugh and love.”

“Live like you’ll die tomorrow, work like you don’t need the money, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

“I think Balanchine and Robbins talk to God and when I call, he’s out to lunch.”

“I am not an educated person. I didn’t come up through a ballet company. I came up through burlesque. So I have a lot of inferiority feelings concerning my own lack of education, my entry into show business. I’m not a Baryshnikov. I’m not a Nureyev. I came up in vaudeville. Strippers. So I’ve always had these feelings. But I think they’ve also helped me.”

“Human beings are born with the instinct to express themselves through movement. Even before he could communicate with words, primitive man was dancing to the beat of his own heart.”

Agnes de Mille (1905-1993)

Agnes de Mille + Rodeo

“The practice mirror is to be used for the correction of faults, not for a love affair, and the figure you watch should not become your dearest friend.”

“A good education is usually harmful to a dancer. A good calf is better than a good head.”

“The universe lies before you on the floor, in the air, in the mysterious bodies of your dancers, in your mind. From this voyage no one returns poor or weary.”

“The creative urge is the demon that will not accept anything second rate.”

“The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”

“The truest expression of a people is in its dances and its music. Bodies never lie.”

“To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth, and it is yours for the taking.”

Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990)

Phil Stern's Archives » Sammy Davis Jr.

“You have to be able to look back at your life and say, Yeah, that was fun.”

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.”

“If you want to be the best, baby, you’ve got to work harder than anybody else.”

“What have I got? No looks, no money, no education. Just talent.”

“The ultimate mystery is one’s own self.”

“My talent was the weapon, the power, the way for me to fight. It was the one way I might hope to affect a man’s thinking.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov (b. 1948)

Happy 72nd Birthday Mikhail Baryshnikov – Waldina

I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.

“No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business.”

“Dance is one of the most revealing art forms.”

The body cannot lie. You cannot be somebody else onstage, no matter how good of an actor or dancer or singer you are. When you open your arms, move your finger, the audience knows who you are, you know.

Dancers are made, not born.

“When a body moves, it’s the most revealing thing. Dance for me a minute, and I’ll tell you who you are.

“I found that dance, music, and literature is how I made sense of the world… it pushed me to think of things bigger than life’s daily routines… to think beyond what is immediate or convenient.”

Ruth St. Denis (1879-1968)

Denishawn - Modern Dance Pioneers

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words.

“We can hear the silent voice of the spiritual universe within our own hearts.”

“I believe that my whole creative life stemmed from this magic hour under the stars on that hilltop.

“We should realize in a vivid and revolutionary sense that we are not in our bodies but our bodies are in us.”

“But in reality we are accompanied by the whole dancing universe.”

“Our bodies are at once the receiving and transmitting stations for life itself. It is the highest wisdom to recognize this fact and train our bodies to render them sensitive and responsive to nature, art, and religion.

“The real message of the Dance opens up the vistas of life to all who have the urge to express beauty with no other instrument than their own bodies, with no apparatus and no dependence on anything other than space.”

Gregory Hines (1946-2003)

Jack Mitchell - Gregory Hines in 'Sophisticated Ladies', Color 17 x 22"  Exhibition Photograph For Sale at 1stDibs

“I don’t remember not dancing. When I realized I was alive and these were my parents, and I could walk and talk, I could dance.”

“I felt that I didn’t want to be in show business anymore. I felt that I wanted to be a farmer. I was milking cows and shoveling terrible stuff and working all day. By the end of the day, all I wanted was my tap shoes – I thought, ‘What am I doing? I better get back where I belong on the stage where we work at night and can sleep late!”

“The best entertainment speaks to the human condition in an honest way.”

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)

“You live as long as you dance.

“For me, purity of movement wasn’t enough. I needed expression, more intensity, more mind.

“Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration.

“The main thing is dancing, and before it withers away from my body, I will keep dancing till the last moment, the last drop.”

“I approach dancing from a different angle than those who begin dancing at 8 or 9. Those who have studied from the beginning never question anything.”

Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)

NPG x139574; Anna Pavlova in 'The Dying Swan' - Portrait - National  Portrait Gallery

It is useless to dabble in beauty. One must be utterly devoted to beauty, with every nerve of the body.

Whenever I have had a sudden urge to quit dancing, I just remember that moment I had when I was young and remember that dancing is what I want to do.

