Dance Being the Lost Art in the Eye of Hegel’s Aesthetics.

Unlike other medium of art such as sculpture, painting, architecture, and ceramics, ancient dance is a lost art, because “dance is an art passed down through lived, embodied traditions.”1 Dance’s evolution is unseen since it can only be proven to be visible in a longer existence of duration after the invention of film. Its characteristic of expressing through both two-, three-, and four-dimensions including time is what makes is underrated and overlooked comparing to other forms of art since it I lack in evidence and production. However, what makes dance so special according to Susanne K. Langer in the first chapter The Dynamic Image: Some Philosophical Reflections of Dance of her book Problems of Arts, “the first objectification of human nature, the first true art, is Dance.”2 In my opinion, dance “At the dawn of civilization, had already reached a degree of perfection that no other an or science could match,”3 is the perfect form of art, meaning the Absolute art in Hegel’s ideology of art, which is art being the creation of human that allows divine within humanity itself. Dance itself therefore is the divine form of art which can be so flexible that not only be symbolic, classical art, but also the highest form of art in Hegel’s perspective, romantic art. The criteria to categorize arts is taking the consideration of its form and content, which is crucial in interpretating Hegel’s philosophical definition of fine arts.

A symbol in Hegel’s book Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art Section 1: The Symbolic Form of Art, is stated to be “by its very nature remains essentially ambiguous,”4 and which means that there is a loose connection between the shape of content of the art. For example, the pyramid as the house of dead. The purpose of the pyramid is to stop the natural cycle of decaying of the body, is to separate the spirit and physical body of humans. However, the size of the heavy triangled shape pyramid doesn’t seem to be planned ahead or be purposely built to meet the essential meaning of itself. The mystery of the form of pyramid is ambiguous yet there are some hints for it to hold some unsure meaning. In this way, modern dance especially in improvision, being the free, emotional, expressive, and symbolic style of dance can be symbolic if the body being the form and material of the artwork, and the conceptual container with no planned ahead choreography or intended purpose to be perceived, then the movement will seem to hold so many meanings relating solely on the emotion of the dancer. Dance in this case can be freely interpreted by environment, costume, flow, feeling, tempo, speed, facial expression, music, spatial arrangement, technique, and etc. elements by the audience. For example, improvisation with a visual image through the “mind’s eye”5 for the audiences with no knowledge or chance to view the exact image of the image in dancer’s mind can be symbolic. In order to output effective content, and let audiences perceive the content without too many doubts or with too few limitations of guidelines, shape must be processed. One possible reason why modern dance can be symbolic art is because its highly expressiveness that challenges classical ballet’s rigid form and fixed structure of the body, thus making its form to be as freely and less connected with the content.

Ballet being a classical dance form has a very tight relationship between its form and content. The idea line and precise movement system make it itself, therefore, being the classical art like classical Greek architecture and sculpture, the movement, being the form of the dance has the follow a rigid and already build system that does not allow error or misunderstanding. The system and requirement are universal as well, though there are different style across the world such as Vaganova and Balanchine. Purely on aesthetic purpose and the pursue of perfection and technique make movements in a ballet itself. The training for ballet is very intensive and through repetition of fixed movement, the muscle is shaped in a distinct way. The muscle memory of each fixed move just in different combination make ballet impossible to withhold the quality like modern dance does.

Consequently, the beauty of classical art isn’t the ultimate form of spirit since spirit elevated and art that holds it elevated into what Hegel refer as romantic art. The true beauty to Hegel is not just the perfect classical art which the form and content fits tightly, but it is the sensuous expression of Ideal that goes beyond form and content. As Susanne claims in her writing, dancers “do not create the materials of the dance-neither their own bodies nor the cloth that drapes them, nor the floor, nor any of the ambient space, light, musical tone, the forces of gravity, nor any other physical provisions; all these things they use, to create something over and above what is physically there: the dance.”6 Contemporary dance and famous dance piece that does not limit itself to specific dance style but utilizes dance as the medium is considered romantic art. With narration, universal concepts, purposely made alignment, position and arrangement, philosophical thinking and reference, critical presentation, reflection of social issue, intentional clear thought-provoking idea, and etc. would make contemporary dance one of the dance style that can embrace the Absolute in Hegel’s stance. Contemporary dance has the ability to utilize the body to reflect so many aspects of the universe philosophically. For example, the idea of time of renewal of the nature, life and death, sacrifice in The Rite of Spring by the great choreographer Pina Bausch, the way of arranging the dancers, how they interact with the soil on stage, how the soil gradually stain the white costume, the dynamic formation, expression and clear rise and fall, the thought process and purposefully set of the stage all serve towards the plot and philosophy behind, which is the content. Yet the form of the body of every dancer varies with a fixed choreography and understanding of the dance. Contemporary dance really embodies the magical that is created by the relationship of the choreography and forms, which is the bodies of different dancers. There is the form that can shape into and serve toward the diversity of the content with different training background of dancers and also their own way of moving. On the other hand, under the same content each body dance differently, as Susanne quotes ‘inner life.’7 It is the characteristic of cherishing individuality, which is the containers of different spirits already, but all collect into this same content in the dance and also being the work, itself makes Pina’s work romantic art. In addition to The Rite of Spring, where soil stain the costume as the time progressed, the idea of metaphysics and humanity can also be found in Café Muller, where there is repetition and manipulation of speed is presented. Contemporary dance as romantic art can also be found in William Kentridge’s The Refusal of Time. He utilizes dance, sculpture, costume, animation, film, space, drawings, speech, props, and graphic design which allows the content to be explored in the dance within the entire artwork through so many various medium. At the same time, all the work within the work can be an artwork alone by itself, and also withhold the ability to interact and create reaction with one another.

Every moment in dance is epic, is an art piece itself. Dance can not only be presented on live stage nowadays, which gives more possibility and space for it to develop and explore that may annotate more creative question of the universe. Dance is the heritage of the history, we are moving and embracing like our ancestor and communicate through time and space. However, with all being stated, there is a possibility and unclear boundary existing between dance and performing art and fake art in modern age that deceives audiences. Just by putting sequences of movement on stage or other environment that produce dance can’t define the movement being a dance. Or just move the untreated body without the texture that the trained body can present, such as a daily movement of waving the hand, won’t make this behavior a dance. It is true that every body can be a dancer’s body, but only with the texture that result by training and strong connection between the mind and body, can the presentation of movement be defined as dance. Because dance can be called dance require either exaggerated and impressive abnormal movement, intentional movement, movement apart from daily action, special or impactful treatment, and designated texture of the movement to express the designed content and feeling that is different from a normal body to effectively affect the viewer to generate purposefully thoughts and feeling.

[1]New York University, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, “HYMN TO APOLLO: The Ancient World and the Ballets Russes,” Accessed March, 2019.

[2]Susanne K Langer, “The Dynamic Image: Some Philosophical Reflections of Dance,” in Problems of Art (New York, NY: CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS, 1957), pp. 1-12.


[4] Hegel Georg Wilhelm Friedrich and T. M. Knox, Aesthetics. Lectures on Fine Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. 303-310.

[5] Irene Dowd, Taking Root to Fly: Articles on Functional Anatomy (New York: I. Dowd, 2016), 7.

[6]Susanne K Langer, “The Dynamic Image: Some Philosophical Reflections of Dance,” in Problems of Art (New York, NY: CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS, 1957), pp. 1-12.