Regulars and Shorts, Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? The Knowing Body

By Amy Brunvand

And other discoveries about dancing.
by Amy Brunvand

Earlier this year I picked up a book called The Resurgence of the Real by Charlene Spretnak. It’s one of those academic books that tosses around words like “nondeconstructive postmodernism” as if we might actually know what that means. Nonetheless the book grabbed me. A week after I gave it back to the library. I went back and checked it out to read again.

“Modernity is to us as water to a fish,” Spretnak writes. We are accustomed to being told that humans are essentially economic beings; that we can achieve well-being through material consumption; that the human relationship with nature is one-way and inherently exploitive. We hardly even notice that the modern world is constructed on top of real places, real ecosystems and real human bodies, or how it conceals them.

“Our inner lives have been hideously diminished by isolation from an ecosocial matrix, weighing us down with sadness and apathy,” writes Spratnak. “The antidote lies in recovering awareness of our context – embracing the real.”

Even though Spretnak doesn’t write much about dance, as I read her words it occurred to me that one reason I find dance so fascinating is that, like many other people, I feel the most “real” when I am dancing. My full attention is focused on my body, on the people around me, and on the place where we are dancing.

It’s not that I’m a particularly insightful or emotionally sensitive person. A lot of other people have had similar experiences of reconnecting with the real through dance. Just this past summer, University of Utah Modern Dance grad student Benjamin Allen Mielke completed a remarkable thesis about dancing to reconnect. In Dance Training as Mechanism for Overcoming the Technologization of the Body, Mielke asks, “Does movement (and, similarly, dance training) allow the individual to recapture an authentic embodied experience?” and finds that yes, it does indeed.

Mielke describes his distress at learning through the impersonal medium of Facebook that a formerly close friend had killed himself. How could the social media promise of supporting human connections via technology have failed so badly? Dancing with his grief, he choreographed a duet to express his experience of ritual recovery from emotional disconnection. As a dancer and an artist, he found that his own body contained a library of resources. “Dancers recognize that their bodies are a lifelong repository of hard-fought knowledge and experience,” he writes. “In lieu of storing our experiential knowledge within the confines of the written word and then leaving it on the shelf, we carry everything we know within our mobile and adaptable toolbox.”

As he tested his ideas that dance holds power to reconnect people with body, nature and place, Mielke observed how dancing can wake up the senses. After a rehearsal, “one dancer remembered her walk home as being the best of her year—she’d noticed the sounds of the wind blowing through the leaves, the smell of the grass, and the energy of the people she’d passed. She’d felt connected to her surroundings.” In the end, Mielke was so pleased to recapture his own valuable time from the pace of modern life that he deleted his Facebook account, much to the confusion of his “connected” friends and family.

I recognize that feeling, too.

The point is, modernity hasn’t eliminated the real, it has only concealed it behind a façade. The real still bubbles to the surface like a spring of clear water. It’s worthwhile to develop your own toolbox of a knowing body because it offers a pathway to reconnect with the real. You spend some time learning to dance and in return you get a proven antidote to sadness and apathy. All in all, that’s a pretty good bargain.

May your New Year be blessed by a resurgence of the real.

Read Mielke’s thesis here:


This article was originally published on December 30, 2013.