For many, dance can be a self conscious, awkward and embarrassing experience. I understand this.
We are brought up in an adult culture of seriousness and propriety where it can, at times, be considered inappropriate and misplaced to attempt to find expression of yourself through the physicality of dance. This is sad.
We only have to look at how children behave – how they are fully present in their bodies, how they enthusiastically engage with play, how they freely enter into different expressive modes – to realize what adulthood has done to us.
“We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers we create the dreams.”
Closing us down in solemn, self-confinement where we monitor almost every gesture we make against a template of what is considered appropriate or not. Where we restrict ourselves to cultural norms, laid down by others, that tell us not to behave ‘ foolishly ‘ or ‘ childishly.‘ To me this seems so wrong and so confining. Dance is a vital part of our creative drive that is articulated in all human societies – from ‘ sophisticated, ‘ ‘ developed ‘ societies to more ‘ simple, ‘ ‘ less developed ‘ ones. A universality that lies at the core of our human existence and is, I would argue, denied at the risk of our individual diminishment. Some may argue that dance is widely present and even promoted in our society, that it receives widespread support. But isn’t most of this a rather formal, technique-lead medium that conforms to laid down routines of set steps and movements that denies the truly liberating essence of what dance could be – an imaginative, free expression of our innate creativity. By engaging with this latter mode (the free spirit of dance) we can start to open up to new levels of being that lift us up physically, mentally and spiritually. That’s the gift, that’s what’s on offer if only we can shed our self-defeating inhibitions and connect to the magic that is crying out within us….
In world religions and mythologies dance has played a sacred role. Within Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism it has been used as an important and potent medium for the expression of healing, joy, celebration and religious observance. It has been part of rituals, ceremony, entertainment and celebrations in even the earliest of recorded time. Even before the codification of written language, dance was one of the major ways of transmitting stories and myths to one generation to another. Dance is everywhere – in religious congregations, on the dance floor, at the ballet, in the gymnasium, in the swimming pool ( synchronized swimming ), on ice ( figure skating ), in the martial arts, it is even performed in the animal world ( consider the mating dance of bees ). Dance is that powerful and that persuasive – deeply imprinted in the human and animal gene, since life began….
Many years ago I attended a Five Rhythm dance workshop with a friend. Developed in the 60’s the dance sequence draws its inspiration from world traditions using dimensions of shamanism, mysticism and elements from the ecstatic realm. It’s underlying belief is that the universe (you, me and the largest star) is nothing but a configuration of energy that moves in waves, flow, rhythms and patterns. By moving the body to a repertoire of music it claims we can release the heart, still the mind and thereby help us to connect to the spiritual realm – that something outside of us that is so much ‘ bigger ‘ than us. I was reluctant to attend at first but sensing my friend’s enthusiasm I decided to go along. It was a large, spacious studio with about twelve people attending. The Five Rhythms consisted of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. The music itself provided the guide to dancing with a minimal amount of instructions from the tutor.
As we went through the different movements I noticed that everyone was expressing themselves individually and yet strangely enough there was some dimension of unison being played out. Some dancers were reaching out to touch others with their hands, whilst some were playing out their own individual ‘ destiny ‘ in the far corners of the dance studio. At the end of the session I felt exhausted and yet elated, tired yet excited, aching yet euphoric. Whilst I was lying down to regain my energy I noticed a man visibly weeping. After the class I spoke to the tutor about this incident. She said that it often occurred in her classes because it’s a time of profound emotional release. ‘ We carry so much tension in our bodies which only the dance can reach, ‘ she said quietly and calmly. I made my exit and reflected on her words for the rest of the day…….
Dance, in its most magical form, can embody or express our emotions, ideas and creativity. It can even tell our story to ourselves – it’s that powerful. It’s an expression of our very life-blood at the deepest, molecular level. It’s our pulsating heartbeat, our breathing, our very own rhythm of life. It’s an art form that cannot be expressed in any other way. Its integrity and dignity replaces many words. Which begs the question – how many of us engage in dance? How many of us are prepared to lose ourselves in a visceral ‘ meditation?’ Too often we hear the words: ‘ I can’t dance,’ which to me is nonsensical because everyone can dance. It not about style, steps or technique, it’s about finding a certain space within yourself in order to find and be yourself. To dance is to be set free so will you allow yourself to be free?
“Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the lord of the dance, said he
And I lead you all, wherever you may be
And I lead you all in the dance, said he.”
Lord of the Dance
Article by Much Lewin