I wrote this article 20 years ago for Dance Spirit, a twice weekly dance event I produced and dj’d in Marin County – beginning in 1987 in Fairfax, it was a beloved community dance until 2001. Long before there was “conscious” dance there was barefoot improvisational dance, wild, free, a few less rules – and SF Barefoot Boogie, the Berkeley Dance Jam and Dance Spirit were the local venues.
Many of us in the dance community first met one another on the dance floor – perhaps long ago at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax, or at Dance Spirit, Laughing Mama, or Dance Jam. What an interesting way to get to know someone, through her energy and movement. I get to feel into who this being is, how sensitive or dynamic, present or playful, without a clue to her background or personal life.
I’ve thought a lot about the role of dance in creating and building community. On the dance floor, individuals from widely disparate socio-economic levels, cultures and age groups all meet in the rhythm of the music. Just by moving on the beat together, there is a feeling of harmony and connection. This rhythmic entrainment that occurs in dance is enormously satisfying. At times the entire room is in a state of rhythmic harmony and we dance as one unified field. I believe our hearts naturally open to one another; this unity we experience is the “one heart.” This connectedness we feel then carries over to our lives together in community.
As important as this feeling of connection is, the flip side, our unique individual nature, can also be cultivated on the dance floor, especially in improvisational dance, in which we are making it up in the moment, experimenting and expressing our feelings to the music. As we do this, we embody our unique creativity and allow our beauty to show through. When each dancer on the dance floor is immersed in her dance, there is a wonderful sense of permission to be fully oneself. This heightened individuality, together with feeling interconnected, results in new forms emerging: a circle will spontaneously form, or an unusual geometric shape, as the dancers merge in new ways.
I notice that as I become increasingly free in my own dance, I feel more free to co-create with other dancers. I take the risk to play off their movements, to initiate a non-verbal conversation. If a dancer responds, we play back and forth, building on each other’s energy. Sometimes we create a soft and deep nourishing field of awareness together. At other times the connection may be fiery, full-out and wild. We form a third body between us and the energy takes my body into levels of movement I can’t create alone.
The richness I experience dancing reverberates in my everyday life. In dance we risk being seen, defining ourselves, making bold moves, letting go of the critic inside, opening our hearts to our own self and one another. These skills build a person who feels secure inside, able to be a part of a community without getting lost. In dance we learn to follow our own truth, to be cooperative instead of competitive, and to trust and enjoy the support of the group. Individuality, interconnection and co-creativity are vital components of true community.
Our ancestors danced together around fires and in village squares. Dancing was an integral part of daily life. I believe we are reviving an essential element of tribal/community life – the dance. Again and again we come together to go deep with one another, to be renewed, to open our hearts, to see one another fully and accept one another.