Dance as Storyteller, As Story

From ballet to hip hop, mime to the Indigenous’ or shaman’s prance, dance is a storyteller. Movement becomes the language while body is the medium for story to emerge. Whether set to music, drums or silence, dance invokes a certain power that can only come from the core of the human body to ooze an … Continued

From ballet to hip hop, mime to the Indigenous’ or shaman’s prance, dance is a storyteller. Movement becomes the language while body is the medium for story to emerge. Whether set to music, drums or silence, dance invokes a certain power that can only come from the core of the human body to ooze an evocative pathos that cannot be spoken, only felt. Often the product is joy merged with awe that is hard to define or perhaps a sorrow that clutches and tears at the human heart—a live and beating part of the very instrument of communication—the body. For that is the instrument the dancer uses to speak to the heart of the observer. In the illustration of dance, the body becomes the palette.

Dance is another language altogether and often not of this world. Dance, like music, can be transcendental, archetypal, ethereal—for the dancer, for the subject that is danced, and for the audience that watches the drama unfold. Movement and sway has the power to inspire awe or take the breath.

It has also been a means for meeting up with the divine: Turkish dervishes; African tribal dancers; the shaman’s ceremonial trance dance; Indigenous drum, chant and ritual; Kabuki dance drama; aboriginal mythology in movement; and modern dance—the dancer become the channel for trance, ecstasy and union with something unseen, mystical and euphoric, something not of this world. Poets like Rumi and Hafiz liken dance to a cry of the soul to worship:

“Come to me, and I shall dance with you
In the temples, on the beaches, through the crowded streets
Be you man or woman, plant or animal, slave or free
I shall show you the brilliant crystal fires, shining within
I shall show you the beauty deep within your soul
I shall show the path beyond Heaven.Only dance, and your illusions will blow in the wind
Dance, and make joyous the love around youDance, and your veils which hide the LightShall swirl in a heap at your feet. “

~ Rumi from: The Dancing Cry of the Soul

“You can come to God
Dressed for Dancing
Be carried on a stretcher
To God’s ward”

~ Hafiz from: I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

“O keep squeezing drops of the Sun
From your prayers and work and music
And from your companions’ beautiful laughter
And from the most insignificant movements
Of your own holy body.Now, sweet one,Be wise.Cast all your votes for dancing…!”

~ Hafiz from: Cast All Your Votes for Dancing

Dance is a form of worship, an antidote to pain, exercise in healing, a conveyance for story and storytelling. For the passing on of ritual and tradition or even forbidden secret knowledge passed down through generations in order to preserve legacy, dance is wordless communication and when it is combined with words evokes a powerful multidimensional response.

Dance in America began with the Indigenous, became an outlet and venue for slaves to humanize themselves for themselves, and before their masters, in impossible circumstances where they were regarded as less than human. Vaudeville, tap dance, mime, minstrel shows and some more negative forms of the performance arts are all part of American history and the history of dance.

The dances of Africa, India and Asia were ceremonial and incorporated ritual movement with meaning. Dance has permeated every culture both ancient and contemporary and has included romance and the classics—ballet, opera, drama, theater; while performance as art gave rise to dance troupes and theaters. Modern choreography grew out of the impulse of dance.

Eventually dance evolved as a popular stage and entertainment art particularly in the twentieth century in America in the glamor years of Hollywood with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Sammy Davis Jr. Later street dance became the popular genre and teenage pastime as American Bandstand appeared on the scene and gave rise to Swing, Disco, the Twist and others and Motown brought African Americans their own unique form of expression with Soul Train and its robotic dance moves.

The most famous dancers of the twentieth century borrowed style from all those who came before.

Fred Astaire, considered the best dancer of his age once said:

“You’re at a level where you can only afford one mistake. The higher up you go, the more mistakes you’re allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”

Michael Jackson, considered the greatest dancer and entertainer of all time called life and the whole of Creation a dance: 

“Consciousness expresses itself through creation. This world we live in is the dance of the creator. Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye but the dance lives on. On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists.

I become the stars and the moon. I become the lover and the beloved. I become the victor and the vanquished. I become the master and the slave. I become the singer and the song. I become the knower and the known. I keep on dancing then it is the eternal dance or creation. The creator and creation merge into one wholeness of joy. I keep on dancing… and dancing… and dancing. Until there is only… the dance.”

The study of the quantum world proves that to be true. Everything moves, everything oscillates, atoms and molecules and galaxies all spin in a never-ending —and it turns out—interconnected waltz choreographed with strings in a vibrating, jiggling, multidimensional cosmic dance. All the world is a dance, and all the dancers a world. Had Descartes know about quantum theory, perhaps instead of thought as animating existence, he might have said “I dance; therefore I am.”

~Rev. B. Kaufmann

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Jacques Prevert