In Dance gathered responses from various members of our Bay Area community. Our question polled the opinion of dancers, choreographers, adminstrators, enthusiasts, and teachers. Whether it’s a personal connection to movement, an appreciation about a specific form, or global thoughts on the feild–what follows are candid, honest, and lively voices, sharing thoughtful answers to our question: What’s the value of dance?
Katy Alaniz Rous (Barnhill): Word Dance Fusion
In Zimbabwe they say ” if you can walk you can dance.” That’s what I felt at two dancing uncontrollably to live music at a social gathering–my grandmother’s funeral. For western culture my mother did what was expected and put me into ballet classes at three. But growing up in the SF cultural melting pot exposed me to so much more: Samba, Flamenco, Russian Character, Afro-Haitian, Kathak and more soon followed.
Dance begins with social movement behavior. The way that we use our hands when we speak, or how closely we stand to someone is all learned by our children. Every culture is different… from these movements come our cultural dance.
I remember teaching African dance in India, students from 5-40yrs. The whole class was having problems with body rolls because the undulation they were socialized with was lateral. Teaching Indian classical dance in Spain the precision of the mudras (hand gestures) was challenging for Flamenco dancers. They were used to a degree of hand freedom with their elegant flores.
We all talk with our bodies. Dance is how we communicate. I practice over 30 types of cultural dance and travel all over the world to teach. I do not always speak the language. But I do. I believe that the value of dance is not just something to be appreciated on a stage, but for everyone to experience as part of culture.
We have to be responsible for changing the world mentality to make dance integral. Now is the time with the willing masses. Everyone catches shows like SYTYCD and Dancing With the Stars. People in all parts of the country actually watch some dance weekly.
In most other countries people speak at least two languages. Let’s make dance our second. The world will follow our lead.
David Martinez: Rhythm & Motion Dance Workout
The role of dance has shifted many times in my life, so now more than ever, I’m aware that dance’s value is not fixed. When I found dance at 17, I left my studies in visual art because I knew that dance would allow me a chance to deal in abstraction in a way that I never could in my drawing and painting; it was through dance that I would be able to communicate the unseen and not-easily expressed. As a professional modern dancer, I found great value in the challenge of executing something with my body. When I began suffering from a non-epileptic seizure disorder, when sounds, movements, or seemingly nothing at all would cause my body to seize at the magnitude of grand mal seizures, the value of dance became more about a kind of grace and good fortune–had I truly known how lucky I was to have been a dancer? The seizures eventually died down and I was able to return to dance, partially through the good fortune of finding GAGA, Ohad Naharin’s movement language. GAGA offered me dancing as a more profound relationship to my body; the act of movement became less about commanding my body to execute steps and more about experiencing the sensations and pleasure of moving. As a choreographer and viewer of dance, I’ve valued dance’s ability to communicate; it is a conduit for connection to not just emotion, but also structure and
craft (“the artist’s hand”), surprise, pushing physical limits, and in some of the most powerful moments, stillness and presence.
Now, working for Rhythm & Motion Dance Workout and learning about that rich and passionate community, I see the value of dance through new eyes. Dance is space outside of life’s commitments and stress. Dance is interactive and communal. And above all else, dance is fun.
Yannis Adoniou: KUNST-STOFF Dance Company
Plato’s words come to mind: “The dance, of all the arts, is the one that most influences the soul. Dancing is divine in its nature and is the gift of the gods.” As a young boy I wanted to be a priest and in a way when I experience dance today, I feel the performative moment calls for a divine responsibility in me. Dancers express through truth, commitment and support, we constantly are emanating what we are with our bodies so to inspire others. Dance brings balance and connects brain and body, intuition and intelligence. Dance sharpens the brain while it opens new paths of expression directly in the body that then communicates through vibration out into the world.
Charya Burt: Master Dancer, Teacher, Choreographer
Dance defines my past, present and future.
I have been a practitioner of Classical Cambodian dance (court dance) since I was a little girl. Over 1000 years ago classical dance was established as a bridge between the gods and the kings–the spiritual and the natural world. Reaching its Golden Age in the 1960’s, today the dance continues to be the symbol of cultural identity for the Cambodian people.
When the Pol Pot Regime took over the country in 1975, classical dance, as well as education and religion, was prohibited. All dancers and teachers had to hide their identities or face near certain death. My uncle and master teacher, Chheng Phhon, the director of Phnom Penh’s Fine Arts School, had to claim he was a cow watcher. Approximately 90% of all Cambodian artists perished between 1975-1979.
What is remarkable to me is that despite the unparalleled disorder, displacement, and destruction of the country, the Khmer people found a way to survive. This spirit of perseverance is embodied by the way classical dancers were able to survive through their close connection to the soul of the dance and its correlative relationship with cultural traditions. Through the act of dance the master teachers and dancers were able to rebuild their wounded spirit to bring back life to traditional Cambodian arts. Because of their strong spirit, passion, and commitment to rebuilding the dance, I have been inspired to continue their mission.
Here in the US I have worked hard to preserve and promote the sacred nature of my art form, while also creating new works that reflect my concerns and passions. For me, dance is a bridge that links two worlds together, my native culture and American culture. Through dance movements I have found ways to express my thoughts, emotions, and spiritually.
Stella Adelman: Dance Mission
“I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.”
Growing up dancing was priceless–I gained a self-confidence that would have been unobtainable otherwise. Through dance we were taught how to be comfortable in our own skin, how to take up space, how to be larger than life, how to have ‘presence’ and BE present. We were taught not how to ‘sit still and be quiet,’ but how to harness our energy and create beauty. We were taught how to focus and throw focus, how to navigate ourselves in relation to others. I got to be part of something much bigger than myself and yet feel that my participation was crucial. I literally felt the synapses firing when I learned choreography–translating what I saw into what I did. Then there was the mathematics of dance–learning the rhythm, the counts, and the patterns, the moving through space. We learned how to tell stories, communicate emotions through our movement. The frontal part of the cerebral cortex being shaped, sculpted with every rehearsal, every class. Do not tell me that I would have gained more by having to sit through yet another period of Literacy.
There is a reason why so many spiritual practices include dancing–why people say dance class is their ‘church,’ their therapy. The serotonin released is more than any ‘runner’s high.’ I am never so grounded and so simultaneously ungrounded than when I am dancing. Dance is a very personal experience, yet at the same time very communal. You get to dance WITH people: cooperate, connect and create something that only exists in that instance and will never again be repeated. And in that, there is a bond that is stronger than any team. Happy dancing!