Thursday, July 19, 2012

Building community through dance...

An e-mail from a former student/ intern/ friend prompted this reflection. I've been hesitant to write about it, but the next post demands some background. So, here goes...

What does it mean to appreciate dance? The moving body? The human form?

Who is considered a "dancer"? Who is allowed to dance? Why?

I've taught many variations of courses approaching the recognition of dance as an art form... muddling through what that means and what the term "art" means.

Oftentimes, it comes out that everyone can dance and everyone does dance.

Why the fear of dance? Why the stigma? What are these barriers and how do we combat them? (Because I often find that people are afraid of dance... when really it's an understanding of their bodies that is the fear).

As an exercise in one of these such classes, I challenged my students to create a dance for their community. What defines their community? (the mission, vision, and values of the institution). What do these elements mean? How do they translate into physical form (ie, through lectures, articles, buildings, press materials)? What would these elements look like in a dance?

What music would effectively reflect the community? What would have to happen, in time, space, and energy to allow for anyone/ everyone to feel the connection between the movement, the music, and the said values of the institution?

Serious work and research ensued.

We settled on the Black Eyed Peas "One Tribe" as our music. I asked these dancers to listen carefully to the lyrics and analyze them. What did they mean? How did they reflect the mission, vision, values? Who were the Black Eyes Peas and how did their mission align with that of the institution?

Insert papers and discussion and moments of "I never thought of it that way." (One of my favorite comments from students, regardless of age or situation).

Then came the "hard" part. How to translate this to movement. What did that look like?

Well... we reflected again on the mission, vision, and values. There are simple movements to a beat that most people can do. They can be modified to accommodate people who need mobility assistance or need to remain seated. The dance repeated so that everyone participating could have an opportunity to feel successful in "getting it right." The dance had a moment for the movers to insert their own sense of self through improvisation - whatever that means to them. The dance changes direction in space so that everyone has a chance to be "up front" (a place of importance) and that the audience members have an opportunity to be addressed and engaged regardless of their placement to the dancers. For example, this dance is perfect for a theater in the round or a "random" public place like a cafeteria or mall. Everyone watching has an opportunity to participate and be acknowledged. (And in my mind, those who are acknowledged are more likely to be engaged and will participate).

These students and I taught the dance to as many other students of dance as we could. Some of the students used the dance as a diversity program for their own purposes. Some of the students taught the dance to their other classes. We were invited by the heath and wellness program to teach the dance as a form of stress- relief. We taught the dance to adults who might not have wanted to dance. We taught the dance to children. We taught the dance to anyone who would give us a few minutes.

We danced where ever there was an opportunity.

And not everyone understood us. Or accepted us. In fact, we were often judged. But I understand that people judge things with which they are unfamiliar and things that are a little scary. It's a defense mechanism. (More importantly, my young students began to develop this understanding as well. They could see that the judgement was a form of fear and they could combat that with patience and education!) And the fear is valid.  We live in our bodies and our bodies retain information that our conscious minds forget. These memories are often physicality enacted.

HOWEVER! Some of those same people who were hesitant did eventually engage with the dance and remarked on how much fun they had. How much of a community they felt a part of. How they'd come back to dance again (and they did!). Some people will still judge... but I believe it's just a matter of patience on my (our) part. Everyone dances and everyone sometimes needs to be reminded of the joy that occurs in the moving body.

Again, this dance has been adapted for many different populations of differing abilities. I challenged an occupational therapy group of students to find ways to adapt the dance for people who might need some adjustments. They were successful and even surprised themselves that they could use their creative energies to transform something seemingly unfamiliar into something accessible and applicable.

The beauty of the dance is in the coming together. The community. The joy of dancing.

I love this song!

(Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to this song but the institution for which the dance was created did have one of those umbrella rights, which I don't know very much about, but I did make sure that everything was legal before embarking on this project. And I also believe that understanding popular media and pop culture are important parts of education, but I'm not quite "cool" enough to be an expert.... I leave that to the people much "cooler" than I).

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