To Dance is Human

To Dance is Human

Our entire body is in constant movement as every cell in our being transitions, grows, expands, dies, and regenerates.  We move as we walk, sit down, stand up, bend down, and turn around.  All sensory activity creates movement.  Our eyes process visual information, the muscles in our nose, lungs and chest expand and contract to breathe and process smell, our ears absorb wavelengths carried by movement and translates them into sound, our tongue moves and produces saliva when it receives agents that ignite taste, our entire body is sensible to touch, carrying messages of pleasure or pain from our skin to our brain.  Whether internally or externally, our bodies remain actively engaged in continuous movement.

To me there is nothing more fascinating than witnessing a human being’s movement development.  I enjoy observing children transition from infant, to toddler, to preschooler and so forth and the expresivity their body adquires as it develops motor coordination.  Some of children’s most exciting discoveries happen as their muscles begin to develop strength and stability.  This is why toddlers enjoy climbing on everything, tables, chairs, sofas, or beds.  They embrace the ability to use their muscles and want to explore anything that will allow them to move.  Actually witnessing the growth and development of anything in nature is extraordinary, the beauty of cat gathering strength to pounce, a flower blooming in the spring time, a dog wagging his tail, sea waves hitting the beach shores, the back and forth of trees as wind blows, the rippling of a paddle of water as rain falls, and so on.

Movement is something that comes natural to our bodies, but as we grow, the degree in which we engage in movement varies according to cultural and social conditioning.  Within differing social structures movement activities might gain importance or complete irrelevance in our daily lives to accommodate to specific value systems.  Yet, running the risk of romanticizing Cuban, Brazilian and Puerto Rican cultures, I can say that I have always been fascinated with their embrace of dance and the intrinsic relationship between movement and wellbeing in their cultures.  These three countries are rooted in rich cultural traditions that are extremely linked to their development and history.  The dance styles of Salsa from Cuba, Bomba y Plena from Puerto Rico and Samba from Brazil evolved from secular and religious African traditions, however they also have several Amerindian and European influences.  Their music and dance are everywhere and many times have served as cultural staples of their individual traditions.  Movement knowledge has been passed from generation to generation and continues to play a major role in the development of social and cultural values.

The specific cultural nuances of Cuba and Brazil can be quite complex and cumbersome, yet because of my strong admiration for dance and movement in general, I’ve enjoyed the professional and personal discoveries that I have reached in my study of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian dances.  In order to understand the power and artistry of Orisha technique training I’ve had to research the Cuban and Brazilian cultural traditions that are the foundation of these dances.  Cuban and Brazilian movement techniques have been drawn from religious contexts in which a pantheon of Orishas (deities) is the base for communication between humans and the divine.  There is a close connection between the Orishas and nature.  One must embody their specific energy they represent in nature to connect to the divine.  Given that constant movement is part of our bodies it makes sense that to connect to a higher power we must embody and emulate nature’s dance.  And although many times Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian technique are learned and performed outside religious contexts, it is essential for a movement student to have an understanding of where and how these techniques developed.  Without this knowledge, I believe, Orisha dance lacks emotion and meaning.

Another aspect of Orisha dances that has captured my attention is the holistic approach needed to learn, understand and perform them.  In Yoruba traditions, both male and female are necessary parts of human experience, so as such both men and women are capable of embodying the male or female principles represented in the Orishas.  Furthermore, all Orishas represent both abstract and concrete concepts that call for an incorporation of right and left brain to grasp their full complexity.   For example Yemaya is a female orisha and owner of the salty waters.  The movements of her dance emulate the waves and ebbs and flows of the ocean.  Her color is blue and white.  She represents motherhood, nourishment and discipline.  Changó is a male orisha, owner of dance and drums.  His movements emulate the thunder as it descends on earth.  He represents virility, sexuality, balance and justice.  For both Orishas, the understanding of visual and theoretical nuances is necessary to produce true embodiment.  Technique development must be accompanied by emotional perception.  Because of this I have to say that it is mesmerizing to see when a man dances a female orisha or when a woman dances a male orisha.  True embodiment allows the essence of the female to translate into the man’s body without the need to imitate and the essence of the male transcends in the woman’s body to show strength and power without forceful effort.

So as I embrace the constant movement in our bodies and in nature and the cultures that promote and celebrate movement engagement, I come to the conclusion that to dance is human.  Regardless of cultural or social tradition, to deny ourselves or others the right to move is to attempt to neuter part of our human essence.  Whether we engage in the study of movement technique or in the rhythm of our daily lives we need to dance.  Perhaps at one point we will see movement practices as a core element of our physical, mental and emotional development and as a result provide a cultural transformation in our approach to wellbeing.  Perhaps only then we will be able to understand fully the importance of a holistic approach to education that emphasizes both, our relationship to our brains and our relationship to our bodies.


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