Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning to Dance

As promised. more on Dance education:

I think it is a great tragedy of our modern times that an enormous percentage of people walk around every day thinking they cannot dance. That concept is absolutely implausible and untrue. Everyone knows how to dance before they are born. On a molecular level everything is dancing, protons and electrons bumping about in the disco of space. Even rocks, not known for their tangos, are, on a very basic level, dancing. It is our nature to dance by whatever means necessary, with whatever parts we have, and so, everyone can do it. Everyone knows, in their bones, how to dance. Of course, many folks don’t really speak to or listen to their bones anymore, unless they are complaining too loud to hear anything else.

Not everyone or everything does it, Dance, well. To be a good dancer you have to hook into the universal rhythm, relax and find a groove. There are an infinite variety of grooves—we have given names to some of them: waltzes, disco, tangos, salsas and such. But there are grooves in the sound of waves on the shore, or monkeys chanting.

And to be an EXCELLENT dancer you need to find the groove and move with Style, that ineffable something that makes others want to watch you and do what you are doing. Rocks do not have style unless you get to their molecular level. But we humans have evolved and trained in some pretty spectacular styles: ballet for one, Russian Folk dance and West African dance for some others. And don’t forget Irish Step Dancing.

But not everyone loves dancing (though this is very difficult for me to understand because it is such a primal joy, our first communication). I think some of us are socialized to avoid dancing because we are self conscious. Others have misinterpreted our lack of, or struggle for, Style and made us feel bad about the search. Some of us are physically awkward. Some of us hear different rhythms than the ones the rest of us are hearing and when we move to that groove we appear out of synch and we are made to feel foolish when we move out of synch with the crowd.

But none of that means that you don’t know how to dance.

Our society has reached an interesting spot, vis a vis our conceptual relationship with our bodies. Rather than focusing on function, on the getting from here to there or the accomplishment, physically, of the task, we get hung up, obsessed even, with the appearance of our physical shells. We spend billions modifying and enhancing a shell that will essentially be outmoded and turning to dust in a century. All this focus on the appearance of the body and its unattainable conceptual ideal, and lack of focus on the utility or joy of being in a particular shell means that some of us, instead of spending money trying to fight nature, need to relearn the joy of dancing.

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb

To dance in space is to learn the measure of a distance. To not step on a partner and measure a pattern through a room helps our mind conceive of geometry and dimensionality. As we move through space, our kinetic intelligence is activated, causing neurons in parts new parts of the brain to get busy and wake up. When teaching dance to children in early childhood programs I can see almost immediately who is a visual processor, who is an auditory processor and who is a kinetic processor. But even if we have a dominant way of processing stimuli, we can learn other ways—and that is why dance education is so important.

Dance is a language we all begin with. As Martha Graham said: Dance is the hidden language of the soul. She also said: Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.

In a classical education from the Renaissance forward (and possibly before) dance was considered an essential subject. Royals, nobles and when they could afford it, even the middle class, contracted with dancing masters to assure their offspring were well schooled in the steps of the day. One could not advance in society without mastering the form. And master it they did. You don’t hear of Kings moping about muttering, I can’t dance, back then, no way. Dancing was the grease on the skids of politics. Dancing was the link up for getting good alliances. Ah, but dancing has fallen from favor. (Though I hear there are a heck of a lot of inaugural balls being planned in two weeks) What we are left with is some desperate shrugging meant to attract a mate, no steps removed from the mating dances at the local zoo. It is time to bring back all the forms, all the Style that we humans have invented over the years. And it is time for those of us afraid of ridicule to realize that everyone else is so busy about how they look that they are paying no attention to how YOU look. Breathe and move. To whatever music is in your head. We all need to learn to dance in as many ways as possible. Just put on your music and boogie. Martha Graham again: • Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

So finally, I give you the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzche who said:
"We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."

2 comments:

2KoP said...

Beautiful post. I love the word "ineffable". My dad says the only reason people think he can dance is because he has fun when he does it. If you're not having fun, it shows. Did you see Slumdog Millionaire? I want to learn the dance they do in the end credits. I wonder if they have a video of it.

2KoP said...

Here's the link with some of the dance footage.