Dancing with AI: Unveiling the Potentials and Pitfalls of ChatGPT for a New Wave of Dance Critics and Criticism

Deanne Kearney*

Abstract

This study aims to examine the multifaceted implications of employing ChatGPT in dance criticism, focusing on its potential for instant editing, the ability to aid writing in diverse critical styles and its potential pitfalls, such as algorithmic biases, privacy and copyright issues and the perpetuation of racist or incorrect stereotypes within movement and dance genres. I argue that ChatGPT will initiate a new age of dance criticism, different from the scholarly attention that has been given to the transition to digital criticism. This research will explore the extent to which biases in training data can impact the quality and objectivity of ChatGPT’s output in relation to dance and movement. By identifying and addressing these pitfalls, this study aims to promote responsible AI integration into dance criticism, ensuring that critics harness ChatGPT’s potential while remaining vigilant against the adverse effects of algorithmic biases.

Keywords: digital dance criticism, artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, ethical AI use, algorithmic bias

This paper delves into the multifaceted implications of employing ChatGPT in dance criticism. By examining its potential for instant editing, aiding diverse critical styles and website creation and optimization, I hope to reveal this technology’s exciting possibilities for a new wave of dance critics. Simultaneously, I will address the ethical concerns, algorithmic biases, privacy and copyright concerns and potential perpetuation of stereotypes that warrant careful consideration as we turn to this new era of AI-assisted criticism.

This study seeks to contribute to the scholarly discourse surrounding AI integration in the field of dance and dance criticism, aiming to empower dance writers and critics while fostering responsible AI use. The journey I embarked upon with ChatGPT has only just begun, and I am eager to share my findings and insights with the academic and dance criticism community. I have limited this study to using ChatGPT, version 3.5, created by OpenAI, due to its historical significance within the evolving landscape of AI-generated content, its notable model size and complexity and my personal experience with it. ChatGPT, standing for Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, is a large language model-based chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched on November 30, 2022 (OpenAI 2022). By January 2023, it had become the fastest-growing consumer software application in history, gaining over 100 million users (Browne). 

I consider this inquiry a timely opportunity to question and reimagine how technology intersects with our understanding and critique of dance and theater performances. While the technology discussed in this paper is perpetually evolving and may become outdated upon publication, the insights offered here serve as a snapshot, capturing a specific moment in time concerning the ethical and practical implications of AI in dance criticism.

My First Encounters with ChatGPT

My journey started when I first encountered ChatGPT and was unsure where to even begin. My initial instinct was to test ChatGPT’s aptitude in the domain of dance. As a Ph.D. Candidate in Dance Studies, dance is the subject I feel I know best. My primary intent was to examine whether ChatGPT could transcend the prevailing superficial understanding of dance that often pervades online dance discourse. However, my initial skepticism soon gave way to excitement and fascination.

My first question to the AI chatbot was: “What was Edwin Denby’s best piece of writing?” I thought asking a specific question about a specific dance writer would quickly test its knowledge. At first, I was disappointed to see a generic biography of Denby, but then surprised that it did identify his acclaimed essay on Balanchine’s “Agon” from the book Dance Writings (1986). It stated that it is widely considered his finest contribution to dance criticism (ChatGPT).

Curiosity piqued, I requested it to write a review of a recent show, any show, in the style of Edwin Denby. It chose a piece by Dance Theatre of Harlem (DToH); although the review was incredibly generic sounding, I was amazed at the details it was choosing. I then instructed ChatGPT to emulate the writing style of another revered dance critic, Deborah Jowitt. To my delight, it skillfully modified the previous review, evoking the distinct voice that characterizes Jowitt’s critiques (ChatGPT).

Upon requesting a differentiation between the two iterations, ChatGPT swiftly spits out a comparison, elucidating the divergent stylistic choices, thematic focuses and tonal nuances encompassed within each interpretation:

The two reviews differ in their writing styles and their emphasis on certain aspects of the performance.

The first review is written in the style of Edwin Denby, a prominent dance critic known for his incisive commentary and keen eye for detail. The review focuses on the technical aspects of the performance, highlighting the dancers’ precision, virtuosity, and emotional expressiveness. The review also provides historical context, noting the tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the timeless nature of “Revelations.”

In contrast, the second review is written in the style of Deborah Jowitt, another influential dance critic who is known for her lyrical writing style and focus on the emotional impact of dance. The review emphasizes the emotional resonance of the performance, highlighting the joy, sensuality, and resilience conveyed by the dancers. The review also notes the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity, reflecting a contemporary concern for representation in the arts.

