Posts Tagged ‘Dance’

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Looking back, I have always been drawn to dancers and dancing. “Singing in the Rain” ranks on my top five favorite films, and I was a strange super-fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, thanks to the movie “White Nights.” Throw “Footloose” into the mix of my formative years, and I was doomed to a life of wistfully longing to enter the magical world of dance.

I never took dance lessons, they were a luxury, expensive; they still are, but I find, more and more, that dance is a necessity in my life.

Since moving to Chicago, I have enrolled in a variety of dance classes, and I am sure there are more types of dance in my future.

I know my skill level as a dancer (indefinitely beginner), and am happy to work at it. The truly tremendous thing about taking dance classes as an adult is that there is no hope whatsoever that I could have a career as a dancer. Thus, the pressure is off, and all that remains is to relish the pure pleasure of moving to music.

There are oftentimes ludicrous limitations and extreme expectations imposed upon children with regard to excelling in extracurricular activities, and dance is among these demanding atmospheres. Eager, dedicated young dancers are too often treated with disdain. The proclamations that someone is “not talented enough,” “not a natural dancer,” or that he or she doesn’t have “a dancer’s body” are ridiculous.

Do you have a body? Good, you can dance.

Suggesting dance is reserved for the elite undermines the joy that dance can bring to every life, (and explains why ballet performances are so poorly attended). Dancing at home with cherished family, at parties with unforgettable friends, at bars with inviting strangers, and at weddings with, ideally, every guest between 2 and 92 remains as an unrivaled way to celebrate being alive.

I enjoy learning, so dance lessons offer an extension of that fun, even when I am frustrated by my own meager abilities. I see the teacher do something, and I try to imitate it. I know in advance that my attempts will be a poor reflection, but I don’t care. There is something about dancing that makes me want to try, even though I know I will not master it (perhaps I have finally realized why people like to golf).

My first foray into dance lessons was a delightful class at The Old Town School of Folk Music. I took guitar lessons, too. Do yourself a favor and take lessons there, as it is as close to a hippie commune as can be found in 21st century Chicago. The class was “Hip Hop for Beginners,” and my instructor was a woman who was professionally known simply as “Boogie.” That alone was enough for me to appreciate. Alas, I didn’t excel at Hip Hop, particularly when the skills moved to the floor, meaning falling to the floor and popping back up. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I am not adept at this type of quick vertical movement. Hip shaking was my strongest skill, so I left Hip Hop behind, so to speak.

The next type of dancing I explored was Bollywood dance, essentially musical theater with a Hindi backdrop. The moves in Bollywood are an enchanting blend of gesture and storytelling. My teacher was excellent, knowledgeable, and indefatigable. I’ve never seen an adult with so much energy. She shared the splendor and vitality of this important cultural tradition with boundless enthusiasm. Dance provides an incredibly rich entrance into the remarkably beautiful cultures of the world, a global excursion without the high cost airfare.

The current “dance” class I attend is Zumba, though it is technically an exercise class inspired by and infused with dance. Nevertheless, my instructor, Krista, is trained in tap, jazz, classical, and currently competes as a ballroom dancer, so she brings plenty of fancy footwork to her far less agile students. The music at Zumba is eclectic, but most songs whether popular or obscure contain a driving beat and Latin rhythms. Ass shaking is an absolute necessity in Zumba, which keeps me coming back for more.

The fine art of dance requires discipline, yes, and there are truly gifted dancers in the world, thank heavens, whose skill and talent are a joy to behold. However, that shouldn’t preclude everyone from joining in the fun. Imagine if professional chefs were the only ones permitted in the kitchen, or Olympic swimmers where the only ones allowed in the pool. We all need to be encouraged to fully participate in all the joys of living.

There are dance floors enough in this world to accommodate everyone. So, don’t wait for permission, or even an invitation; get out there and dance.

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

A couple days ago the New York Times ran a story about the re-dating of an ancient flute found in modern day Germany.  The flute, made of bird bone and mammoth ivory, was thought to be 36,000 years old but more recent dating has pushed the age of the flute to roughly 43,000 years old.  This is the oldest musical instrument known, though that doesn’t mean it was the first musical instrument.  Absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.  I have no doubt that buried deep within caves of Africa there exist remnants of even more ancient musical instruments that early humans crafted and used.

Lascaux Cave Bull

Though there may be older ones waiting to be found, a 43,000 year old flute is pretty darned ancient.  To put this into context, the famous cave art at Lascaux was probably completed 25,000 years after this flute was utilized. This is more than just an interesting side-note in the New York Times Science section, or in the world of archeology. This flute says something important about humanity.  Such an amazing finding provides evidence that music is as ancient as any human artistic expression and that human nature is inherently musical. Symbolic language is usually the trait scientists identify as to what makes humans different from other animals, but music cannot be far off. In fact, evolutionary archeologist Steven Mithen believes that human language and human music are very much interrelated. Though this is a controversial idea, there is no debating that the symbolic use of music provides another example of human uniqueness.

Knowledge of the flute raises the inevitable question: What did these ancient Europeans use music for? That we may never know, but it sure is fun to guess.  A safe assumption would be that music was central to proto-religious and spiritual rituals; perhaps it was utilized to calm nerves and entrance listeners, especially infants; or, maybe music was used for entertainment and dance.   It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to believe that dance went hand in hand with this ancient instrument. Dance has probably been with us for as long as music, though, of course, there will never be any physical remnant found that proves this to be the case.  But just as music is a part of all human cultures, dance and physical reactions to music are as well.  It doesn’t matter who you are, it is darned near impossible not to have a kinetic reaction to music as it is played.  Tapping of toes, drumming of fingers, whistling, humming; these things come naturally.

I would go so far as to argue that dance is an inborn human response to music. If this seems doubtful to you, crank up some beats for the nearest infant you can find.  The smallest children are enthralled by music, and will move rhythmically when some tune catches their attention.  I know this first hand, since at 6 to 9 months old my daughters loved playing drums, blowing flutes, and hitting piano keys, while swaying or shaking rhythmically to the sounds they made. Children develop this desire even before they have the ability to speak words.  I am sure 43,000 years ago, some prehistoric parents were amazed to figure this out; or, maybe they were simply relieved to realize a good way to keep their baby occupied was to let him pound on the ole’ reindeer hide drums.