A form of art yet to be discussed in this series on art and creativity is Dance. It’s one of the earliest forms of self-expression available to us as human beings—a happy child needs no one to show her how to dance happily around the room. Dance is almost its own language, and like a language can celebrate or lament, can embrace, tempt or defy.
Several years ago I was invited to attend the recital of a modern dance troupe—I knew one of the dancers, who asked my frank impression after the troupe’s performance. I know nothing about choreography, but I thought the dancers might have trained on a neurology ward. Their dance movements were largely comprised of convulsive gyrations and spasmodic jerking. I didn’t see any beauty in it (but others did). My host was very amused when I told him I could make no sense of what I’d seen, and he said ‘Dance isn’t something you understand; you have to let it happen to you.’
Very recently, I’ve enjoyed watching video clips of performances by a young woman in Lithuania, who is a fabulous dancer. When she performs, every part of her dances—her face, her hands and fingers, even her hair, and not just her legs and feet. Her dance style is modern, but I don’t have to let it happen to me. Her motions are graceful, disciplined, free-flowing, and she seems to me to express profound joie de vivre. Watching her dance is an almost liberating experience.
There’s a nine-year old girl I enjoy talking to, because she dances through her conversations. She too incorporates her face (very expressive eyebrows!), arms and hands, and represents opposing points of view by dancing in one director for the pros, and in the other direction for the cons. Her limbs contribute gracefully to her expressions. When she talks, she is fully involved in her conversation, even to the point of cavorting. Recently, she gave a spirited cheerleader performance when we found out the weather the following day would be comfortably warmer. My own response was, ‘Ah, nice!’ I like her reaction better.
As I’ve been thinking about Dance, I’ve realized that people are not the only terpsichoreans in the Universe. I’ve been walking a dog for a busy friend—when the dog sees me, she does a ‘Circus Dog Dance’—she gets on her hind legs and prances about in backwards circles because she’s glad to see me. I wish the humans I knew were so expressive!
People can spend years learning specific styles of dance—Jazz, Ballet, Hip Hop– and more contemporarily, to do specific dance steps, but no one really needs to learn to dance. It’s part of us already. The infant lies on his back listening to his parents’ symphony recordings, flapping his arms in enjoyment. This evolves within a year or two to the ‘I dig your tunes and who needs a beat?’ jumping/prancing/bopping. At some point culture and civility demand this lead to the Cachucha, the Fandango and Bolero, the Waltz and the Ballet. Sometimes, it even leads to convulsive gyrations. Dancing can be joyous, dignified, undignified, and mournful. These are states of emotional being.
We also have the dance of clouds across the sky, the dances of trees and blades of grass in the breeze. There are currents in the oceans and rivers—water dancing with the whales and the fish. The sun and moon have their own dances as well, and the stars….
The dance can be so languid you hardly know it’s taking place, but the stars do dance across the sky, their movements changing throughout the sidereal year. Autumn leaves whirl across the garden, dancing with the breeze; trees bend and sway during the storm, yielding to a force greater than they possess, yet maintaining their own virtue—they yield, but do not surrender, to the force of the wind. These are utterances of Life in their simplest form.
We dance at weddings, we dance at parties, we go dancing with friends and lovers. We even dance with our words, hinting, testing, and not speaking openly. There is a minuet of meaning in the words that we say, lying there below the surface. Only your real dance partner(s) will understand.
Of all the forms of expression, I think Dance is the most open, most honest form when the expression is natural and not contrived. It’s such a celebration! It crosses language barriers, cultural chasms, religious divides, age, even gender and gender roles. The most beautiful dances I can imagine bring people together—young and old, parents and children, and lovers in their many configurations.
The God Who Only Knows Four Words
Has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
‘Come dance with Me,’
Nicely poetic and articulate.