Overall, while both reviews cover the same performance, they offer different perspectives and highlight different aspects of the experience. (ChatGPT)

I continued this process for a while, asking for writing by further dance critics and new reviews of its own choosing. This rendered reviews and insights about Arlene Croce, Anna Kisselgoff and Judith Mackrell. The way ChatGPT parsed and distilled the distinctive writing styles of these critics in mere seconds was nothing short of remarkable to me at the time, revealing its inherent aptitude for nuanced textual analysis.

Embarking on a journey to discover more about my writing style, I dared to ask ChatGPT to analyze my dance writing from two websites: my writing portfolio and my dance review website. It, again, very quickly spit out descriptors for my writing. It assessed that my writing was “clear, accessible, thoughtful, with notable attention to detail and nuance and delves into choreographic choices and the dancers’ performances” (ChatGPT). It stated that overall, my writing was engaging and insightful, aimed at both dance enthusiasts and general audiences alike. All descriptions that align with the primary objective of my writing and reviews.

When I asked where it was getting this information, it stated:

I analyzed the websites of Deanne Kearney (deannekearney.com and dancedebrief.ca) to determine her writing style. I read several of her articles and reviews to get a sense of her writing style, paying attention to factors such as tone, language, level of technical detail, and audience. From this analysis, I was able to provide a description of Kearney’s writing style. (ChatGPT[1])

Curiosity compelled me to seek feedback, leading ChatGPT to offer valuable insights for improvement. However, its willingness to offer constructive critique was contingent upon me identifying myself as the author. The ensuing guidance, spanning clarity, editing, voice, and consistency, served as a blueprint for refining my craft. To help with defining voice, I asked ChatGPT to rewrite a review I had written[2] in the style of different famous dance critics in a table format, and here is what it provided:

 

Dance CriticStyleReview
Edwin DenbyDescriptiveThe opening of “Les Corps Avales” by Compagnie Virginie Brunelle at Harbourfront Centre was a marvel of skillful choreography. The dancers moved with fluid grace and precision, their movements perfectly synchronized to the music.
Arlene CroceOpinionatedWhile the technical skill of the dancers in “Les Corps Avales” was impressive, I found myself disconnected from the emotional core of the piece. It seemed to rely too heavily on gimmicks and flashy movements, rather than allowing the dancers to truly connect with the audience.
Judith MackrellContextualIn the context of contemporary dance, “Les Corps Avales” by Compagnie Virginie Brunelle is a notable addition to the genre. The blending of traditional ballet movements with more modern styles created a unique and engaging experience for the audience.
Alastair MacaulayComparativeWhen compared to other recent dance performances, “Les Corps Avales” by Compagnie Virginie Brunelle fell somewhat flat. While the dancers were certainly talented, the choreography lacked the innovation and risk-taking that I have come to expect from contemporary dance.
Deborah JowittNarrativeAs the dancers of Compagnie Virginie Brunelle took the stage in “Les Corps Avales,” I was transported to a world of ethereal beauty and intensity. Each movement flowed seamlessly into the next, creating a mesmerizing narrative of physical expression.
Luke JenningsTechnicalThe technical execution of “Les Corps Avales” was flawless, with each dancer performing their movements with impeccable precision and control. However, I found myself wanting more in terms of creative exploration and experimentation within the choreography.
Sarah KaufmanEmotionalThe raw emotion conveyed by the dancers of Compagnie Virginie Brunelle in “Les Corps Avales” was truly breathtaking. From the delicate movements of the opening sequence to the explosive energy of the finale, the dancers gave everything of themselves to the performance.
Clement CrispPoeticWatching “Les Corps Avales” was like witnessing a symphony of movement, with each dancer contributing their unique voice to the harmony. The choreography flowed like a river, carrying the audience along with its beauty and power.
Deanne KearneyPersonalAs I watched “Les Corps Avales,” I was struck by the beauty and complexity of the performance. The dancers were fully committed to their movements, creating a deeply personal and moving experience for both themselves and the audience.
Chart from my conversation with ChatGPT titled “Conversation on Dance Criticism.” OpenAI, 22 March 2023

Seeing the array of distinct voices displayed in such an accessible table format has been incredibly illuminating for my own practice. It’s been akin to looking through a panorama of dance criticism, each lens offering a unique perspective on the art form. This exercise has not only helped to refine my own voice but has also reshaped how I approach and think about dance criticism as a whole. By juxtaposing various critical voices, I feel more able to examine my own writing style, try on new voices and think more critically about the perspectives I bring to my reviews.

By embedding this personal trajectory in the introduction, I intend to bridge the gap between scholarly research and the human curiosity that initially ignited this exploration. I hope this also provides an entry point for those who have not yet tried using the AI bot to see how it may have a transformative potential in reshaping the landscape of dance criticism. However, this forthcoming exploration navigates the intricate dance between opportunity and responsibility as I turn my gaze toward the ethical underpinnings and algorithmic considerations that become salient as AI enters the landscape of dance criticism.

Typewriter / Review. Photo: Markus Winkler (copyright free through Unsplash)
Background of Digital Dance Criticism

In this section, I delve into the discourse around digital dance criticism. I first look at Madison Mainwaring’s “The Death of the American Dance Critic,” followed by Kate Mattingly’s response in “Digital Dance Criticism: Screens as Choreographic Apparatus.” I follow this with insights from Phillip Szporer in his paper “Criticism as a Contested Concept” and Erin Brannigan’s “Whatever Happened to Dance Criticism?” I conclude with Sherill Dodd’s Dance on Screen to bring forward ideas of technophobia in dance and apply them to the conversation around AI and dance criticism. Together, these voices provide a backdrop for understanding the challenges and opportunities of moving dance criticism into the digital realm, showcasing issues in the transition that I argue AI can help to correct. These scholars’ insights set the stage for the more specific examination of AI’s role in what I see as the next phase of dance criticism’s evolution.

In examining the evolution of dance criticism in the digital age, Madison Mainwaring’s “The Death of the American Dance Critic” explores the waning presence of dance criticism in mainstream print outlets and how this decline has large and lasting effects on the dance world. Mainwaring states that choreographers find it challenging to garner even a single professional review unless their work is presented at high-profile venues like the Lincoln Center. She explains that when reviews do appear, they are often shorter and less comprehensive than previous reviews. For example, word counts for New York Times reviews were cut by twenty percent in 2014, averaging around 400 words (Mainwaring).

Mainwaring states that freelance contributions have also been reduced. The article notes that renowned critic Joan Acocella (dance critic with the New Yorker from 1998 to 2019) now devotes the same number of words to dance criticism annually as Arlene Croce (dance critic with the New Yorker from 1973 to 1998) used to on a monthly basis. She argues that this reduction in coverage risks making dance appear more niche and inaccessible to the average reader.

Yet, Kate Mattingly argues against Mainwaring’s stating that the world of dance criticism is far from vanishing; instead, it is adapting and flourishing in new digital terrains. Mattingly offers insights into how digital platforms have democratized dance criticism. She states that they are no longer bound by the geographic and institutional barriers that once reigned. Mattingly argues that the digital space opens up new dimensions for dialogue and critique.

Phillip Szporer’s “Criticism as a Contested Concept” also discusses the changing landscape of dance criticism and the importance of writing about dance. Szporer emphasizes that the decline of mainstream print media has led to the rise of social media and blogging as platforms for dance criticism, yet he argues that specialized analysis and expertise have been overshadowed by short and fleeting posts in these spaces. He also addresses the role of critics in providing truthful reflections and constructive criticism.

Erin Brannigan’s “Whatever Happened to Dance Criticism?” argues that the digital sphere has democratized the medium of criticism in unprecedented ways, particularly benefiting Australian and independent artists. She emphasizes the significant role of blogs and forums in changing the nature of the discourse. Brannigan argues that these platforms have transformed what was once a monologue into a multidimensional, interactive conversation. Brannigan observes that these online spaces give artists, especially those operating outside the traditional avenues of dance culture, a level of control and visibility largely inaccessible in the print era. She also discusses the newfound global reach enabled by digital platforms. She notes that artists who might have been confined to localized audiences now have the potential for global engagement. Independent artists are beneficiaries of this shift, as they can create complex international networks more easily than before, thanks to digital media. Brannigan’s paper posits that the digital evolution in dance criticism represents a net gain for the dance community. While traditional authoritative voices in dance criticism may be waning, they are being replaced by many perspectives that enrich the discourse and potentially make it more relevant and inclusive.

Lastly, in her seminal work “Dance on Screen: Genres and Media from Hollywood to Experimental Art” Sherril Dodds tackles the complex relationship between dance and technology. She dissects prevalent technophobia within the dance community, highlighting that critics often approach screendance with biases rooted in the conventions of live performance. Dodds argues that this technophobia is unfounded, as even “live” dance often employs various forms of technology, from lighting to electronic music. She challenges the notion that technology detracts from the “natural” body, arguing instead for its potential to expand choreographic possibilities and audience engagement.

