Tag Archives: dance versus MA

I don’t understand everyone’s obsessiveness about dancing and fighting? Am I the only one?

No, you’re certainly not the only one baffled by this. I’d have to check, but we got something like five or six asks in October regarding using dancing. It’s also not the only oddball topic that keeps coming up. We also get a bunch of are characters losing arms and/or eyes. The frequency for these is just weird, and the answers don’t really change. Which can lead to a little irritation.

I don’t actually know where it’s coming from, but I can make some educated guesses.

Most of the time, when it does pop up in fiction, dance fighters get presented as superlative masters of combat, and it’s ultimately a cheat. The literary equivalent of a munchkin picking up random skills because it might let them trick the DM into giving them a +1 BAB.

Of course, the world doesn’t work that way… but I can certainly understand people clinging to this idea because it’s what makes their character a special unique snowflake.

This can be especially attractive to writers who want to create a character that can fight proficiently, but don’t want to have to put the time into developing their skills… the character’s skills, though I suppose that statement could apply to either one.

So, here I am, once again, saying, “nope, dancing will not make your martial artist a better fighter.”

The other strand of thought seems to be, because some styles, like Wushu, look light and floaty, there seems to be the idea that the movements are light and floaty. And, therefore, any ballerina can perform Wushu because it’s what they’ve already been trained in.

They can’t, because martial arts and dance are graded on a different metric. It’s like taking a term paper and trying to use it in two separate classes in different departments. Dance is about looking good, while practical martial arts are about breaking another human being. You don’t want to break people when dancing, because that’s generally frowned upon, and you don’t care about looking good as a fighter because not dying is (usually) a higher priority.

But, it keeps coming up, because they saw a ballerina doing terrible martial arts on TV.

Michi’s got two more approaches on top of this, and since she’s trying to limit her keyboard time…

You have writers that latch onto it because they think it’s an unexpected twist. Even though, now, it’s rapidly turning into a cliche. Because dancers or cheerleaders aren’t in “real sports,” you get, “but, surprise, they’re secretly super fighters.”

What neither of us have been saying is they can’t learn martial arts, but, at best, it’s not a quick way to skip the learning curve. They still have to learn all the aspects that their training in a different form of physical exertion didn’t prepare them for. Dancers, cheerleaders, and many other sports derided for being “girly” aren’t actually any less physically taxing than say football, baseball, or combat. There’s definitely crossover between the two, but the devil is in the details. We need to accept that a girl doing martial arts doesn’t make them any less feminine, just as training to become a ballerina doesn’t make a man any less masculine. However, having your super fighter be a professional dancer is also not a means of keeping that character inside a feminine archetype to make them feel more acceptable.

Alternately, trying to write a martial artist can be intimidating, if you’ve never really gotten to know any. But, a dancer can just be anyone. If you’re hung up on the Orientalist idea that all martial artists are zen masters with a degree in philosophy, the idea of, “but my dancer can do it,” can be pretty appealing.

Of course, very few martial artists are actually zen masters, nor do they automatically gain mystical insights into the universe. And, of the two of us, it’s the Eagle Scout, not the third degree black belt that’s more likely to write the posts on philosophy, morality, or ethics.


Oh, just thought of something… Some time ago, someone asked if a dancer could fight, and I came to the decision that, perhaps, if he would use something close to the idea behind Yang style Taijiquan, since there is very little tension in the movements, as you mostly direct the enemy around your core and throw and push and pull… Hard to do, but perhaps possible :3

That was othersidhe’s question and I think it was more along the lines of the dancer’s dances made it look like he could fight instead of actually being able to fight and whether or not there were any martial styles that overlapped with dancing instead of hiding your martial art inside of a dance and hoping no one notices or looks too closely to see the tells.

There are definitely ways to make it work, the problem is that the author actually needs to work hard to justify the why part of the equation. You can, ironically, get more mileage out of a character who looks like they’re capable of fighting via their dancing versus a character who looks like they’re fighting in their dancing and can actually fight.

It’s a deception question, a martial art that’s designed to look like a dance but now looks like fighting has broken the illusion. The goal in hiding a martial art in a dance is to make the character look less dangerous as opposed to making them look more dangerous. However, disguising the martial art, whatever martial art that is, takes a fair amount of work on the part of the martial artist. So, there has to be a significant and important reason for why they are expending that much effort.

For example: most of the major martial arts out there that incorporate dance (like Taekkyon or Capoeira) do so because there was a reason why the martial forms needed to be hidden and the practice of traditional martial combat was outlawed. The other reason why a martial style may include dance (such as in some folk dances from different cultures around the world) is because the dance expresses something important to the understanding of the cultures’ celebrations or belief system and the martial style itself. This is pretty much part of where the performance aspect of modern Tournament culture in the US comes from.

