In the spirit of writing about one’s passions, this week’s article flows from my perceptions about “dance.” There are tons of scholarly articles about dance, and representations in the visual arts and literature as well. My perspective, however, is that of a person who spends so much time dancing, that the pursuit is second only to the amount of time I spend at work. And the thing is, whenever I participate in my dance activities, I keep meeting other people who share my feelings about dancing, and devote at least as much time to it as I do.
I have enjoyed dancing at least since the disco days of the 1970’s. The genre of dancing that I like best, however, has choreographed steps that I am able to follow. This means that the kinds of dancing I love most are: international (and specifically Israeli) folk dancing, “contra” dancing, country line dancing, flash mob routines, zumba, and, most recently, “rueda de casino” dancing (where salsa style steps are called and, again, you follow what you are commanded to do).
I was brought up with the concept of dancing as a good hobby for a person to have. My parents were avid international folk dancers, and they told a story about how they first met: at a square dance. They’d practice steps at home – I have a photo of them somewhere dancing in their pajamas – to Balkan music played on 78s, and, pack rate that I am, I still have some of those records.
My father, in hindsight, probably on the Asperger’s spectrum, would only dance with gals who knew how to do a particular square dance. He had the habit of going from girl to girl, asking if they knew the dance or not, and then moving on until he found one who did. Apparently, when he went to my mom, and she said, “No,” he said, “I’ll teach you.” His friends knew he’d found his partner in dance and in life at that moment, because they’d never seen him offer to teach a girl before. My parents kept on dancing after that, until death did them part, when my mom died in 1987.
So, I can’t tell you that my mom was a Martha Graham ballet dancer, no, my parents ALSO could follow steps and patterns. Now that they are both deceased, I can divulge that they were Vegas card counters, too!
Now, dance has become a family affair again. My oldest son also dances, and my younger son will occasionally give it a try. As I began to realize that I genuinely like most of the people I meet dancing, and that most of my friends these days are dancers too, it has made me see the world divided into five tyes of dancers. No worries, I am not anti- any type of dancer, I am, of course, tolerant of all five types of people!
First, you have “Non Dancers.” These are people with no interest in doing any kind of movement to music at all. People may tell you that they can’t dance, I usually take that to mean that they won’t. Sometimes people can’t get past the embarrassment they may feel.
Next, you have what I’d call “Boppers.” This may be the majority of people; those who enjoy music, and can’t help but let their body sway and swirl to a particular piece of music. People might not necessarily have rhythm like the famous “affliction” Elaine on Seinfeld had, but if you find that you can even sit in one place when your music comes on, you are a dancer! People who are really good at this can even create choreography on the spot, like some of the best Swing dancers, Salsa dancers or Ballroom dancers. They don’t necessarily need to take lessons to know how to lead or follow. They just do it.
Type three are the “Lessonaires.” Taking a step (pun intended) further from just moving your body to music, this is the first instance of wanting to actually learn how to dance. I have found people in this category to sometimes be perfectionists. Perfectionism and dancing, however, unless you are performance-driven, do not mix at all. People begin to feel that they cannot dance, unless they have enough lessons, enough “moves,” and then, hey end up not dancing at all. Ultimately, it is really just about, literally, getting high on how it feels to move your body to the rhythm of the music.
Similar to the Lessonaires is the category I am in: “The Paint-By-the-Numbers” dancers. There IS still art involved when you are given the steps you need to do to a particular piece of music; in Contra Dancing we call them “flourishes.” However, in the type of dancing that I love to do (autocorrect wrote: “live to do,” and, yeah, that, too!), we have kind of boiled dancing down more of a science. There are formulas like: if you put these steps to this music, it will come out looking like…this.
The last type of people are the “real” dancers: the performers. They train for years, they improvise and/or study choreography. They are conditioned like athletes; they really ARE athletes. They have the gifts of grace, timing and stage presence.
I felt the need to classify dancers before I taled about the addiction part. The thing is: you can get addicted to dancing. You start doing it, and you want more. You begin to hear the music in your head, and you seek out chances to move your body to a beat. You find that there are only a few basic steps, and you want to acquire new moves. You look forward to each dance opportunity, and you buy clothes and shoes (maybe this is mostly he women, but…) to fit the genre of dance. You begin to prioritize dancing over other alterative activities and pastimes. Finally, when you are dancing, you are 100% in the moment and focused, and you can be carefree. Your mind, which may have been preoccupied with worries before you arrived at your dance venue, is now concentrating on the music, the various steps you are either following or creating, and on your partners and/or the community of dancers around you.
The physical, social and emotional benefits of dancing cannot be underestimated. Here, in Southern California, we not only can dance each day and/or night of the week, but we have choices of every type of dancing, and within each type of dancing, choices of dance leaders and locations.
I’ve tried to describe why dancing is so loveable, but, perhaps at a later date, I will try to analyze one downside of dancing: things usually work out best when you have an equal number of so-called “leads” and “follows.” Sad fact: there are almost always more “follows” than leads. But, then again, maybe that’s life.