The only excuse for dancing is grace and beauty of movement.

To strive tirelessly and at all times to reach one’s goal – therein lies the secret of success.

A true artist should have no secrets. On the stage, you must be able to transmit every emotion to the spectator.

If I could have said it, I shouldn’t have had to dance it.

God gives talent. Work transforms talent into genius.

If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.

Gene Kelly (1912-1996)

Gene Kelly: Remembered - Variety

“I wanted to do new things with dance, adapt it to the motion picture medium.”

“When Ginger Rogers danced with Astaire, it was the only time in the movies when you looked at the man, not the woman.

“I didn’t want to be a dancer. I just did it to work my way through college. But I was always an athlete and gymnast, so it came naturally.”

“Things danced on the screen do not look the way they do on the stage. On the stage, dancing is three-dimensional, but a motion picture is two-dimensional.”

“My mother had gotten a job as a receptionist at a dancing school and had the idea that we should open our own dancing school; we did, and it prospered.”

“You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.”

“Fred Astaire represented the aristocracy, I represented the proletariat.”

Twyla Tharp (b. 1941)

Twyla Tharp Work anchors KU dance concerts | News, Sports, Jobs - Lawrence  Journal-World: news, information, headlines and events in Lawrence, Kansas

“I see dance as glue for a community.”

“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.”

“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.

“This is the strange thing: Dancers don’t age.

“Counterpoint is a component that gives real energy, and it is about optimism.”

“Dance is the most fundamental of all art forms.”

Fred Astaire (1899-1987

About Mr. Fred Astaire — Fred Astaire Dance Studio Richmond

“I have no desire to prove anything by dancing. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance.”

“The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”

“This search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked.”

“It takes time to get a dance right, to create something memorable.”

“I just put my feet in the air and move them around.”

“I don’t want to be the oldest performer in captivity… I don’t want to look like a little old man dancing out there.”

“Disco is just jitterbug.”

“Some people seem to think that good dancers are born, but all the good dancers I have known are taught or trained.”

“If the dance is right, there shouldn’t be a single superfluous movement.”

Bill Bojangles Robinson (1878-1949)

We remember Bill "Bojangles" Robinson - 50BOLD

“There’s not enough time for them to be the outside person and the inside person.”

“It’s something we need to pass on. I have to thank my God for giving me the talent and ambition to pursue it. I thank everyone that’s been involved over the years.”

“A good hitting instructor is able to mold his teaching to the individual. If a guy stands on his head, you perfect that.”

“Just as hard in Springfield, Illinois as on Broadway.”

“Everything is copasetic.”

“It’s all the way you look at it, you know.”

“What success I achieved in the theater is due to the fact that I have always worked just as hard when there were ten people in the house as when there were thousands”

Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991)

Margot Fonteyn | Looney Tunes Wiki | Fandom

“The world of dance is a natural world from which civilization has divorced many of us by making it appear remote – something reserved for the few who have a special talent.”

“Dancing was something to be taken very seriously when engaged in and otherwise put out of mind.”

“Ballet is more than a profession – it is a way of life.”

“Jumping for joy’ is a very basic human reaction, and a child skipping down the street is simply an untrained dancer.”

“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.”

“Genius is another word for magic, and the whole point of magic is that it is inexplicable.”

“Great artists are people who find the way to be themselves in their art. Any sort of pretension induces mediocrity in art and life alike.”

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)

Review: 'Cunningham' focuses on the brilliance of famed choreographer |  Datebook

“Dancing, that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

“My work always comes from the same source – from movement. It doesn’t necessarily come from an outside idea, though the source can be something small or large that I’ve seen, often birds or other animals. The seeing can then provoke the imagining.”

“The use of chance operations opened out my way of working. The body tends to be habitual. The use of chance allowed us to find new ways to move and to put movements together that would not otherwise have been available to us. It revealed possibilities that were always there except that my mind hadn’t seen them.”

“What really made me think about space and begin to think about ways to use it was Einstein’s statement that there are no fixed points in space. Everything in the universe is moving all the time.”

“I think anything can feed you, depending on the way you look at it or listen to it.”

“The legs and arms can be a revelation of the back, the spine’s extensions.”

“It is upon the length and breadth and span of a body sustained in muscular action that dance invokes its image.”

