What is dance and how is it serving you? This was a question one of my dance professors posed as a free writing assignment. Though I initially saw the prompt as just another task on my to-do list, this question would serve as a starting point in my deconstruction process with my relationship to dance. The pandemic caused us to take a pause from the usual modes we are used to working in in dance spaces. I noticed that many of my colleagues were eager to keep dancing, teaching, and creating despite the new challenges. I, however, felt a great sigh of relief that I finally felt allowed to take a break and use the time to revisit this question from a more vulnerable, honest lens. This time has revealed to me that my body carries so much trauma and exhaustion from various lived experiences; it’s also revealed that I was using my passion and devotion to dance as justification to abuse my body by not giving it the proper rest and nourishment it needed. In order to create a healthier relationship to dance, I had to step away. I had to strengthen the ways in which dance is serving me now, rather than hold on to old beliefs about what dance “should” be.
My answer in college consisted of things that I felt like my professor wanted to hear. I put dance in a box of seeking validation from others, perpetuated elitism, and centered capitalism in how and why dance is produced and shared. My perspectives have shifted tremendously. I have realized that these limited views not only take me out of my actual lived experience in and outside of dance spaces, but have also made me feel burnout and resentment towards the art form. Removing myself from most dance spaces this past year and re-discovering dance through a solitary sacred practice has created in me a new burning passion to not just dance as a means of performance, but as a means of coming back to self.
This professor’s question has led me to ask more questions and accept that my answers will always be in a state of evolution. Currently, this is what I believe dance is and how it is not only serving me, but how I hope it can serve us all:
Dance is movement. Movement is an act of change. Dance is movement of the body that enacts change. It enacts change in the body, the mind, and soul. It can change perspectives on how and what we see. Dance has the ability to change in real time, making it almost out of our grasp. Dance is the body’s way of expression. It helps tell our stories when we cannot find or articulate the words. It carries the treasures of our histories, cultures, and communities. Dance unlocks hidden mysteries in the body, reminding us of possibilities and how change can occur through time, space, and energy. Dance creates new memories and can re-tell our personal and collective histories through the bones and muscles. Dance provides an endless journey of creating fleeting moments that never die. Dance is a sacred practice that can invoke connection to mind, body, and spirit. Dance is more than a performance; rather, it is an experience that can be shared with others through participation and spectatorship. Dance has evolved into many forms that often have rules and aesthetics. At its core, however, I believe dance has a beautiful balance of chaos and structure. It is not bound by our constructed views of what is good or aesthetically pleasing based on the elites or those in power. It is rooted in sacred ritual and rites of passage that serve a purpose beyond individual ego and exploitation. Dance at its best is accessible to everyone, regardless of skill, ability, size, or modes of creating and learning. It is not just for the professional or those desiring to achieve a certain version of aesthetic that often prioritizes whiteness and ableism. Dance should be abolishing supremacy cultures when it divorces itself from capitalism. When rooted in sacred practice and community building, it reminds us that our bodies were made for more than just labor. Our bodies are a vessel for pleasure, passion, and play. Our bodies are the containers in which we cultivate discovery and growth. Dance can remind us to love our bodies as they are and celebrate all of the ways our bodies have kept and sustained us. Just as dance is serving us, we can also serve dance. Our relationship to dance and to those with whom we share our dance experiences thrives when it is relational, rather than transactional. We can enjoy a mutual give and take with this art form when we find ways to steward our practice in more sustainable ways. We can simply enjoy dance without having any agendas attached to it. We do not have to be bound by limited definitions of what is considered professional, legitimate, or worthy of validation. Dance already validates us, and we can disregard the added pressure we place on ourselves through the fixation of comparison and perfectionism. Dance is messy and wild. It is free from concern about allowing visual preference to prevent sharing the truth of what our bodies have to say. Dance is a part of life, and for many, a major essence of our being and vocation. However, dance is not all there is to life; rather, it is a reflection to the many beautiful aspects of it. Dance is not only a tool to teach us how to be aware of our bodies, but also a gift to aid in our pursuit of truly living in our bodies, trusting our bodies, and loving our bodies. Dance is expansive. It is a great teacher in helping us to embrace change, overcome fear, and reminding us to honor and cherish ourselves and each other.