Dance had been around for as long as humans have inhabited the Earth, and is common in cultures around the world. Unfortunately, we currently live in a world that doesn’t promote dance and particularly in the United States dance isn’t viewed as especially beneficial.
Dance is among the most deeply ingrained forms of expression we humans possess. We live in a world that is increasingly disconnected by the very nature of our interconnectivity. Digital communities and channels allow us to communicate instantly around the globe, which is an amazing asset and simultaneously dangerous: it is sometimes easy to forget that we are physical beings. There is no human without a human body. We get used to expressing ourselves through our words and voices, and don’t consider that we could do so in a larger way through our whole bodies. Dance serves as an easy way for aiding physical communication. By use of more than just words, faces, and voices, dance allows us to communicate more fully, often first discovering and then expressing through more thorough use of ourselves.
When we think of exercise what usually comes to mind is gyms and treadmills, or if we are lucky cross-fit and sports. But there the conversation ends. Maybe we play a sport, or actually enjoy running, or are among the fortunate few to have been able to take a childhood passion for football into an informal adult league which we squeeze in among a busy work schedule. But even though our physical bodies are fundamentally a part of ourselves, for most people physical activities are secondary to the main activities of life. In short, our bodies have become a burden.
Dance provides us an outlet that is far different from these more common approaches to fitness and physical activity. Dance can range from the most easy-going of physical activities – literally just more enjoyable walking – to the most challenging and dynamic – professional break dancers and ballet dancers who train and perform upwards of 8 hours each day.
As just one small example, an estimated 12 million gym-goers every week around the world attend Zumba classes. This Latin-inspired dance and fitness class serves as a gateway into even more dynamic physical activity. Because Zumba is designed to be welcoming to newcomers, attendees often discover an interest in physical movement that eventually grows into gym or sports activities. Zumba is a gateway drug.
Dance is an effortless way that people around the world connect. Roughly, we can divide dancing into studio and social dancing, where social dances like ballroom and salsa are done with a partner, while studio dances like ballet and modern may be practiced partnered, as part of a class, or individually. Regardless, though, dance is an environment which is conducive to community. Social dancing is inherently designed as a way for people to meet each other. In cultures that are more stiff about their social spaces, social dancing breaks down these barriers and allows partners to touch each other physically in what might other be inappropriate ways. Social dancing happens in clubs and bars, at venues that cater to a specific style of dance (Argentine Tango, for example), at concerts and a wide variety of other spaces. But because interaction is though physical communication, whether physical contact like the hand holding required for salsa dancing, or just in proximity at a night club, ordinary discomforts of conversations with strangers often give way to more fluid connections.
Interested in continuing the discussion of the future of dance? I’m organizing the next Design for Dance conference at Stanford University. Stay tuned for more!