There’s a kid at the end of the sidewalk. She’s gyrating to the beat emanating from her headphones. She’s in a trance, uninhibited by her surroundings and completely unaware of the mostly unreactive passersby who, save for an amused few, smile or frown before moving on. Some stragglers stick around for their own reasons. Whatever their reaction may be, each one will likely recall the dancer at some point in their day. She’s drawn attention to herself in a space in which they too interacted, adding an unexpected dimension to an otherwise normal day.
If, as Shakespeare posited “all the world’s a stage,” our first and most germinal mode of communication on this planet is the dance. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our bodies in their day-to-day movements are constantly reaching into existence, vying for space and negotiating the body politics within, and we inadvertently fall into entrancing rhythms and cadences of movement. There may be emotional entanglements to actualize, trepidations to manage, joyous incidents to enact, head-bopping teens to circumvent…
How present you are in this ubiety—the state of existing in a specific point in space—may depend on how you shimmy and shake your way through the day.
During my formative years I was privileged with a persistent and mandated curriculum in the performing arts outside of regular schooling. My first ballet teacher, Penny Oksana, was a staunch traditionalist straight from the deeply entrenched soviet Ukraine, who for two years expounded a rigorous and regimental rhythm of training exercises on my five-year-old body like a communist drill sergeant.
By age eight, I had started a ten-year amateur career as an eastern European folk dancer. The apogee was travelling to the soviet republic of Armenia—an ancient culture from which my own roots have long ago been deracinated—to learn classical and modern choreography under its national director. After five weeks of daily training, we returned home with a repertoire of new dances with which we would proudly display our cultural heritage and contribute to the greater mosaic.
The rush of performances at some of Toronto’s foremost dance venues was both exhilarating and gratifying after years of work and devotion. Parents, friends and strangers alike watched in adoration, admiration and approval as dancers representing different ethnicities gathered and danced on stage. A sense of unity and commonality was palpable. This priceless experience was about the communal and cultural exchanges that were taking place—a unique display of cultivated old world cultures brought to the new world, where each person has a right to represent an identity and share in that of others.
As a young teenager, I felt attuned to a higher cultural consciousness, as if I was communicating with the past through a very interesting medium. It was empowering. Communicating so much intrinsic and inherent culture without using verbal language has an amazing effect on all parties. I felt a part of a universal continuum, a global citizen. It felt as though everything was just as it was supposed to be. The entire world was beating to the rhythm of a single drum.
We have been dancing for millennia. Beginning with our primordial need to outsmart predators or prey, our bodies were the first tools with which we mimed stories and created historical narratives. Our inner rhythms eventually opened us up to other arts such as music. It’s all about rhythm—the long-distance runner creates a rhythm of breath as they groan and sigh their way through an uphill climb, martial arts are a system of dance orchestrated for self-preservation, the focal point of any community social event is the dance floor.
Dance is a physical embodiment of our most basic instinct—rhythm—and our continual attempt to express the Self in a material world… our very existence. From the time we’re in the womb we’re creating and responding to movement and rhythms within and without. It takes constant footwork to manoeuvre through time and space. Trained dancers are extremely sentient beings—spending vast amounts of time moving the physical frame with great purpose creates acute awareness of each movement and of any other body in motion in the vicinity. Their concept of space is more expansive than the myopia-inducing effects of a society that encourages a self-critical, mechanical and cosmetic image of the body. When you dance, whatever that means to you, you are making an ancient communion with our sacred being.
Dance is a readily available way to release energy, alleviate physical and emotional pain, and increase fitness. It affords sociability, identity, merriment and grows imagination in ways that are most profound. It’s also an important means to create a higher consciousness of Self within the biological soup of our daily lives. It can exorcize demons and tensions, while building a stronger, more spatially aware and empathic person. It’s also the paramount social interaction, a cohesive force in community building and an unfaltering homecoming for the individual’s place in society. Best of all, it can be done anywhere, anytime.
When I fell out of dance for over a dozen years, I felt disconnected, creatively sluggish and made poor decisions that adversely affected my health. I noticed the more I embraced the sedentary life of office work and lived only for the weekend, the less capable I was of dealing with psycho-emotional stress, recurring physical injuries and garnering the motivation for improving life in general.
These days, I pay alms to my humanity by trying to fit in some dancing in some small form every day. And I can recommend it as an easy way to shake yourself up and out of the blahs and blues! Do it on the subway by simply swaying your shoulders ever so slightly to the music playing in your ears, or just move your hips to your internal rhythm while seated at your desk. Try it and you may find that it catches and improves more than just the mood of your immediate surroundings.
That kid dancing on the sidewalk? She gets it! Don’t be afraid of the freedom you can find in reclaiming your space in your very natural being—your body. Assert your physical presence in this life by embodying it fully and imbuing it with the consciousness you deserve. You will find increasing wiggle room to be yourself and the lightness of everyday being will buoy your soul.
Let’s all take a step back. Let’s get back in sync with ourselves and find the dance floor in all our public spaces by reclaiming it in a surefooted way. Then we can live life footloose and fully free.
Learn about the power of dance to uplift and heal in LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING>>
by Saro Nova