“One may judge of a king by the state of dancing during his reign.”
– Ancient Chinese maxim
Dance is a gift to humanity. Liberating and life-affirming, it can transcend all barriers: time, age, status, and culture.
However, modern dance has drifted far from its roots…
|Dance in ages past…||Dance today…|
In the past, dance was more often a communal activity. It included everyone in the community, out in public when the weather was good. Dance today has mostly been driven indoors, into the realm of experts. “I’m not good enough to dance”, lay people frequently say.
This isn’t to say that skilled dancers don’t play an important role. I’ve attended many dance performances. It’s wonderful to see the art taken to new creative places. At the same time, the decline of group dancing in public has weakened communities. Dance strengthens and expresses community. A group of people dancing together can be one of life’s most joyous moments.
For many years I was a stranger to group dance. It seemed like something for other people. But as a community organizer, group dance’s power has won me over. In neighborhood street events I’ve co-organized, group dance has opened a door into a happier, more connected, and less inhibited society.
Here are some of my favorite dance scenes from our events:
In my organizing years, two communal dance styles that have stood out to me as particularly joyous and unifying. If you believe that we are happiest when living in community, try the following dances. They will show you a glimpse of a happier world.
1. Spiral dancing
Spiral dancing is so simple, so merry. To the unacquainted, it might be hard to believe something so basic could be so powerful and enjoyable.
The format is simple: People (the more the better) stand in a circle holding hands. The leader lets go of one hand and walks around the inside of the circle, pulling the line with her. The group spirals into the center, singing a simple song taught by the leader. Once in the center, the leader spirals back out through the layers of people.
Spiral dancing is a powerful way to unify people. We even organized one at my wedding. It was a moment we’ll never forget…
2. Contra dancing
After my first contra dance a few years ago, I was wowed. “Where has this dance been all my life?”, I thought. It’s phenomenally fun.
Contra is a folk dance popular across the US and UK. It’s great for beginners. The format is straightforward. Men and women (some events are not gender segregated) partner up and face each other in two long lines. A person (the “caller”) calls out dance instructions. Participants follow along as a folk band plays. After number of instructions, the cycle repeats.
Here’s a typical example of a contra dance:
Some friends I’ve introduced to contra have fallen in love with it. We’ve met many people at the dances and the all-ages mixing is a refreshing contrast to our all too often age-segregated lives. Try it; you may come back for more.
Like I once did, perhaps you’re thinking “Seem like those people are enjoying it, but it doesn’t look like my thing.” But give it a go! You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it.
We’ll know when our society is happy and healthy. There’ll be dancing in the streets.