Watch Like There’s Somebody Dancing

Tell the truth — you dance alone in your living room when there’s nobody watching and, in your mind, you totally look like one of those bouncy dancing silhouettes in the iPod ads. A lot of people say they don’t dance or they don’t know how to dance, but I suspect that everyone secretly does dance at some point. It seems like a basic impulse, to move your body to a beat in a manner that expresses joy… or pain. I don’t know much about prehistory; however, I suspect that it didn’t take long before cavepeople thought to bang two things together in a rhythmic manner. Then a party erupted in the cave and there was no going back from dancing for humans after that.

Henri Matisse's Dance (I) (1909)

Henri Matisse’s Dance (I) (1909)

Dancing, for me, is one of the most enjoyable activities in existence. When the music is good, it seems almost impossible not to dance (my friends can attest to this – at some point in the evening, I’m done talking, I’ve got to move!). And I can usually persuade a few people to boogie with me, but one activity that I normally do alone is attending dance shows.

Even though television programs such as Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have surely brought new audiences to dance, when I go to the National Arts Centre, I still see the same crowd as always. And I understand why; dance as an art form can be a little alienating for spectators who might just not understand the point of the whole thing.

A lot of people feel this way about art in general: “I don’t get it”. They don’t know whether or not it’s good. “My 3 year old could paint that”, someone might say of a Jackson Pollock. Or they’re afraid to say anything at all for fear of being mocked by the snooty art world. Back in the day, I studied art history at Mount Allison University and I learned how to talk about art. But no one was able to teach me how to shape my tastes according to the [postmodern] academic fashion of the day! I still love Matisse and I still hate Duchamp – this is unlikely to change for the rest of my life. There’s a French saying: les goûts ne se discutent pas. Or, in other [English] words: personal tastes are not up for debate.

Nijinsky's L'après-midi d'un faune for the Ballets Russes, one of the first modern ballets

Nijinsky’s L’après-midi d’un faune for the Ballets Russes, one of the first modern ballets

I was thinking about all of this last weekend as I watched the Alonzo King LINES Ballet perform a piece called “Resin” that had me in tears by the end of it. I don’t care what the postmodernists are on about — Art is good if it makes you feel something. Point finale.

And not everyone is going to respond in the same way to everything. I’ve often said something similar about reading which is that it doesn’t matter to me if someone only wants to read Danielle Steel or teen vampire trilogies. That they enjoy reading is what’s important.

I’ve attended many dance shows in my life. There are many that I don’t recall, but in some cases I actually remember specific movements. I hope never to forget the legendary Cristina Hoyos as she bent down and slapped the floor with her hand in a movement that, to me, looked like pure passion come to life. I didn’t even want to blink for fear of missing a second of it.

Flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos

Flamenco dancer Cristina Hoyos

Dance has a vocabulary but it isn’t one you can learn, it’s one you have to feel. Often times, I watch a piece and I don’t really know what’s going on, but I can sense a theme coming through (such as the spirituality I felt when I saw Akram Khan’s “Vertical Road“). At other times, there’s a clear story that emerges that doesn’t come from elaborate sets and costumes (like it does too often in grand classical ballets) but rather comes from the dance itself. A couple of years ago, I saw Louise Lecavalier, formerly of La La La Human Steps, perform (see video below). She was in her 50s and, by then, the unique style of movement she had helped develop in the 1980s looked like a fully formed language that was completely natural to her. The story came through and so did the emotion; she blew me away.

In some ways, I feel that passively watching while dancers are on stage sweating and trying to convey something to everyone in the room is almost like a meditation. It’s impossible to be 100% in the moment and see everything that’s going on. My mind drifts quite often, just like it does when I meditate. But it always comes back to the dancers, either to an individual dancer that captures my attention or to the group of dancers as an ensemble. I’ve noticed that when I really am in the grip of the performance, my head tilts to the side and I feel very aware of my eyes. I leave feeling changed for having had the experience. (And my posture is always improved because, oh my god, what these people do with their bodies makes me ashamed to be slumped at a computer for 8 hours a day.)

What are your thoughts on enjoying dance or art?


  1. I LOVE dancing and I love watching people dance. It’s movement and movement to music—sometimes really GOOD music. It is just as entertaining as watching anything else. But then again, I am artistic and I love art, so maybe I am biased. I also dance to work out, which is my favorite way to keep fit!

  2. I so miss my cancelled zumba class. Dancing to work out does’t even feel like work, just fun.

  3. Your article Watch Like There’s Somebody Dancing – Bjütie write very well, thank you share!

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