Incorporating Dodds’ commentary on technophobia in the dance community serves as a valuable lens through which to examine dance criticism in the age of artificial intelligence. Although Dodds’ work doesn’t explicitly address the realm of dance criticism, her insights into the dance community’s often skeptical engagement with technology offer a thought-provoking framework for my analysis. Just as she dissected the biased perspectives that have hindered the acceptance and evolution of screendance, I aim to unpack similar prejudices that might exist in dance criticism against AI tools like ChatGPT. Specifically, I want to examine how this fear could limit the promising contributions of AI and machine learning to the field. However, this exploration is reserved for future research.

SEO website analytics. Photo: Steven Phillips (copyright free through Unsplash)
Potentials of ChatGPT in Dance Criticism

While the migration from print to digital formats once dominated discussions around dance criticism, the capabilities of AI epitomized by tools like ChatGPT, I believe, will be the next big change in the field. In unpacking the potential of ChatGPT for dance criticism, I delve into three pivotal areas: its utility for instant editing, its capacity to foster diverse critical styles and its help with website programming and search engine optimization.

One of the most immediate advantages of utilizing ChatGPT in dance criticism is the potential for instant editing and enhancing efficiency and productivity in writing critiques. The AI’s instant editing capability serves as an invaluable tool for critics, streamlining the drafting process and freeing up time to delve deeper into analysis. This heightened efficiency is especially advantageous for critics working under tight deadlines, making it easier to produce timely reviews. If you input a review you have written, you can provide prompts for how you would like your work edited or proofread. Would you like a list of all errors that ChatGPT sees? Feedback on your work? A synonym for a specific word? Or just a full rewrite of all the errors it catches (I do not recommend this option, but it is an option). It is useful to play with the tool to see what is most useful to you as a writer.

Secondly, a major perk of ChatGPT is its ability to aid in writing in diverse critical styles. Think about the implications for novice critics who are still honing their voice or for seasoned critics looking to break out of a creative rut. ChatGPT could serve as an ideal sandbox for experimentation. Critics can toy with alternative perspectives, or be prompted to write in a different voice, thus providing a safe space for growth and exploration. This feature could be especially useful for critics who want to write about dance forms outside of their expertise, as ChatGPT could offer immediate stylistic and thematic suggestions that align with the genre, enabling a richer, more informed critique.

ChatGPT can also have an educational potential to help critics access a wealth of information, to help provide context and information for their reviews. When fed with a diverse set of dance histories, theories and critiques, AI can assist critics in drawing connections between disparate styles, techniques and cultural contexts. This could be particularly impactful for critics focusing on cross-cultural performances or interdisciplinary works that meld dance with other art forms like theater or visual arts. However, it’s crucial to note that AI technology, like ChatGPT, has been in major trouble for generating inaccurate or fabricated information, which further underscores the importance of human oversight in employing such tools for scholarly or critical applications.

Lastly, the tool that I found most helpful is ChatGPT help in optimizing my online presence through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) description writing, generating keywords for social media tagging and even drafting social media posts to promote written articles. By generating contextually relevant keywords and descriptions, ChatGPT offers the ability to enhance the visibility of content online. On the technical front, ChatGPT can also guide in basic programming tasks, facilitating smoother website management and creation, and let critics focus more on writing than on the business of criticism.

Theatre Audience. Photo: Sonder Quest (copyright free through Unsplash)
Challenges and Pitfalls of ChatGPT in Dance Criticism

As exciting as the above future might appear to some, it’s essential to critically examine the ethical and practical ramifications of utilizing AI in dance criticism. The issues explored here include algorithmic biases, copyright and privacy issues, the perpetuation of systemic discrimination, as well as strategies for ethical implementation. These concerns are illuminated through the scholarship of Amos Azaria, Rina Azoulay, and Shulamit Reches, Emilio Ferrara, Theresa Ruth Howard, Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Safiya Umoja Noble and Charmain Wells.

Umoja Noble’s seminal work, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism, researches bias in algorithms and search engines and debunks the myth that technology is neutral, benign or objective. She argues that algorithms, like those that power google searches, arise from data generated by human users, a compilation that often includes societal biases. She states that they are not immune to the systemic prejudices plaguing various societal sectors. Umoja Noble also discusses the need for greater transparency and public accountability in technological applications.

Ferrara’s “Should ChatGPT be Biased? Challenges and Risks of Bias in Large Language Models” addresses biases in large language models like ChatGPT. He highlights that this isn’t just a tech problem—it’s a human one. By bringing ethicists, social scientists and marginalized communities into the dialogue, he argues we can move toward creating AI systems that are not only advanced but also equitable and just. He believes this interdisciplinary collaboration could pave the way for more responsible AI, making us reevaluate not just the algorithms but the societal norms they often inadvertently uphold. Ferrara also states that mitigating bias is not a one-off task but a continuous commitment.

