Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brain, Heart, Liver - where is your dance from?

I was originally going to title this one "Technician vs Artist", but that really doesn't explain what I want to discuss here.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself...

Ever wonder why dancers from "over there" often grab or gesture to their lower right side during a song about love?  It's because of a cultural belief/idea that if you truly love someone and you want them to know you mean it, you show that you love them from your liver - not your heart.  The heart is considered a fickle being, not worthy of true, long-lasting love, only lust and quick passion.

Being a weird person in my own culture/existence, I am rather enthralled by this concept; that someone long ago gave it this much thought and made this symbolic connection, associating certain behaviors and thought patterns with very specific organs.  Then it became ingrained into the society.  And that those associations are much different then standard Western thoughts.  Anyway, I got to thinking not only about the gesture in dance as a symbolic movement, but how it also can signify where we actually dance FROM. 

I think there are some people who dance solely from the brain.  Now, I'm all for use of the brain, especially right-brain creative thinking, but the left hemisphere should get some credit in there too from time to time.  Really, a good dancer makes fair use of both.  But when the left brain overshadows the right, a dancer tends to get bogged down in the details: drilling endlessly in search of what they perceive as physical perfection, analyzing every smallest moment in the music, choreographing everything down to the second.  Technical perfection is something to be appreciated (particularly in engineering), but it doesn't automatically make for an amazing performance that captures your imagination.  Frankly, if I'm watching someone and my thoughts go to "wow, this is really technically very precise," that says to me it's hitting my brain, but not my imagination.  Often, it feels very clinical, cold, ego-based, and/or lacking in something else less tangible.

Then there are the dancers who dance solely from the heart.  They are all about the momentum, the passion, the excitement - emotion just pours off of them!  But that intense outpouring often gets overshadowed by a lack of skill, craftsmanship, and/or focus.  It often doesn't seem consistent and sustaining, leveled and focused. It makes me say, "the idea is there, but not exactly the right language to express it coherently." The heart dancers have that something else the brain dancers are missing, and vice versa.

And then, there are the dancers who dance from their livers. If we take that Arabic concept of true love coming from the liver, and then consider what true love means: devotion, dedication, faith, spirit, sustained passion, and the desire to work hard to make that love successful.  Really, it's like the best parts of the heart and the brain meet - and instead being in your thyroid (cause that would be the middle ground technically, and let's face it, those little guys go haywire very easily), it rests in this massive organ in the middle of our bodies: the liver, right between the two areas where we give and take energy from.  The liver dancers capture both the technical complexity and the emotional rawness that the best performances embody.  At no point in their performances are you breaking it down into the details and analyzing it - rather, you experience it as a whole and become immersed in it. 

So what I strive to do as a dancer, is not to dance from my brain, or from my heart, but my liver.  I just hope it doesn't mind the occasional glass of wine.

Artwork from the "Griffin & Sabine" series by Nick Bantock


  1. Lovely! The imagery of dancing from the liver is striking :) and really a great way to think about it!

  2. That's kinda how I had described Meiver, about the first time I saw her dance .... it kept both my brain and my emotional center engaged - it's pretty rare that a dancer can do both.