Everywhere I turn there is another Dancing show popping up on television. In fact, they are so popular that my own mother has requested that I avoid calling her Monday nights so she can have her Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) fix.
So what makes dance so popular and why the so-called sudden interest?
Dance has the potential to transcend borders of language, geography and age. It is a primal feeling, an urge, a surge of energy, and a gift. One of the most fascinating things about dance is its universality.
The capacity to experience and express emotion is what makes us uniquely human. Because dance utilizes our own physicality as a means of expression, it is often the purest representation of our ever-shifting emotional landscape.
However, modern life through evolution, progress, technology has removed people from their primal, image-oriented world. We no longer live in that unified community. We simply pass from one minute to the next; our communication has turned cold and bland as we move further from our brothers and sisters. Those brief moments when we dance bring us back to those sweet moments of imagery when we believe we are more than just this empty shell of a troubling, faceless existence.
Art offers us time to create, to choreograph, to paint on our own canvas without any forced expertise. If the cliché is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then a moving picture of a dancer leaping through space is worth far more. Every time we dance on or off the stage, we once more open up through the living image a means of communication.
Dance opens a direct channel between the spiritual world of the gods and ancestors and the people around us. The past and the present, the living and the dead, the mundane and the divine are all represented by the magic of dance. Dancers then free―and at times lose―themselves within the movements, while the audience (great or small) is engrossed with the story as it unfolds.
All of us are part of the story whether actively participating or not. It draws us together as a culture, embracing a deep belief in community while still maintaining each one’s individuality.
When we dance, be it social dancing, cultural, western theatrical or improvisational we have a chance to connect with others on a most basic level; letting our body, face and particularly eyes, speak for our soul. I often find body language to be the most honest, clear and expressive form of communication.
Define and narrow me, you starve yourself of yourself. Nail me down in a box of cold words, that box is your coffin. I do not know who I am. I am in astounded lucid confusion. I am not a Christian, I am not a Jew, I am not a Zoroastrian, And I am not even a Muslim. I do not belong to the land, or to any known or unknown sea. Nature cannot own or claim me, nor can heaven, Nor can India, China, Bulgaria, My birthplace is placelessness, My sign to have and give no sign. you say you see my mouth, ears, nose–they are not mine. I am the life of life. I am that cat, this stone, no one. I have thrown duality away like an old dishrag, I see and know all times and worlds, As one, one, always one. So what do I have to do to get you to admit who is speaking? Admit it and change everything! This is your own voice echoing off the walls of God.
But, dancing is not an invention of man, since birds and monkeys dance. In origin dancing is purely a physiological action, or put in another way, the ordered and more or less rhythmic expression of an impulse of movement. No animal or primitive human being dances unless urged by some specific excitement and before the excitement dies down and the dancer relaxes his efforts, the dance transforms the excitement into ecstasy.
Ecstasy enhances the physical strength of the dancer and changes his mentality. He is no longer a man; in losing consciousness of his ordinary nature he feels within himself a superhuman power which raises him to the stature of a spirit; and as a spirit he believes he is able to control the forces of nature.
Conventional religious thought tends to separate the body from the purer instincts of the soul. To a world that holds this view, and which is structured around hierarchies in which order, power and reason are primary, the gentle chaos of this dance can be terrifying. Here is a source of spiritual feeling that arises from the body, that is expressed through the body, that may even cause stirrings in the bodies of those who watch as they are drawn into the eternal movement.
No wonder dancers are so often misunderstood and their art dishonored. The ability of the dancer to speak so intently and so physically of these depths is a frightening thing. And no wonder the dance is so loved, since we need this release and this expression.
It is a common and I believe an accurate idea that dance is the art closest to our earliest human instincts. As newborn babies, we experience and express everything through the body. We do not differentiate between our senses and how we respond to them. Feeling cold or hungry, we cry. Our first movements are instinctual explorations. As babies, we are literally not sure of the difference between ourselves and the world. Where is the end of me and the beginning of my mother? When I lie on the grass, where does it end and I begin? Years later, in our adult dances, we may consciously approach this mystical union of ourselves and the world around us.
As we leave infancy, we learn two things that are particularly relevant to how we later dance. One is language. We learn to say exactly what we want, to ask for “juice” or “a story.” But when we gain this ability to be precise, we obscure the fact that our needs are really not precise. We may want a complex form of comfort, but only be able to ask for “juice.” Language gets you some things but loses you others. As dancers, we try to return to the more evocative and exploratory, but far less specific, language of the body, to express ideas too complex to be spoken in words.
Spinning is that. It is a way of letting go, of finding your center and balance and abandoning your ego and personal desires by being taken away by the music to the heart of the universe, God.
“the human being who consciously strives to weave clear intelligence, deep feeling and strong desire into an harmoniously balanced yet interactively moving whole”
All cultures have their own body languages, their own physical web of meaning. They also have their own ways of making dances. The act of dancing is defined differently by different peoples, and is of course valued differently, and put to different uses. But there are some universals in the human practice of dance, and one of them is time.
Dance is a transient mode of expression, performed in a given form and style by the human body moving in space.” Dance happens in the field of time. It occurs in the present, and then it exists only in memory. A physical piece of art, or a written work, is there to be seen or read or touched again and again, to reveal new facets of itself.
But dance vanishes from the material world. Any new facets of a dance performance can be uncovered only in our own unreliable memories. And although we are now, after millennia of dancing, able to capture performance on film, we preserve only the visual aspects of dances.
The fact that dance lives only in memory, that there is no going back to it, makes it a particularly personal and transformative variety of experience. Dance, like theater, inspires a shared emotional release less likely in the cooler contemplation of visual or written art forms.
”Where does music come from? Where does the dance come from? It all comes from that natural and spiritual life that is within …… music touches our innermost being and in that way produces new life, a life that gives exaltation to the whole being, raising it to that perfection in which lies the fulfillment of human life.“
So why do we dance?
We dance because it’s the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me- right-now kind of truth. This is not always easy for us to access — we have to navigate some very deep past, as well as the probable futures we drum up to feed the fear that drives us round the same circles, day in and day out. We dance to hook up to our true genius — to seek refuge in our originality and our power to reinvent ourselves; to shed the past, forget the future and fall into the moment feet first.
We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.
“Dance to fall in love with the spirit in all things”
We dance to fall in love with the spirit in all things, to wipe out memory or transform it into moves that nobody else can make because they didn’t live it. It’s a sacred thing, the beat. We love beats that move faster than we can think, beats that drive us ever deeper inside, that rock our worlds, and break down walls.
We dance to survive and the beat offers a yellow brick road to make it through the chaos that is the tempo of our times.
So get down and find out what your hands, your shoulders, your elbows, knees and, most importantly, your hips and feet have to say about it. There is a dance only you can do, that exists only in you, here and now, always changing, always true. Are you willing to listen with fascination? If you are, it will deliver you unto the self you have always dreamed you could be. This is a promise.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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