You’re driving to work. You didn’t sleep well last night, and coffee just isn’t cutting it. You’re listening to the news station and hearing devastating story after devastating story. Oh, and you’re 40 minutes late for work because of construction. You strategically switch the news station to the next one because you’ve reached your limit on natural disasters and political scandals. You hear a song you haven’t heard in at least four years, and your face breaks out into an expression that only your best friend could truly appreciate if they were next to you hearing this song blaring out your car speakers. Before you know it, your head is swaying back and forth and your fingers are tapping on the steering wheel to the beat. There’s no stopping it—you have entered full-fledged car dancing mode. And you know what? Your day just turned around.
We’ve all heard the expression “Dance like nobody’s watching,” but have we really taken into consideration what this means? It means to let go. Dancing can be one of the most freeing forms of self-expression and creativity. You could be the worst dancer in the world, and yet participate in it every day and be considered a success because it’s fun and feels good for you. Sometimes you hear a song that sparks a particular memory and you start to move your shoulders to the beat without even realizing it. I’m from Nova Scotia, where dancing at pubs to local bands and jumping up and down like fools is part of our culture. If you manage to escape the pub without splatters of different flavoured beers all over your dress…well, then you certainly didn’t have enough fun. I can’t even remember how many black and blue bulging bruises I’ve suffered on my feet from other peoples’ stiletto shoes or heavy feet stomping on top of mine during a Great Big Sea song. How about those ridiculous cliché songs that pair with signature dances that are played at almost every wedding or work event to tie together young and old? You know, YMCA…The Twist…and who on earth can resist an open opportunity to do the Macarena? I promise you, more than half the reason I ever agreed to go to my ice-skating lessons as a child was merely for when they did the chicken dance at break time.
My mother came back from her vacation to Mexico with my father and said to me “I did something for the first time in Mexico, and I loved it!” Hesitantly, I prodded her for more information. She told me she literally danced like nobody was watching and just had a fun time dancing on the beach to the music. She rarely gets up and dances at events, but she finally participated and admitted how much fun it was and how good it felt. It warmed my heart to think of my mother being able to let go of pre-conceived notions and feeling comfortable enough in her own skin to dance around and feel happy.
Culturally, dance is extremely distinct and important to ethnic representation. Some cultural groups dance to praise their god or their leader. Others dance to show thanks to other people, while some dance simply to show how happy their souls are. In New Zealand, the traditional dance of the Maori people is the Kapa Haka, which is done for several reasons such as representing historical events and to show general unity within their culture and tribe. The dance includes rhythmic vocals, well-choreographed body movements and provocative facial expressions (including sticking out their tongues, glaring at the audience with wide open eyes) that are sure to captivate any audience. The Haka originated as a war dance and is done before many cultural events and occasions in the country. It is a well-known dance amongst international rugby fans as the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team performs the Haka before each match. Many people world-wide tune in to the All Blacks matches ahead of the start of the game merely to see this enthralling dance. I find this to be one of the most fascinating cultural dances, and have yet to experience it in person.
Here is a compilation of the All Blacks doing the Haka before various matches. The power is tangible:
Dance can also be used as a form of escape from dire circumstances. Children going through troublesome times and are surrounded by war often list school, sports and dancing/music as the personal identifiers that allow them to uplift themselves from the life they have been dealt. There is something innately beautiful about a child who is able to smile and dance within the rhythms of their own heart, despite the violent society that may be living in.
In 2007 a documentary “War Dance” was released (it was nominated for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature). The film follows three pre-teen children from the Acholi ethnic group who are heading to a national music competition after their primary school wins the regional music competition in the Ugandan Refugee Camp in Patongo. Patongo is located in Northern Uganda and is kept under watch by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a group of terrorists that had been viciously fighting against the Ugandan Government for over 20 years. The film displays the beauty of dance and music and how these children tell other tribes their village stories and tribulations through cultural dance and remarkable creativity. Dancing becomes an outlet for them to release painful memories that most of us could never even fathom in our greatest nightmares.
Dance. Jump up and down on your bed if you have to (providing you have a warranty and reliable trusty springs). Stop trying to look cool and collected when you really just want to flap your arms around like an orangutan and laugh endlessly. Life is short and these moments are the times you will look back on and smile, remembering how open and free you felt and refused to give in to how society thinks you should behave.