Monday, 5 December 2011

Dance yourself Happy!

It is my firm assertion that dance was the beginning of religion. Ok, I have no evidence at all to back that up, but it seems plausable to me. There you all are, a pliocene tribe somewhere in north east Europe 12,000 years ago or so and pickings have been a bit thin on the ground. Its the middle of winter and everyone knows the Sun has wandered off, as it does every year, and soon, it will reach the farthest point of its journey and head back again, heralding the gradual return of lighter evenings and warmer, more beneficent times.

But for now, its blinkin cold and the Head Man is a bit concerned that all the dried caribou might soon be gone. So, he thinks to himself "Crikey!" (in whatever proto-indo-european dialect they spoke in those parts) "This lot aren't going to make it to Spring in this state! They will all give up and die at this rate! What can I do....?"

So, he calls all his people together for a great pronouncement.
"Tomorrow" he says with all the authority one can muster when being eaten alive by fleas, "Since the ground is too hard for tubers and the birds have eaten all the berries, the god who lives behind yonder hill has told me I must lead you in a Great Hunt and that meat will be plentiful. But before that, to give praise, we shall have a great feast in His name and eat up all that remains of His provision. Gather wood. We shall have a great fire. Pull on your finest moleskin shoes and tonight, we make merry!" And doing whatever passed for crossing his fingers, he heads off into his tent to put on his ceremonial poncho, best antlered head-dress and facepaint.

And so, a big pile of wood would be gathered, it would get dark quite early and then a big feast would ensue. At some point, after all the half-rancid venison was consumed, some men would appear with hollow logs and big sticks, and a stirring rhythm would begin. Before you know it, everyone with two remaining working legs would be stomping around the huge fire in raptures of stone-age euphoria where the world would start to spin (possibly on account of the spores from the fungus in what was left of the food) and they felt very happy and well disposed towards each other, possibly as if some divine hand had touched them from the spirit world. That's serotonin for you.
And so Head Man would look on approvingly and pray to whatever gods he believed in that there would be more meat to replace the huge feed that everyone had just consumed.
And everyone would feel very mellow and slapping each other jovially on the back, would proclaim that the Head Man was indeed a splendid and wise fellow who knew jolly well how to organise a knees up on a Midwinter's eve.
Two days later, hopefully, the men would return with some kind of large dead ungulate and everyone would feel happy for a bit.

Ok, as proto-dinner-dances go, probably it didn't happen quite like that. But you can see the point: Dancing can send you into an altered state where you feel very close to those around you and your spirits are uplifted. And hence, it endures and we still love it.

Perhaps some may claim "Oh, but I have two left feet! I am no dancer!" but apart from making one describe a large circle of perambulation in a featureless desert, this need not be an impediment. It would appear that everyone to some extent enjoys a little jig to the right music and is the happier for it.

I remember as a student, there would often be a disco. Being largely impecunious, I would generally buy one pint of Newcastle Brown and make it last all night. And yet, I could hop on to the dance floor with my friends and dance for endless hours in a state of euphoria approaching bliss, with no training at all on how to move my limbs and body apart from having seen Pans People (A 70s dance troupe) on Telly (yes, UK readers, I AM that old!)

It appears that a form of intoxication can take place whilst dancing. I am certain this cannot just happen to me. With suitable music, I could be off my head within ten minutes of psuedo-random rhythic contortions. Neurotransmitters must surely be implicated.

Now, I have had lessons for many years so my inherent clumsiness has to some extent been eroded. But performing a spirited jive with a responsive lady to "Shake your tail feather" or a slow bluesy smooch to Diana Krall's "Temptation" can take me to the same place, only more reliably so and with less bruising to myself and bystanders.
To dance with a partner is one of the most civilised ways I know to pass an evening and I do it quite regularly. It leaves me feeling so elated

Now, I have an issue with Chubby Checker, and I should elaborate: It is to do with his "Twist". It was the first mainstream dance that was advocated to be performed solo - alone. Without a partner. I believe this started a trend which has brought about a great loss.
To hold a lady in one's arms lead her around the floor in a dance is a lovely thing. Ok, it requires in general, a little training, but frankly, not that much in order for the performance to be competent.

To dance with a lady who responds so perfectly to one's lead, even to the extent of following your thought of a move, is akin to driving a fast and responsive sports car. It is quite a delight.

But dancing with a partner is a strange semi-intimate thing. One can dance with a complete stranger, press against their bodies, feel breasts against one's chest through the thin fabric of clothing, stare meaningfully into each others' eyes, and share a proximity usually only shared with romantic partners.
And yet, it's somehow not intimate. It is merely playing a part. To dance a tango, cheek to cheek, having a shapely thigh pressing against your own, or even raised and resting on your hip, would normally be either incredibly erotic or unbelievably embarrassing. And yet, in dance, it is neither of those. It is merely acting; doing what the music suggests in order to express the emotions it engenders.

At the end of the song you take the lady's hand, you smile, perhaps perform a small bow, and go your separate ways. But you shared three or four minutes when you had human contact and your existence in the world was confirmed rather than it being a debatable point of perception on your part.

Of course, I am sure that romances do spring from dance, and perhaps that is why it endures as a form of interaction. We are apparently very well able to judge reproductive fitness from a partners ability to dance. But in most cases, it is merely sociable, polite. And everyone understands that and can feel, if they wish, safe within the bounds of convention.

Every year, between Christmas and new year, I watch "Singing in the Rain". It is one of my favourite films and the dancing is superlative. In the scene with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, the intensity of interaction is breathtaking.

But one need not aspire to such heights of perfection in order to engage in the absolute delights of dance. So, if it so pleases, and you have always fancied it, I urge you to seek out a class and take Fair Terpsichore's hand.

1 comment:

Librarian said...

It seems unbelievable that nobody has commented on this wonderful post of yours; I suspect you may have fallen victim to the bug here on blogger that keeps removing blogs from other people's reading lists.
Anyway, I miss dancing - I've only started to learn it this spring, and there have been, for various reasons, long gaps of up to 2 1/2 months between one dance party and the next, so my progress is a lot slower than I think it should be.
It still fascinates me in how different it is to everything else (well, almost everything else) I've done until now.