Thursday, October 31, 2013

Regular People Dancing

Watching regular people dance will almost invariably elicit a great sense of satisfaction. Proof of this satisfaction is all over youtube. Home videos from weddings, family reunions, and all manner of public dancing, executed by mostly untrained and un-choreographed "regular" folks, receive tens of thousands of views everyday. We like to watch non-professional dancers wiggle their parts at least as much as we like to watch the professionals. Dancing is available to everyone (albeit in varying degrees of gracefulness) and observing dancing is, unlike many human experiences, almost as good as actually doing it.

Although we can see a regular person dancing just about any day (by turning up the speakers and dancing in front of a mirror), we are collectively, as a human culture, so smitten with watching one another dance that we reproduce this phenomena and seek to publicly associate ourselves with the good feelings brought on by seeing how our (sometimes uncoordinated) peers use their bodies as a physical response to rhythm and melody.

A little while ago, I began to keep track of professionally-made music videos whose content solely featured what I refer to as "regular people dancing." Here are a couple:

Dancing is about communicating with other bodies while at the same time becoming very personally aware of your own. Dancing is about simultaneously controlling yourself and letting yourself go. It serves to remind us that our brains only go so far in controlling the way we move through the physical world-- the messages going from brain to our body parts ("Ok, hips, start wiggling") are sometimes executed by those body parts in ways our brain couldn't or didn't predict ("Huh...ok...what am I doing?" or "Dang, I am extra-good at wiggling tonight.").

But perhaps one of the most alluring things about dancing is its potential ability to allow us to transcend the limits of our bodies and our world. For centuries, dancing has been the passageway into trance, into spirit possession, into a personal experience with something eternal.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been reading a lot about a messianic movement from mid-16th century Peru, referred to as Taki Onqoy (which translates as "Sickness of Dancing" or "Dancing Sickness"). The only documentation we have of this movement comes from the Catholic priest, Cristobal de Albornoz, who took it upon himself to extirpate the movement, which he considered dangerous and heretical.
Guaman Poma's rendering of Cristobal de Albornoz's
extirpation of the Taki Onqoy movement in 16th century Peru
The documents Albornoz produced about the Taki Onqoy are addressed directly to the King of Spain and always close with an overt request to be made bishopric of Cuzco. His personal interests likely influenced the way in which he documented the Taki Onqoy, including the probably inflated number of participants and the blurry details about movement leadership.

What does seem clear, however, is the way in which this movement was practiced: after a period of fasting and abstinence, the taquiongos would enter into a trance through dancing. These were powerful experiences that allegedly lead dancers to reject Christianity and believe instead in a Pan-Indian, post-European and post-Incan society in which andean huacas (deities) acted as a united force, allowing their followers to live free of the oppression suffered at the hands of both Spanish and Incan rulers.

That dancing was central to this movement is not disputed. But rarely have critics and historians been able to explain why dancing was so crucial. ...

What happens to us when we dance? What happens to us when we watch others dance?

Fast-forward back to the present day--I've been reading a ton of books on Candomblé and Umbanda practice in Brazil. These are Afro-spiritous religions whose expression also has dancing rituals at their core. Dancing leads to spirit possession and, from within the ritual space of a terreiro, the pantheon of deities becomes fully present within the body of a dancer, before the eyes of on-lookers.

I could probably (and should probably) do a whole post on what I've recently learned about spirit possession in Brazil... but my point here is that dancing, regardless of borders, history, language, and belief systems, is experienced as a truly unique and mystical encounter of human and spiritual bodies.

These are just two examples of how dancing leads to spiritual connection and even messianic impulses... but I know there are so many examples from around the world and throughout history that would tell a similar story of dance's power. For the moment, however, I guess I am merely trying to point out the fact that even in mainstream pop-culture, we can see clear evidence of our profound attraction to dance--to regular people dancing.

What do you make of all this??
What are your favorite videos of "regular people" dancing?

Until next time-- keep rustling!

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating -- one can immediately recall all of those ecstatic and religious dances -- from the Sufi to the Yaqui Deer Dancers, to deeply communal ritual line dancing of Macedonia (with it's impossible 9/17th time signatures -- while holding onto the woman on either side of you in the line). But as you have pointed out there is also just that remarkable free expression, as though the body can not keep still at music. It reminded me of the other universal human activity -- which we do for ourselves and communally -- laughing. Even without knowing the joke, a video of a baby laughing will make us laugh -- we can't resist the impulse to do so.