“Movement is expressive. I’ve never denied that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as abstract dance.”

Ginger Rogers (1911-1995)

Ginger Rogers | Ginger rogers, Hollywood glamour, Classic hollywood

Part of the joy of dancing is conversation. Trouble is, some men can’t talk and dance at the same time.”

Rhythm is born in all of us. To be a desirable dancing partner, you don’t have to do all the intricate fancy steps that happen to be in vogue. All you have to do is be a good average dancer, and anybody who spends the time and effort can accomplish this.”

“I do everything the man does, only backwards and in high heels!”

“I try to feed my hunger rather than my appetite.”“The only way to enjoy anything in this life is to earn it first.”

“I don’t care what the critics say. My fabulous mom will give me a good review if nobody else does.”

“There are no small parts. Only small actors.”

“The kids today, they think they can dance with their faces.”

Savion Glover (b. 1973)

“Whether it is Jimmy Slyde or Lon Chaney or Gregory Hines, their dance shows what they experienced, what they had to go through.”

“I’m still growing, still learning. I’m still open and vulnerable enough to know there’s much more to be taught to me and learned by me. I hope I don’t reach my pinnacle on this earth where I think I know it all.

“The Nicholas Brothers were the best tap-dancers. I’m not talking about their flash-dancing, I’m talking about tap-dancing. They were really saying something with their feet.”

“I’m committed to the purity of my art form.”

“Other dances are like languages, like French or Spanish, but my steps are slang, and slang is always changing.”

“Every performance is different because I’m different; my mood is different.”

“I don’t deal in terminology, I deal with expressions: colors, shapes, tones, characteristics.

“I like to express myself inside of the work that is given, and I let the dancers do the same.

For me, the importance in learning about the dance is using it as a voice. It’s not about a step, it’s about a way to express oneself.”

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927)

Isadora Duncan, mother of modern dance and pioneer of feminism - Rome  Central Magazine

“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”

”The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.”

“Perhaps he was a bit different from other people, but what really sympathetic person is not a little mad?”

“It has taken me years of struggle, hard work and research to learn to make one simple gesture, and I know enough about the art of writing to realize that it would take as many years of concentrated effort to write one simple, beautiful sentence.”

“It seems to me monstrous that anyone should believe that the jazz rhythm expresses America. Jazz rhythm expresses the primitive savage.”

Jerome Robbins (1918-1998)

Exploring the Magic of Jerome Robbins | Houstonia Magazine

“Give me something to dance about and I’ll dance it.”

“Dance is like life. It exists as you are flitting through it, and when it’s over, it’s done.”

“Dance is low on the totem pole of the arts, because you’re not left with a painting… a book that will stay there, a score you can read.”

George Balanchine (1904-1983)

City Center Presents a Star-Studded Celebration of George Balanchine |  Playbill

“Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for – for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.”

“I don’t want people who want to dance; I want people who have to dance.”

“One is born to be a dancer. No teacher can work miracles, nor will years of training make a good dancer of an untalented pupil. One may be able to acquire a certain technical facility, but no one can ever ‘acquire an exceptional talent.’ I have never prided myself on having an unusually gifted pupil. A Pavlova is no one’s pupil but God’s.”

“Put a man and a girl on stage and there is already a story; a man and two girls, there’s already a plot.”

“See the music, hear the dance.”

Eleanor Powell (1912-1982)

Eleanor Powell - photos and quotes - Bizarre Los Angeles

“I’d rather dance than eat.”

“A tap dancer is really a frustrated drummer.”

“What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift to God.”

“The dance routines I created are like children to me. I don’t want to forget them.” 



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Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood
Bruce J. Wood, founder of AOIDE Bruce J. Wood has worked on Wall Street in business finance and strategy, and has written hundreds of finance business plans, strategic plans, economic feasibility studies, and economic impact studies. Bruce has lectured on creativity and strategic thinking, as well as worked on the development of numerous publishing, film, television, and performing arts projects, along with downtown revitalizations, using the arts as an economic catalyst. As an aficionado of music, art, and dance, Bruce is also a writer and an outdoor enthusiast. He has written poetry, blogs, articles, and many creative project concepts. He lives in the Metro Detroit area and enjoys writing poetry, backpacking, and ballroom dancing.

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