The Plagiarism Problem

Critics noticed remarkable similarities between Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danst Rosas, pictured here, and sections of Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video. (©Herman Sorgeloos)

When the music video for Beyoncé’s hit song “Countdown” premiered last fall, fans were charmed, not alarmed, by its references to Audrey Hepburn’s zany dancing in Funny Face and its incorporation of popular dance styles from the ’60s and ’70s. But then a video mashup appeared comparing sections of “Countdown” to works by Belgian dancemaker Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and many cried foul: Some of the choreography, sets and costumes in Beyoncé’s video appeared to copy de Keersmaeker’s work exactly. When faced with accusations of plagiarism, Beyoncé defended herself by explaining that she’d used de Keersmaeker’s work as inspiration. But de Keersmaeker wasn’t impressed. Taking the choreography out of context “robbed it of its original power,” she said.

The “‘Countdown’ controversy” is the perfect example of the murky waters choreographers wade into when searching for ideas. The saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” may be true, but that doesn’t mean you can look at someone else’s creation, tweak it a little and call it your own. Then again, all new ideas come from somewhere—so where do we draw the line? When it comes to choreography, what’s the difference between being inspired and stealing?

Copycat Consequences

While the universal technique of classical ballet makes for a slightly more accepted tradition of borrowing (who can say they own “piqué, glissade, jeté”?), modern and contemporary choreographers often speak a language all their own. “You can be

inspired by choreographers from Merce Cunningham to de Keersmaeker,” says Kitty Daniels, chair of Cornish College of the Arts’ dance department. “But to duplicate their movement phrases exactly is a violation of intellectual property rights.”

That said, intellectual property rights, especially when it comes to dance, are incredibly complicated. Without a clear legal definition of “dance plagiarism,” it’s difficult for choreographers who feel they’ve been ripped off to retaliate. Established artists can sometimes protect themselves by copyrighting their work (and stealing from copyrighted works, such as George Balanchine’s ballets, can land you in court). But amateurs—particularly on the competition circuit—can’t do much when they’re copied, and often end up feeling hurt and discouraged. Kelly Burke of Westchester Dance Academy has seen her pieces being videotaped by audience members planning to copy the routine, music and costumes. “Obviously that takes finding inspiration to an unacceptable level,” she says.

Even well-known artists sometimes find themselves helpless against plagiarism. Choreographer Mandy Moore recently saw her work replicated on a foreign version of “Dancing with the Stars”—without her prior knowledge or permission. “I was disappointed more than anything,” she says. “I felt sorry for the choreographer who wasn’t creative enough to take what they liked about my piece and allow it to help them move in their own way.”

Inspiration, Not Imitation

So how do you make the leap from admiring someone else’s work to making work that is your very own—inspired by what you’ve seen, but with your personal stamp? Kaylee Turner, a student at The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV, says that she and her teammates reference “movies, videos or a certain era to channel a character or get into a mind frame that everyone on the team can relate to.” Then they use their individual strengths to elaborate on the basic movements, making them unique. “For example, I’m a grounded dancer, so to put my own spin on a movement, I would probably use my plié,” she says. “Or if I’m working with dancers who have nice extension, I’ll add phrases that emphasize that stretch.”

Troy Ogilvie, a dancer with contemporary company Gallim Dance, points out that when it comes to inspiration vs. plagiarism, context matters—a lot. “Using elements is different than using a whole package,” she says. Taking a short phrase here or there from a piece or imitating its overall style is usually acceptable. But “when bigger sections of a work are severed from the original, the original creator is put in the awkward situation of past ownership of a now warped message,” Ogilvie says—and that’s when things get tricky.

Moore thinks that with the extraordinary amount of dance everyone sees online and on TV shows, it’s possible that choreographers don’t even realize they’re plagiarizing. “Sometimes the copying is subconscious—people regurgitate movement they’ve seen repeatedly and think it’s their own,” she says. Be mindful about the way you use your DVR queue or online videos while preparing choreo. It’s OK to watch an amazing dance over and over, but make sure its style isn’t drowning out your own voice.

Ultimately, context and intention are what make the difference between using someone else’s work to inspire your own creativity and merely recycling what’s already been done. Be honest with yourself as a choreographer. Use the fantastic tools that are out there, but as Burke says, “Let’s embrace and learn from others, not copy them.”

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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