Before I start, I just want to make an observation of how strange the comings and goings of Wyrd are. Just last night, I was lying in bed telling Gent all about how I miss my friends, especially friends I talk to about religion. Then it was SO HOT today, so I skipped dance class and Gent and I went out to dinner at a local air conditioned restaurant, and in walks the only real friend I’ve made since moving to this city and a friend of hers. They joined us for dinner, and we had wonderful conversation that included religious discussion.
I am continually amazed by the way that the universe runs in such a way that wishes come true.
Now on to the main subject of today’s blog post–the way that people can’t help but watch dance.
I’ve been noticing this lately, as I’ve been having rehearsals in a studio whose (glass) door opens to South Street, which is a very popular street in Philadelphia. As we rehearse, all kinds of people walk by. And nearly every single one of them stops to watch us dance for a moment.
This past weekend at the 4th of July festival, there were a couple of dance performers, surrounded entirely by crowds of people trying to see.
Last week, I performed a show at a bar. Every other act was ignored completely, but once we started dancing, all eyes in the bar faced us.
What is it that makes people so keen to watch us? Why is what we’re doing so interesting? More people stop to peek through the glass windows than stop to watch street musicians in the city, and people are always talking about how music is the language of the soul and all that.
Which it is, assuming you believe in a soul, which I don’t. But still, music is important. But dance is something else. Dance isn’t the language of the soul, but of the body. And I think people are intrinsically fascinated by it. They like to see what other people can do with their bodies. They like to see what is possible to do with a body, and to relate to the kinesthesia of it.
Watching dance is a kind of way to experience pure movement vicariously through the dancer. Watching dance feels almost like dancing. It’s a way to experience an extraphysical kinesthetic sensation. We can watch a dancer and feel them move through our bodies. We can connect to other people, we can have skills we don’t have, we can feel the beat pulsing through their chests.
We can connect to a greater something than we otherwise can, while we watch someone dance. Because everyone has a body, we can all relate to the way other people feel when they move their body.
I feel like I’m being redundant and at the same time not getting at what I want to say. Alas, such is the reason dance is a physical and not a verbal enterprise. But here is my last attempt: if being a dancer is like writing poetry, watching dance is like reading it. It is the pure joy of receiving the art form, even as the dancer herself is receiving the art from some other place–the universe, or else her own subconscious. The dance is fighting its way out of the ether, filtering itself into the physical world through the dancer, and then blessing the person who watches it. It is the language of the body, the humans most physical being speaking its way into the world, sharing its secrets, showing its history. The most full connection to the earth we are made of.
I understand the flowers growing and the birds flying and the death of the leaves in autumn by dancing. I know what it is to be, to feel, to find home most when I dance. As Martha Graham has said “Dance is the language of the universe concentrated in the individual.”
As I’ve said before, I think all heathens should dance. The only reason I have ever heard anyone say they don’t like to dance was that they think they’re bad at it. But if you don’t want to dance, because you think you’re bad at it or some other reason (if this is you, please share with me why), you can still learn something about the physical, spiritual, transcendent nature of the human body by watching other people dance, by watching the transformation that happens when they dance.
“To watch us dance is to hear our hearts sing” -Hopi saying