Monday, March 28, 2011

Why do we dance?

I'm currently basking in the afterglow of a wonderful weekend where I performed to the live music of Nathaniel Johnstone and his band (who were "The Able Seamen" on Friday night, and "the Goddamn Industrial Revolution" on Saturday night - the name of the band changes every performance more or less, which is pretty freaking hilarious and awesome.)  I've performed with Nathaniel one-on-one twice before (Gothla US 2010 and Spring Caravan 2010), so when he said he and the whole band were coming to New Hampshire for Steampunk Industrial Revolution and would I like to dance with them, it was a no-brainer.  He asked me how many songs did I think I could dance to, and I said, well, we'll see how it goes.  Both nights I ended up dancing to the whole set (40-50 mins each) on top of my recorded performances.  My average recorded performance set is between 6-8 minutes, and I had had a really rough long week at work and little sleep, but I could not NOT dance to the live music.  I love Nathaniel's music, and being able to feel it live caused my spirit to overtake my body and just kept it going.  The performing wasn't about anything except being there in the moment and being the music.

Which got me thinking about what dance means for me, and how my understanding of it has changed over the years.  I often pose the question of "why do you dance?" to my students, because I want them to think about what they're bringing to the stage, to give it more meaning than playing dress up or getting a performance high - to consider what the dance means to them.  But it's even deeper than that.

Human beings have been drawn to dance since the beginning of time (or more specifically, when time met some form of percussion - whether our heart beating or objects colliding in audio space repeatedly) - and we have done everything to Dance - develop it, codify it, break it down, ornament it, give it purpose, meaning, plot, raise it to a fine art, ban it, break it out, and repeat.  We have created classes, schools, and communities with it.  But really, all of this is complicated architecture built upon the concept or idea of dance.  Temples, churches, homes, warehouses, institutions, tabernacles housing the essence of dance - but these things are not DANCE itself.  Dance is the voice of the soul, expressed in movement, unleashed through the medium of music.  Through dance, we celebrate, we grieve, we explore, we offer, we collect, we communicate, we exist.

There have been times when it felt that the architecture housing the dance - and those also living with in it have seemed to close down on me, crowded me in or left me feeling exposed and pushed out.  It made me question why I dance at all.  I didn't need those issues, and I could just express myself in other ways, through my visual art and my writing, right? Dance seemed tainted by those experiences.  But I kept on dancing.  And it made me realize, dancing is MY choice, and no one else carries that responsibility for whether or not I dance, only ME.  Blaming the architecture or the other inhabitants is only an excuse for what essentially is an exercise in masochism.  If your spirit calls you to dance, then you DO it.  If you see dance as a vehicle for popularity, fame, fortune, dating, or anything else superficial, it will never satisfy you.  Actually, this is true for any art - you must be driven to do it, it needs to be something you cannot live without doing.  That no matter what difficulties and barriers you face, you find ways to get past them to keep doing it.

The answer is simple, we dance because we must.

Photo by Karen Lippincott