What is Dance? It is Dancing

Igor Polk, June 15, 2006

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Elements of Dancing

What is music;


Tango as Art;


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This is a philosophical question and article about what dance is.

I am reading some books about dancing. What greatly surprises me is that they practically do not talk about music and pleasure. While I consider music and pleasure most important. I believe for all Tango dancers it is quite obvious. I would go even further: they define what dance is:

Visual effects of dancing is secondary. Movement to the beat expressed in sounds has the magical effect on us: we come to the euphoria, trance. Dancing in a group we experience the powerful drive to unity. Unity of free people united in free formations. No wonder dancing for millennia was main spiritual or entertaining activity for all religious, social, political, and even military activities.

With the development of political hierarchy dancing was subdued to the ideological needs of the ruling class, domesticated, or simply forbidden.

Music was born out of dancing. Music is incorporated in us, since so many processes in and activities of the body are rhythmical. Musicians dance playing instruments. Dancers play the instruments of their own body orchestra.

Yes, that is what I mean by "music played with body". In the direct sense. Your muscles become strings, your bones become drum sticks, your lungs become resonators. No. More. Each pair of muscles and bones curries an oscillating tone. Your body is a whole orchestra! And your spirit is your composer, conductor, and choreographer.

Musicality is a complex thing, but if you do not make your body ( and spirit ) an orchestra - it is under-developed musicality. To be highly musical your have to play music with your body.

I hope soon I will be able to tell you my view on how to find those body music and where is the rhythm in a single move. Meanwhile, here I wrote something about dance music and rhythm.

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All right, but still, what about performance dancing? Making a performance, or at least knowing that someone is watching, certainly adds a new blood-boiling component to a dance. In many dancing disciplines performance is the only purpose of dancing, and ART.

Yes. A show is an art. Individual dancing? It is an art too. Here we come to a question what comes first: individual pleasure or extravertal beauty. Are they equal? Currently I do not have an answer for this question, I just feel that performance dancing is secondary.

As for Tango, I believe that performance tango dance is as old as private or rather spiritual tango dance.

Were those gauchos not performing trying to show themselves off in front of their comrades? ( Almost said "colleagues" :) ). And one can be sure women in certain places were performing trying to get a desired customer.

It was like competitions.

The same in other folk dances. Russian dances, for example, always included an element of individual competition. The best dancers always were considered the best workers, smartest warriors, possible leaders, and obviously the best fiance. They were the backbone of the community and were generously supported by cheering audience.

There are at least 2 types of performance. To show themselves off. In a better sense: "Here, look, I am brave, I am able, and I am not afraid of your judgment: I am looking forward to it." It is like competition. Another type is a performance for money. Like showmen do: there is no need to proof anybody anything. It is emotional, but it is not the same: a boss is the ultimate judge. These two types of performance are different, aren't they?

Regarding Tango, there is one thing which competitions are not able to uncover. Who is the best tango dancer..

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Pleasure dancing Tango

Pleasure in dancing comes from many sources. Let us take Argentine Tango, an improvisational couple dance done in very close embrace as an example. So here they are:

Whew! Is it it?

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Some boring logic. Performance dance is not good when there is no music inside it. When it is not musical. It is not good when dancers do not experience internal pleasure, satisfaction of doing it. It shows. And if you feel something wrong in your performance dance - do not think that nobody noticed.

On the contrary, when a dance does not have showy elements, and only hard-boiled aficionados are able to recognize what is going on, a dance still can be highly enjoyable for a dancer and the partner. Even if it has only the simplest elements. That what makes a dance, not the visual appeal of movements.

That is why I think musicality and pleasure define what is dance, not the performance side.

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Oh, what am I talking about.. Can't one dance if there is no one watching? Of course he can! Therefore definition of dancing must not include performance.

But I still do not understand why they are not talking about music and pleasure while talking about dance. Is it so obvious, that no one even need to know how to become more musical and experience more pleasure? Or these writers just see the world this way: dancing is primary an activity to watch. They are choreographers and this is their business they are involved for long time. Can someone illuminate me on this discrepancy?

