The arts of movement and of the moving image have coexisted since the late 19th century. They fill each other's most important needs. Film documents movement. For early forms of pre-cinema and film, dance provided proof of movement. Dancers and choreographers saw film as a solution to the ephemeral nature of movement. The art forms were disappointed by the other for various reasons—both technological and artistic—so they have had to negotiate ways to coexist and collaborate over the century. Concert, ballet, and vaudeville dancers appeared in dozens of early films. But, as narrative became the principle focus on film, dance took a subsidiary role, providing entertainment and an occasional dream sequence.

Some concert (early modern) dancers experimented with cuing music simultaneous to filmed performance, but, for the most part, silent film did not meet their needs for either documentation or creative collaboration. Sound technology appeared at the period in which the early modern dance vocabularies and structure were developing in America and Germany. But the new dancers' emphasis on weighted movements and philosophical leanings to the left saw little in common with Hollywood and they couldn't afford their own equipment. The avant garde of American dance waited until the 1940s to discover the artistic possibilities of film. Since the 1950s, all forms of dance have used film to document the rehearsal process and choreography. As dance became more and more abstract and non-narrative, it found colleagues in experimental film. Filmmakers and choreographers have worked together to create experimental projects. For the most part, the dance world ignored film as an artistic partner until the 1940s. Although dance as film has never been as popular in the United States as in Europe, there are now annual dance film festivals and screening series in urban centers and university programs.

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