Spring 2024 - CA 228W D100

Dance Aesthetics (3)

Class Number: 6358

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Wed, 3:30–6:20 p.m.



An introduction to aesthetic theory as it applies to dance. Lectures will address, among other things, the nature of aesthetic experience, as well as issues pertaining to critical judgment, communication, taste, and high and low art. Students with credit for FPA 228W may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


This course explores the social work of dance, examining questions that complement practice-based technique and composition classes while also holding relevance for students from a range of other disciplines. Here, you will have the chance to think, read, and talk about the role of dance in public life. We will examine how particular expressions of dance are valued, how and what they communicate, how they transfer knowledge, and how they activate the public sphere. Because aesthetic value is context-specific (i.e., the where, what, who, when, and why determines how we experience), we will attend to how the particulars of site, embodiment, and audience-engagement shape the value attributed to various expressions of dance. To address these questions, we will survey the field of dance studies, drawing from leading international scholars and from local performance practitioners alike to explore the cultural work that dancing enacts. In order to understand the place of dance, we will contextualize the form within the wider fields of art and performance, with special attention to site-based practices that seek either to expose or to generate a direct link between the aesthetic and the everyday.

Throughout, we will query long-held understandings of high and low art, exploring the classed, raced, gendered, and other investments that underpin these formulations. Attending to the troubling politics of the Western theatrical canon even as we learn about significant moments and movements within it, will look to the aesthetics enacted in choreographies generated by Indigenous, Black, mixed-ability, and queer artists, among others—as well as the dynamic circulations of dance in the digital realm.

Our class will benefit from exposure to live performance, video footage, embodied experiments with dancing theory, and site-walks through the neighbourhood. We will devote a significant amount of time and energy to developing and getting comfortable with the verbal and written expression of dance-based ideas. Taking seriously the etymology of “choreography” (loosely: choreo = dance, graphy = to write), we will challenge the notion that dance is “ephemeral”—a fleeting form that leaves no trace—by honing our skills in movement description, dance analysis, and writing-as-thinking.


  • To understand the basic history and development of aesthetic theory as it relates to dance
  • To observe links between formal choreographic choices, aesthetic value, and meaningmaking
  • To understand dance practices as culturally-specific
  • To practice translating movement into words through thick description and critical analysis
  • To read, summarize, and analyze dance scholarship, including accurate identification of key concepts, assertions, and interventions in the work
  • To develop research questions and thesis statements
  • To make use of the SFU Library resources specific to a given topic
  • To translate research into writing in a variety of different scholarly forms: performance review, critical responses, summary, argumentative essay, blog post


  • Participation: attendance, engagement, and preparedness 10%
  • Low stakes writing reflections 10%
  • Performance Review/Response 10%
  • Research Proposal & Annotated Bibliography 15%
  • Final Project 30%
  • Presentation in student symposium 10%
  • Midterm essay (in-class) 15%




In lieu of a course textbook, you are required to purchase a ticket to one local dance show, which you can select from a list of options I will generate. I will circulate this list of possible shows early in the semester, along with the Performance Review assignment criteria.



All required readings are available as PDF documents on Canvas.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html