Dance in Musical Theatre [Book Chapter]

Liza Gennaro, Stacy Wolf
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Musical theater dance inhabits the intersection between choreography and written text, whether dialogue or sung lyric. Dance, as an extended expression of language, exemplifies the collaboration between choreographers and writers. This chapter defines and examines seven primary functions of dance in musicals: as an exploration of character in psychological terms, as a narrative tool, as an unspoken aspect of libretto, as a transitional device, to develop character, as metaphor, and as danced abstraction within the narrative. Focusing on the contributions of prominent musical theater choreographers, including Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, and Steven Hoggett, the chapter analyzes their methods, considering how each negotiates the balance between advancing a musical’s narrative and creating an innovative movement landscape within the structure and conditions of the written or sung text.


Gennaro, Liza and Wolf, Stacy. “Dance in Musical Theater,” The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Theater, (2015).