Dancing, Empowerment and Space

So yesterday I wrote about the privilege of having space, and yesterday I finally managed to get out and REALLY go dancing. There have been a few times in the last month where I’ve gone to dance events and haven’t really asked people to dance and generally just been a soggy blanket of “I’m too lazy everyone do the work for me”, and thus didn’t get dances in and didn’t get the benefits of dancing that I love so much. But last night I had a “fuck it I’m dancing” attitude, had some FANTASTIC dances, and really just let loose during some of the line dances (which I love because I feel no shame when I’m surrounded by other people looking just as foolish as I am).

 

And as I’ve mentioned before, one of the things that I love about dancing is that it requires that I take up space. It demands that I take up my own space, that I choose who shares that space with me, that I creatively interpret space, and thus MAKE space my own. It makes me bigger. It puts me in control of my body and the space that it occupies. As someone who is often part of groups (women, the mentally ill) that don’t get the privilege of space, or who are kicked out of other spaces, this feels fantastic.

 

And it got me thinking. One of the most powerful things that a minority group has is often its culture: the particular things that they use to co-opt space. More often than not these are art forms, because that is what they have access to. And one of the most powerful of these is dance. When people’s spaces and rights are taken away from them, one of the things that they almost always manage to find a way to do is dance. One of the myths about the origins of Irish dancing is that it originated when individuals were held captive and didn’t want their captors to know that they were expressing themselves, so they danced in such a way that if a guard looked in and only saw their upper body, it wouldn’t be apparent they were dancing. It was a way to co-opt the space and make it their own, a form of rebellion.

 

Or to look at the evolution of the Lindy Hop itself, it was often a way for all-black communities to break into the ballroom culture that they were barred from in white communities. It was a way taking the concepts of music and dance, but making them into something that a particular minority community did as a way of expressing its roots and its feelings to separate it from the majority community: the lindy hop of black ballrooms was NOT the dances of the white ballrooms (as told in Frankie Manning’s autobiography).

 

Now of course these dances then get overtaken by a majority culture that often exoticizes them (lindy hop was included in revues and shows as a cultural or exotic dance for a time), but the beauty of it is that no majority culture can ever take away the ability of another culture to move their bodies in space. When lindy hop was overtaken by primarily white dancers, things like hip hop started to emerge in its place. When hip hop got taken over by white dancers, we see crunking and other variations. And while I have never been an African-American dancing, I have been a woman dancing and I can guess that it feels damn empowering to choose how you move your body and to express yourself in a way that is uniquely your own, taking up space, reforming space, and interacting with others in a space that you choose to give them. Dancing is a form of empowerment.

 

There’s also a reason that you can “battle” with dancing: it’s about space and about who takes up the most space. It’s about who is the biggest. However for me, competition has never been the heart of dancing. The heart of dancing has always been about welcoming others into your space and about creating more space for yourself. My problems often don’t get space: they’re invisible (unless you talk to yourself and then you get shut away in spaces like mental hospitals). Taking space for myself is like taking space for my problems too and it feels GREAT.

 

(Photo credit to Ben Hejkel. If you can find me, props)

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