With every group of people gathered together for a period of time, we find unspoken rules and subtle procedures that develop between bodies. Intentional or not, the rules are real. They are very important, and not just because it’s good to break them, but because they are also useful in comprehending and engaging with the subject at hand. Dance is no different. The diverse range of rules, which regulate the act of dancing in all its different contexts, can be strictly adhered to, slightly bent or completely broken.
It’s tricky to write a list of do’s and don’ts for possibly my favourite activity. My introduction to dance was through that somewhat unforgiving movement method called ballet, which has many do’s and don’ts. So right now, I find myself in a kind of an “anything goes” stage. But for this article I’ll do my best to reach as broadly and deeply into my body of knowledge around dancing, to offer some very general guidelines and friendly suggestions for the next time you engaging with this thing we call ‘dance’.
Do dance alone.
“Dance like nobody’s watching” is a sentiment I find both stupid and impractical. I think we should change it to “Dance when nobody’s watching”. Dancing alone, to a song you really like, in your room (or your car, or a cubicle in a bathroom, anywhere really…) is an activity that is both incredibly fun and deeply therapeutic. Dancing is an important thing to do. Sadly, safe and relaxed places to just dance are really limited and often monitored in our current cultural context, so perhaps you don’t dance as often as you’d like to. Don’t let this stop you! Dancing alone is a very rewarding activity and you can do it in the safety of your own room. Plus it gives you an opportunity to practise any of the following tips. The more you follow this first rule of dance, the more you’ll enjoy the last point that I’ll get to…
Only Girl In The World – Rihanna / Les Disapartes – Boris Charmatz / Call Your Girlfriend – Robyn / Dans – Kopano Maroga
Don’t underestimate the power of walking.
Walking is basically the beginning of dancing. This simple and intuitive movement forms the foundation for many amazing dance moves and has been used by many choreographers. I always enjoy watching dance with a good amount of walking in it. I also enjoy walking. It’s almost like a lazy version of dancing and on the dance floor, a stationary stepping from side to side can be very satisfying. In fact, walking is a springboard into so much movement…it can be meditative, menacing, it may develop into a run at any given moment and perhaps multiple jumps. Remember, walking is where some of the classics originated from: The Running Man, Locomotion and the Moonwalk (to name a few). Walking is a definite must.
Billy Jean – Michael Jackson / Fase – Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker / Crazy in Love – Beyoncé / PULP – Underground Dance Theatre
Don’t forget about your head.
My old ballet teacher was obsessed with ‘eye-line’ – basically, where you’re looking while you’re dancing and I must say, her words have stuck with me. Eye-line is a powerful choreographic tool and an important feature of performance. Not only that, but the entire face, neck and head offer a lot of potential for an excellent dancing time. You know in your car, when you nod your head to that guilty-pleasure-pop-song on the radio? That’s essentially dancing (in my opinion). I like to think that if the body were a sentence, your head would be the punctuation mark; it really can alter the meaning of what you’re expressing. So experiment with how your head can move, be it a simple bop or simply letting your hair down and given those thoughts a good shake.
Water Me – FKA twigs / Touched – Wendy Houstoun / Rock Your Body – Justin Timberlake / Sandstone – Jeanette Ginslov
Do explore different levels.
Unfortunately, most of the spaces where one goes to dance rarely encourage full use of the floor. (For the average person who finds themselves in a dancing situation, the floor is what happens when you fall and if you’re in a club – glass, beer and often worse things are festering down there). Floorwork is a vital element of one’s training as a contemporary dancer and many other schools of dance incorporate the floor into their aesthetic and movement vocabulary. Then there is the jumping and lifting! (Very exciting!) The incorporation of different levels are a vital feature of dancing. Believe me, there is a lot more vertical space to explore with your limbs and torso than you’d think. Don’t be scared to raise your arms and explore the space above your head (even if the DJ isn’t telling you to put your hands up in the air). Dancing on tables can be dangerous, but a raised stage or surface really brings things to the next level. Or if you’re nervous of heights, the next time you dance, try crouch down low and see what’s happening down there by the feet, more often than not you’ll witness something pretty interesting.
Yoga – Janelle Monae / Cost of Living – DV8 Dance Theatre / Episode 1 – Girl Walk // All Day / Hatched – Mamela Nyamza
Don’t abuse the power of the pelvis.
Hips are a highly important feature of the dancing body. Partly because that’s where the upper body and the lower body meet, partly because the anatomy of the hips lends itself to multiple movement options and partly because that’s where the sexy bits are. There is almost always a right time and a wrong time to incorporate the pelvis into your dance. It depends on so many contributing factors and different contexts but if you search your heart, you’ll probably know when the right or wrong time is. For the most part, I’m tempted to encourage you to tap into your hips, explore how they can move, the various directions and speeds they can access. Unfortunately, the nature of the current system means I have to remind you to never (ever) place your pelvis near another pelvis without explicit consent and expressions of approval, encouragement and enjoyment. Most readers will understand the horrifying feeling of having an unwelcome gyrating pelvis creep up on them on the dance floor. Respect the pelvis, and it will respect you.
Hips Don’t Lie – Shakira / Nederlands Dan Theatre 2 – Hans Van Manen / Prince / Gregory Maqoma
Do dance with people.
People dancing in groups together has been around since basically forever. Group dancing goes by many different names and forms. People like to dance together and what’s more, people like to dance in unison together. From Jane Austen-esque balls to line-dancing to hip hop dance videos, you see unified group dancing, many bodies trying to create the effect of one body. Even in clubs, people are pretty much all dancing in the same way. Co-ordinated group dancing is infinitely self-asserting because you see someone moving the way you move, and you then move the way they move. It’s the closest thing to a reflection or a selfie you can get to (without a mirror or a phone). Also, there is a strong energy or buzz that gets created when humans move in unison. Why do soldiers march together before war or those rugby players from New Zealand do their sweet dance together? Unified dancing is like some sort of binding agent for humans. Plus, it’s super fun. Next time someone is doing a move you quite like and think you can manage, just copy them. Perhaps it will spread and you’ll find yourself in a perfectly choreographed musical-like moment! If not, at least would have gained a new move for your dancing repertoire.
Gotta Dance – Singin’ in the Rain / Le Sacre du Printemps – Pina Bausch / A Million Ways – OK Go / Siva – Vuyani Dance Theatre
And so there you have some ideas around the basic elements of movement and dance. There are many more I could mention, play with speed, dance in slow-motion, explore hand movements, try spinning on one leg. The list can go on, but hopefully these do’s and don’ts will simply encourage you to get groovy, get loose – and simply dance!