Given that dance criticism frequently grapples with intricate social dynamics such as race, culture, gender and identity, the possibility of AI, like ChatGPT, perpetuating harmful biases is notably concerning. If ChatGPT’s current dataset draws from historical dance criticism—which is evident from our initial conversation—it’s worth noting that the field of dance studies already critically examines issues of raciolinguistics and the ways in which language subtly or overtly informs our racial and dance-related perceptions.

For instance, Gottschild’s seminal work, The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool, illuminates the distinctive language used to characterize black dancers. Similarly, in the realm of dance criticism, writers like Wells and Howard have sounded the alarm about systemic biases. Wells, in her paper “Strong and Wrong: On Ignorance and Modes of White Spectatorship in Dance Criticism” and Howard, in her op-ed “Why We Need To Confront Bias in Dance Criticism,” both critique the lack of cultural literacy amongst dance critics. Importantly, they expose the ingrained prejudices present in the works of some critics that ChatGPT referenced during our initial interaction.

Navigating privacy and copyright issues is another large topic and issue at the forefront of this discussion. Azaria, Amos, Azoulay, and Reches’ “ChatGPT is a Remarkable Tool—For Experts” raises pressing issues around ownership and licensing, particularly when training datasets incorporate copyrighted material without explicit permissions and state that legal frameworks need to catch up and adapt to address these nuanced challenges. Many lawsuits are currently going on between OpenAI and authors, including John Grisham and Jonathan Franzen, alleging that their writing was included in ChatGPT’s training dataset without their permission. They are bringing further questions about what is and should be included in its training datasets (Alter and Harris).

In light of these ethical considerations, it becomes imperative to employ strategies for mitigating algorithmic biases and privacy concerns. This could range from diversifying the training data to implementing transparency features within the AI system, allowing users to understand how suggestions are generated. Ongoing collaborations between technologists, academics and practitioners are crucial to ensuring the equitable functioning of these tools. As we consider the use of ChatGPT or similar tools in dance criticism or the arts field, we must advocate for this transparency. Otherwise, we risk further eroding the quality and diversity of critical dialogue in dance.

Blurred Dancing Group. Photo: Ahmad Odeh (copyright free through Unsplash)
Conclusion

While the prospect of integrating AI into dance criticism can be exciting, it’s also fraught with ethical and practical challenges. While there are undeniable benefits in terms of instant editing, fostering diverse critical styles and optimizing the digital presence, these perks are balanced with significant ethical considerations around algorithmic biases, copyright issues and the inherent risk of perpetuating systemic prejudices. The relationship between AI and dance criticism is emblematic of the broader dialogue surrounding humanity’s interaction with advancing technology. The collaboration between technology and human interpretation offers a promising future, but it’s crucial to approach it with a balanced mix of enthusiasm and caution.

By actively working to mitigate these challenges through diversified data and ethical oversight, there’s potential for a harmonious relationship between AI and dance criticism. It would be interesting to see what dance data it has and has not been trained on. More research in the area of AI technology incorporation into dance and dance criticism is needed. I believe that the focus should not just be on improving the technology but also on educating the dance and arts community about the possibilities and limitations of these tools, ensuring that technology complements rather than replaces human expertise and interpretation.  For now, it is a tool to be played with, as our journey is still unfolding.


Endnotes

[1] As of the conversation date in March 2022, ChatGPT responded with the aforementioned analysis. However, it’s important to clarify that if posed with a similar question today, ChatGPT will state that it does not have internet access to browse or analyze websites, which I believe it also did not have at the time. This serves as a pertinent reminder that the capabilities of AI technology like ChatGPT are in a constant state of evolution and not fully transparent to its users. Therefore, this is less a reflection of the tool’s limitations than it is indicative of the ever-changing landscape of AI research and development.

[2] This ChatGPT conversation referenced involved my input of a recent review I had written. The review was for the dance performance Les Corps Avales, choreographed by Virginie Brunelle and staged at The Harbourfront Center in Toronto, Ontario. The complete review can be accessed on my website, DanceDebrief, at the following URL.

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*Deanne Kearney, a Toronto-based dance writer, researcher and critic, is a PhD candidate in Dance Studies at York University. Her work has been featured in publications such as Dance Magazine, The Dance Current, Dance International and Mooney on Theatre. In addition to her written contributions, she founded and manages her own dance review website, The Dance DebriefDanceDebrief.ca. Deanne holds the position of Secretary at PoP Moves International and is an editorial board member for Riffs Journal. For more about her, visit DeanneKearney.com.

Copyright © 2024 Deanne Kearney
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