As you can see in my definition of dancing there is no place for show dancing. This is a totally different art close to any other visual art, moving or not moving: it affects and influences through visual images. Dancing, it is something which is inside of you, and between partners.

Tango Pleasure

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Since we have touched it here, several words about social function of dancing. This is not quite the same like social function of performance. Let me tell you what I mean.

Even though I am a proponent of personal pleasure and meditation as the main qualities of a dance, it is hard to believe that dancing is an individual activity. Even if it is quite possible to dance alone and have fun as I often do myself, the dancing implies other people. Not the audience. Other people dancing together with you. One or more.

Of course, dancing needs music. It is difficult to make most of movements playing an instrument oneself, so a dancer needs a musician. Two! You may say that musician is not a dancer, but if dancing is music played with the body, why not to suggest that music is dancing of a musician? Well, this takes us a little away, let us come back to the topic.

Dancing is the most ancient way of communication. Even animals dance. It puts participants onto the same wave united by the thread of musical beat. This way it has tremendous impact on participants bringing them together into social unity.

What a modern man meets at the dancing place first of all? His own shyness! Drinks help, but never the less it stays. It stays because, leaving in a complex societies we are closed. We are afraid to show the weaknesses. And this closeness effectively cuts us from others and does not let the steam out. With gaining some experience, the closeness goes away, and we again are able to feel ourselves who we really are: social beings, humans.

As for Tango, it simplifies the process. In tango one hardly can see anyone else, and nobody is able to watch anyone else, except the current partner. So, it smoothes the way a lot. Tango is probably the most elaborate way to experience social unity..

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To understand what is dancing it is important to mention two properties of it:

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Here is the link to Pulse article supporting some of the ideas. ( Pop-ups! )

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January 2, 2007

What is the function of dancing. As it may become clear already - to get pleasure.

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Couple words about spiritual side. Dancing is when spirit dances. If one is trying to remember figures, what goes after what, if one feels some disruption, from himself or a partner - this is not dancing yet. Dancing is achieving a state of trance through movements. If one is fighting with his own fear or luck of reaction - this is not a dance, only visibility of it. Highly choreographed movements can have the same effect of dance as deeply improvised as soon as it feels right. The difference between choreographed dance and improvised is that choreo is less stable. It is more prone to errors and abnormal situations in environment, while in improvisation the mind is in higher level of alertness easier coping with difficulties which might arise.

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From "Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers", by Fiona Kirk published by Dance Teacher:

".. He favored complicated choreography, with steps often set counter to the beat of the music in unpredictable patterns. "What was so extraordinary about Astaire was his musicality, his agility," Rudolf Nureyev once said. "He was music in motion. He invented his own rhythm; he imposed his own musicality, as if he wrote another instrument into the orchestration"."


The difference between Dance and Mime

2007 December 19

I was looking for the understanding of the difference between Dance and Mime.

It is elusive, since such fundamental notions as rhythms and dynamic visual images are found in all arts, science, and all other activites. Everything has its rhythms, including painting, politics, fights, and pantomime, and everything has its visual presentation and appeal. If you look at Martha Graham's dance, it is more like a pantomime than dance. Video. It is sort of abstract. Here is the realistic ( and more fun ) style: Marcel Marceau dancing Tango for you.

The difference is fundamental either. Dance is a play with rhythms. It is a primary goal. Feeling rhythms in the body is the ultimate pleasure of dance. Visual image is secondary, a result of that symphony of rhythms. These rhythmic plays are not related to anything in the area of consciousness. Dance is abstract by definition.

While the goal of the pantomime is to create visual image and affect spectators. Rhythms serve here.

They can transform into each other. Forget about the others and enjoy rhythm play of face muscles or hands movements - and you've got dancing. Everything can be dancing as soon as the rhythm play and enjoyment of that is happening. Here is an example of how a juggler made a dance out of boring circus art.

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Oh, those rhythms of Tango ! How greatly they interlaced !


What about spirit ?

It is wider understanding. Any art is when spirit dances.

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