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What is style? Why Dancers are Researchers pt. 4

Fabian here from the think-team, back in another episode of why dancers are researchers and vice versa.

I’ve covered authenticity. I covered creativity. There is one word that keeps getting mentioned in both contexts – style. “Creativity allows them to separate themselves and become authentic”. “These dancers are authentic because they have their own style”. But what exactly is style? Today I’d like to pour my mind’s internal arguments to this blog. Mind you, this blog will be more of a freehand discussion than a well-constructed essay.

I started asking this question when people started asking me: “what style of dance do you do?” My answer depends on how much time I have to chat. If I don’t have a lot of time I will say, “oh either hip-hop or contemporary”. If I do have time I would say along the lines of “oh it’s an intersection of street and modern dance with influences from many other genres”. This statement has a lot to do with the impostor syndrome, as I don’t believe I am a good representative of either dance communities. At the same time, this also allows me to articulate my true thoughts about how I prefer to express myself through movement. I simply don’t feel like I represent one genre. But wait, is style a genre? Then how do you have your own style?

In many ways it is and it isn’t. The Oxford Dictionary defines style as “a manner of doing something”. While genre “a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” Then I think in many cases, style can include genres but can cut across them as well. Inevitably a personal style may overlap with one or some genre(s).

To illustrate, here’s a clip of Lex, a dancer with a very unique style. Apart from the mesmerizing acrobatics, his flow, musicality, and technique are something I'd die for. More importantly, you can see various influences to his style. His turns and perfectly pointed toes do not hide his strong ballet background. But the way he moves draw influences from popping and breaking. He has a wide vocabulary, essentially making him a melting pot.

Style is not exclusive to dance – e.g. music, clothing, graphic design. I started thinking, If style is sometimes associated with genres in the world of art, would genre then be equivalent to ‘disciplines’ in research? I would argue that it isn’t. Research is still in the realm of art, and in this realm, style is a lot about communication and expression. In this case, the genres in research aren’t the fields, but more on the form of communication - specific writing formats e.g. narratives, reviews, discussions. Style is then the manner of writing. I'll come back to this one in a bit.

When I entered the world of Neuroscience, I did not realize that there were papers that were labelled “discussion”. Neuroscience is a relatively new field with limited technologies to give us information that we want. Meaning, interpretations are always up for a debate! The most notable one was in language, where there is a gap between neurolinguistics (studying the biological basis of languages in the brain) and computational linguistics (using machine learning to predict the brain). I have never read such papers. It was so fascinating to read that I started questioning why am I reading so many conventional papers.

In I was finally exposed to other papers aside from the conventional methodology -> results -> discussion etc. I was writing a narrative (also known as discourse analysis). I have yet to hone my skills in writing this type of paper, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I started appreciating my fellow giftmaker's writing styles. I think has taught me to be well-rounded in story-telling. This could be a separate discussion on its own.

How do you then find your own style? Is it innate?

I think it is and it isn’t. Style is result of a decision, both conscious and unconscious of various things. Style will always be formed or inspired from past experiences. To build your own style, you simply need to express yourself. To polish it, then I think you need to explore. The more you explore, the more references you have, the more you are able to find ways to communicate. Then you will find your preference - ‘taste’. Your taste is exclusively yours and something people can't take from you. This then relates back to authenticity.

If it’s so unimportant to put people in boxes, why is it important to talk about style?

This could really be a long argument as there are chauvinists that absolutely do not want to add any form of labels to themselves. However, I think it’s nice to use these labels to be relatable. If style has a lot to do with communication, then style allows people to resonate with each other. Style also has more to do with exploring everyone's potential rather than putting people in boxes. For instance, in fashion, it allows me to understand who looks good in what. Similarly, in research who is best at writing what. By exposing styles, we allow people to choose what fits best to them.

At the end of the day, we need boundaries to cross them. I once heard that a great artist studies the rules to master how to break them. And I think that’s also one way of finding your own style. Finding ways, not to create something completely new, but to break down what exists and sweep the audience with something familiarly unfamiliar. Something foreign yet understandable.

But why do we encourage new styles to be formed?

New styles give new perspectives. Broadening perspective allow new ways to communicate. New words create new sentences, new movements create new choreographies. New perspectives may shed light on new avenues to explore. More importantly, new things provide new meaning to arts, sciences, life.

Thank you for reading my blog. It may not be a very structured blog, but I hope it sparks some stimulating discussions around art. I think it is more fun to talk about things without fixed definitions. I hope you find value in forming your own style or at least reflect where you are at. This way, moving forward in life becomes more interesting.

See you next week!

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