I can't dance but as I get older, I learn to appreciate its cultural and social importance. Dance is effectively a reaction to external and internal stimuli. Everyone has memories of dancing at parties. The dancers that we most often recall are notably the flamboyant ones. The ones who move like eels through water. The ones who fully occupy the space they have. I have fond memories of dancing once with a friend at a Gothic themed disco. Just the two of us spinning around in a pseudo waltz style to a Nick Cave song, which had clearly scared off some of the other dancers (their style seemed to be more frequently of the floor staring variety, whilst they periodically moved from one foot to the other slowly. A symbolic representation of an insularity that seemed to express their inner engagement with the lyrics of the songs on offer). We carried on regardless unaware of the people around us.
Through my attendance of performances, I have in my head some notion of what constitutes a memorable dance performance for me. For me, there needs to be a theme, narrative or emotional structure holding the performance together. Otherwise, the dancers are simply moving as meaningfully as a group of ramblers to me. I cannot describe dance movements to you, just how they make me feel. A balletic jump can be impressive as a way of denoting strength of character or it can be a throwaway gesture wasted on me.
Dance at its most potent to me challenges my conceptions and makes me feel. I have seen productions based on songs such as Michael Clark Company's interpretation of some of Patti Smith's songs and I feel tremendous satisfaction interpreting how hand movements and bodily slides express a point. On the other hand, I have seen performances that have tried to be too clever and the dancers have been seemingly performing in counterpoint to the music. I have a particular liking for Matthew Bourne's shows. I suspect that this may be because of his emphasis upon narrative sources, whether these be fairy tales or operas. It is easier to concentrate on a story, however condensed than on a random sequence of dances with only a slight theme.
Having said all of that, if you reduce dance to its essential state, it can be primal, ritualistic and indeed, a courtship device. Tribal dancing bringing forth a good harvest or reaffirming the strength of a community. Possibly, it means something more if you are part of the proceedings but even watching from a distance, the power of movement can overcome.
If someone gives you the opportunity to dance, don't say no, just enter a trance like state and spin on the spot or leap majestically from one foot to the next. If you feel it, do it.
Barry Watt - 27th December 2016.
Nick Cave is a major singer/songwriter/writer who remains a significant performer:
Michael Clark Company has its own website:
Patti Smith is another major singer/songwriter/writer who really needs to be heard and seen more widely:
Matthew Bourne continues to produce innovative and inspiring shows, which he tours: