Being a Dancer

Image of contemporary dance group practice

Made2Move Group at practice

It seems I am a dancer or, at least that I am becoming a dancer. Not a ballroom dancer, a contemporary dancer. And I say, “becoming”, because although I have had a contemporary mentor/trainer over the past two years, I have no previous training.  Genre aside, recently I was asked “are you a dancer?” As the questioner knew  that I was facilitating a contemporary dance group, I found the question puzzling. I suspected it was a question in the spirit of sheer disbelief that a 53 year old man has the audacity to enter that space of the contemporary dance. However, the question drew my attention to a frailty in my own grasp of the idea of dancing and a dancer. Does one become a dancer? When is one a dancer? And, anyhow, what is dancing?

Although I have only been directly engaged in contemporary dance for the past two year, I have been living with movement professionally as a physiotherapist for 30 years. Over the past 4 years I have chosen to take my professional knowledge and apply it through a creative and artistic framework. When the opportunity to become involved in contemporary dance arose, it was a neat fit. It is not the only creative approach that I have taken to movement. In an interest to find solutions to the burgeoning problem of the ageing population, fitness and movement capacity, I have worked with the characteristics for neuroplastic stimulation in designing two programs: Fake It; and The Big Board Game.

For any professional working in the neuroplastic field regarding the ageing brain, dance will quickly appear on the radar. And, while a lifetime of dance such as ballroom dancing will have significant brain resilient effects, the very important feature of neuroplastic enhancing activity, NOVELTY, will be diminished once a person has developed the habits of the ballroom. Contemporary dance, with its constant exploration of the movement of the body, the emotional-movement connection, the creative design in movement, the incorporation of music and word in recognisable and novel ways, the individual and group work, the social experience, and the potential for complete original choreographical performance provides a fantastic ‘kicker’ of the neuroplastic process. To my professional eye contemporary dance is a huge neon sign saying, “FUTURE”.

But back to the questions. What is dance? Well it seems obvious. It is, umm, well.. it is … movement. Okay got that far. Fluid movement. Mmm. Not always. Quick movement. Well maybe most of the time. But I haven’t really defined it any differently from sport with those appelations. 

I then turned the issue on it’s head. What is it about movement that is not dance? Dance seems to be a word that labels certain types of unusual social communication through movement and is then used as a metaphor for sets of things of which their interaction creates constant changes in each other. Occupation seems to be crucial to the idea of what is not dance. Walking along the street isn’t dance. Hammering nails into wood while building a house isn’t dance. Replying to emails isn’t dance. Competitive sports isn’t dance except when dance is competitive. Yet aren’t so many of the daily occupations resonant of the metaphorical ‘dance’. Walking in contemporary dance, IS dance. As are a lot of actions that have the appearance of functionality in some other life. Yet, certainly, there are movements in contemporary dance,  and most dance forms, that would not be seen in the functional experience of a daily life. So, dance seems to be that name we give for movement that is primarily imaginative but which has yet an important role in society for storytelling, emotional expression, and adult inter-gender play, and, therefore, which society has relegated to specially contrived occasions. In these occasions, any males and/or a females is permitted, in public space, to move their body in a non-occupational manner, within a comforting ritual or a discomforting freeform. Otherwise, in the privacy of one’s home, while sweeping with a broom, who else is to say what does or doesn’t pass for dancing.

Solving in some part the definition of dancing, solves the problem of becoming a dancer. Becoming a dancer means, then, to purposefully engage in non-occupational, imaginative, non-competitive, interactive movement play. Becoming a contemporary dancer means engaging in the novel exploration of human movement as an artistic and creative vehicle.  

Is there a distinction between becoming a dancer and being a dancer? There are two that I can see. The first is when, upon engaging with the artform, a person occurs to themselves as a dancer. This ‘being’ occurs as a mindshift that is not attached to any preconceived idea of what a dancer is. The dancer IS as it occurs to them that they dance. The second is the dancer who has achieved a certain mastery and strive for greater mastery. Society commonly provides formal recognition of the minimal standards of mastery before society allows a person to perceive themselves as having mastery. In many cases this is to prevent harm in society. However art can be recognised by both it’s common application and its mastery. While the child is not a carpenter because they came upon a hammer and struck a nail, the child who dances IS a dancer, and except for discouragement, would grow in mastery for all of life. So, when a 50 something person enters the practice of dance, even for one day, they might clear a space for themselves to be a dancer, and so then THEY ARE. And having cleared that space, what mastery is possible will come.


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