As a professor of dance at The University of South Florida, and as one who has spent his career immersed deep within the genre of dance, I have long believed that dance can express where words fail. Indeed, in this landscape of words, texts and new symbols created as a means of communication, movement has and always does exist to illustrate feelings, concepts and nuances on a deeper level of understanding. As an example, I often speak to my students to think of the three words “I love you.” We hear this phrase many times in our lifetime, and perhaps through repetition, the meaning can get blurred or understood only on a surface level through the reoccurring speaking of these same words. Yet, if an individual who truly loves you looks silently into your eyes, and simply reaches out to touch your cheek, the “feeling” of love or caring can be felt more deeply with this gesture of movement, than merely speaking the words. To this end, I was quoted in our USF Arts Calendar as stating that I believed art and/or dance exists where words fail, and only feeling exists.

I have held this sentiment both as a performer as a soloist with The Pennsylvania Ballet Company, and now as a professor at USF’s School of Theatre and Dance. My research in the investigation of using dance via the vehicle of a dance music video to communicate stems from this belief. Specifically, my creative research agenda has been to develop a new language using dance in the architecture of social awareness and education.

This agenda began in 2011 when I was commissioned by the Florida Department of Health to develop dance music videos to help educate cleaning staffs about effective cleaning strategies. I then used this idea to produce videos on important social topics, including a bullying video in 2012, and a dating violence video in 2013. Both videos subsequently were adopted by organizations world-wide. Following the success of the dating violence video, I embarked upon the creative research project of a new video, one geared towards suicide awareness, specifically to illustrate the role of the gatekeeper: recognizing warning signs and getting those at risk to talk and to seek help.

For this new video, I was fortunate to work with a professional crew of dancers who including those from the renowned international dance company Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, as well as three of the USF dancers I handpicked as having the potential to carry off the required dance material in addition to the acting skills needed to portray the issues. The collective cast approached the work professionally, with the utmost respect for the topic issue.

I would like anyone who views these videos to take away messages that are imbedded within their constructs, and to also embody or “feel” the experiences displayed to better understand the concepts on a deeper, physical level. It is my belief that the use of dance and movement can facilitate this process. I also believe that by using strong visual images, students can engage more in the process of learning about the subjects portrayed. This idea, coupled with the notion of the physical embodiment of feelings and senses displayed through dance can supply more investment in the process of awareness and education. This in turn can perhaps lead to a more fertile environment for discussions and dialogues pertaining to bullying, dating violence and suicide awareness.

Written by Andrew Carroll, Assistant Professor, School of Theatre and Dance, The University of South Florida