1. Dance defines itself. If you had a quarter for every time you've heard someone say "But that's not dance," you'd be a wealthy person, and they'd still be wrong. It's dance if the artist says it is. Then the question becomes, "Is it any good?" You can see dance in the theater and on the street, in a living room full of friends or a pasture full of cows. You can see dancing people, horses, puppets, and school buses. You can see dance as art, dance as entertainment, dance as religion, dance as social activity. There are dances that teach children how to behave within their culture and dances that encourage us to buy more blue jeans. Some of it is great, some of it is crap, most of it shows us something about the performer or about ourselves, and all of it is dance.
2. Pee before you go. The second slide at the press conference for the upcoming Opera House remodel was "twice as many women's toilets," but until that happy day you need to think strategically. In general, try to come to events ready to leave your concerns outside the door, which means clothes you can sit in, food in your stomach, and a jacket you can sit on if the chairs are hard. This may sound like the audience manners lecture you got in grade school, but be honest: If your shoes pinch, are you really able to pay attention to something else?
3. When it rains... We're not talking about the weather, but about the calendar. After years of tearing hair and complaining about schedules, performances still seem to come in bunches, leaving us with some hard decisions. This autumn we either have to make a choice between the Seattle debut of Alonzo King's Lines Contemporary Ballet (Meany Hall, 543-4880; opens Nov. 1) and the return of Twyla Tharp (Paramount Theatre, 292-ARTS; opens Nov. 2), or spend most of our free time in the theater the first weekend in November. Sounds like the second option is best.
4. Beware friends bearing flowers. You might not want to talk about the performance while you're still in the theater, and you should really try not to say anything within hearing distance of bouquet-toting audience members. They're usually family or friends of the performers and though they will rarely say anything directly, you might get some nasty looks after a comment that is less than complimentary. It boils down to remembering that dancers are people willing to let you watch them, and even when the program is awful you should honor that generosity.
5. A full mailbox is a happy one. You can't go to something if you don't know it's happening. The Weekly's calendar is as thorough as we can make it, but many of us like to plan further in advance, and to do that you need to get those cute little postcards that everyone sends out. They say it's direct mail that's keeping the post office from total bankruptcy, so keep your eyes open for those mailing list sign-up sheets, and use the old postcards to decorate your bathroom.
6. Go opening night. Yes, this is a mixed experience. For many events, opening night is the final dress rehearsal they should have had the night before, but that combination of newness and nerves just doesn't come across in later performances. Often this is the show that the producers assume the critics will see, and they'll program and cast it with that in mind. Most of your dancer friends would rather you come later in a run, but there's something about seeing that thrill (excitement, worry, nausea) in the eyes of the people on stage.
7. Yes, dancers can talk. And you should hear what they have to say. This is another piece of mixed advice. After all, dance is (mostly) a nonverbal activity, and there are some choreographers who are only literate in movement, but we should still hear what they have to say. Go to the pre- and post-show chats when you can, read the program notes and newspaper articles, and listen to the radio interviews—take the opportunity to find out what they think is going on in their work and see if it matches up with your ideas.
8. Stop apologizing. It's true you will never know Kathak dancing as well as someone who was raised as a temple performer. You will never understand the gestural detail of the Balinese Legong as well as those women who can bend their fingers backwards to their forearms after decades of practice. You will never hear polyrhythms in the same way as someone steeped in the traditional dances of the Balkans, or the street dances of New York City. You cannot be the masters that they are, but you can recognize their skills and know that your experience of their work is legitimate, too. Those dances, and many others, contain vital information about their history and their culture, and when you see them, you become a witness. Appreciation is not expertise, but it is a validation of ability, an acknowledgment of importance, and one way that a white, middle-class girl raised in the suburbs can feel like she's a part of the dance.