People always find ways around restrictions. Some of the most famous weaponry (excluding the katana) out of Japan like the nunchaku and the kama were originally farming tools used by peasants to defend themselves against bandits. During the Edo era in Japan only the Samurai class was allowed to own weapons, peasants were forced to rely on their local lord or samurai for protection. But no system works perfectly, so they developed weapons and martial forms out of the tools they used daily, in order to hide what they needed to protect themselves from those who would punish them.

So it’s more a question of: is there a reason why they should be hiding their martial art and are there enough people around them who are doing the same to be able to support the illusion? For a style to actually be a style there has to be more than one or two people practicing it, otherwise what your character is doing starts to look very obvious to the outside observer even one who is not familiar with the culture in question.


FightWrite: Martial Arts versus Dancing

othersidhe asked: Are there dances that incorporate actual Martial Arts? My character is a dancer but not a fighter, and his dances look like MA. The moves would not be viable in an actual fight, correct? I would think training for dancing would be very different from fighting. Should I have him trying to learn MA to improve his dancing, or does that matter?

Capoeira is the only martial art I know of that specifically incorporates dancing and it does so for a very specific reason. When the African slaves were brought to Brazil, they knew that they needed to a way to preserve their traditional fighting arts but had to do so in a way that appeared innocuous. Weapons and fighting were forbidden for slaves, so they developed Capoeira. Capoeira is a martial form that’s been specifically designed to look like dancing to trick the viewer into seeing something that’s not there. But it’s evolution was one that was based in necessity and not choice.

That’s pretty much it, Joss Whedon got into trouble with Summer Glau’s fight sequences in Serenity because he tried to have her learn one of the most difficult of all the martial forms: Wushu (which is a catchall phrase for Kung Fu, but the style itself is the official form of the Chinese Government), which looks light, airy, and whose practitioners move with boneless grace. To the untrained eye it could (and for some does) look like interpretive dance. The issue for her was that while her training as a ballerina was designed to make her light as air, the crucial moment of switchover from light to weight isn’t there in her hits. Her connections with the stuntmen in her strikes are more of a batting motion, like watching a kitten try to play with a butterfly. It’s cute, but the trained observer doesn’t expect it to, you know, do anything. Again, it’s not her fault, Michelle Yeoh has the same problem in some of her early work when she was making the transition from ballerina to martial artist. Her technical skill is better even in the early days(but if there’s one thing the Chinese movie industry does well it’s action), but when she also throws her hits it’s without the expectation of connecting, so the muscles don’t tighten up right in the split second before the hit occurs. They either tighten up too early or, in Summer Glau’s case, don’t at all. Much like Yeoh, I fully expect Summer Glau to rapidly improve over time, her fighting is actually much better in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The problem is that dance and MA are doing two different things even when their motions are similar. A dancer doesn’t train to expect resistance as they move from one pattern to the next, their legs and arms will move without the possibility of being intentionally impeded by someone else’s body. A martial artist trains with the idea that they will be fighting someone else, after they learn their combinations a good instructor will put their student on pads and paddles so that they can practice for their foot connecting with someone else. The muscles must be trained to relax and then tighten in the split second prior to impact and then relax again less than a second afterward, if the muscles tighten too early then a kick or a punch will lose the strength of force and impact, too late and it’s bouncing off their stomach or head. So, no, the dances won’t work in an actual fight.

Studying an MA won’t really help his dancing, because again what he needs to do to dance and what the MA is asking him to do are two different things. If you’re really looking for a supplementary skill set that can lead him to MA, I suggest gymnastics and tumbling (real tumbling, not Tumblr tumbling). Most high end MA performers study gymnastics to help them improve and supplement their performance art (for tournament demonstrations and open forms). This is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k_frX9bmpU

That’s the West Coast World Action Team doing what they do best at the 2002 Master Test. It’s called Tricking, it’s a part and parcel to the other side of tournament exhibitions. The performance side of MA is pretty much as close as you get to dance, but as you can see here even that’s different. (There’s a decent chance I was there either volunteering or testing, though I don’t think I was testing…the test lasts all day (for the masters it’s three to four days), this was during the night show the testers put on for family and friends.) The little one is Destiny Reyes, she’s about six or seven.

Anyway, I hope that’s helpful.


wetmattos said: Oh, I know one which has great resemblance to dancing: Taekkyeon! tinyurl.com/luwcp2e It has shared moves with some korean folk dances! I’ve heard as well of martial arts being hidden as dancing in other places, I’ll take a look :3

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more common, the trick is to watch the kicks and the points when the hands intend to connect. The point where they tighten up is certainly much faster than Taekwondo but you still get that teeny bit of “kick and stick” right when the kick is at it’s climax before it recoils. It’s similar to some of the more esoteric looking Kung Fu disciplines that really do look like dance. Still, Taekkyeon is beautiful, so thanks for sharing!