Why do I dance?

Why do I dance?

Recently I interviewed Mel Smith at the National Dance Forum about why she dances…she, in turn, sent me some questions to answer. These are my answers:

why do you dance?

Why wouldn’t I? I can’t imagine not dancing…it has just bubbled out of me—how I feel, images in my head, dreams about places and people and my relationship with them have always expressed themselves through my moving body. My hands sculpt the air; I paint with the brush of a leg; a melody runs up my spine; and snapshots develop on my face. From an insistent compulsion developed a persistent decision to always be involved in dance, to work at play. Dance was the vehicle for my speaking, commenting, imagining my life but also a way to come close to others. The relationships you develop in the dance studio are deep because they are deeply connected to breath and touch, to our most intimate states. If we could bring the whole world into the dance studio, into their own breathing and sensation, we could get on with living (generously) with each other.

what do you see in dance?

I see dance as a means to fully experience the world, our relationships and our imaginative, creative potential. When I dance I shake out all the places I have been—locations, scents, sensations, rhythms, words, desires, fears, actions, thoughts—and expand the sense of myself. Dance builds community. It tells stories, forges pathways for groups to move through the world together…to explain phenomena, to find food and shelter, to mate and reproduce, to sharpen our senses and stimulate euphoria, to consider things from other angles. It is both pleasure-giving and problem-solving.

how does “disability” or “different bodies” interest you in dance?

My feminist convictions have driven my dance away from the confining and misogynistic dance vocabularies (e.g. classical ballet, commercial jazz, ‘display’ dancing) where the dancer’s body is a (mostly) white, thin, young, fragile, subservient female. As I age, these same convictions continue to guide me toward strategies to open the frameworks and demographics of dance. The question of what is my dance now, as my body and needs change, as my skills and knowledge grow, also brings up the question of what dance can be for different bodies. What else can dance be and look like? It’s that different angle that dance can give us, to reconsider things, rework them, strategies for survival…better than that, strategies for living differently and deeply.

what has been your most memorable highlight in dance and why?

There have been a lot of memorable moments because I’ve been dancing for 50 years (30 of them “professionally”). As I write this I am in the middle of a ‘challenge’ to publish images of my artistic work over 5 days. The first day I felt a pressure, likening the “challenge” to a chain letter…a chore in its daily discipline and the need to implicate others. But in yesterday’s post I wrote: “This creative task has been really lovely…made me consider what rises to the surface of a thirty year dance career…and it is about people (not just choreographic product or CV building), the family you shared a studio/stage/street with…”

One of the moments I selected the last four days was, for sheer physical exhilaration and for public profile, riding the bamboo jib over the Yarra river in the outdoor Danceworks show “Vagabonds and High Flyers”. This was my last season with the company (left on a high, literally) and it also spoke of my particular contribution to the company—the push to get the company, and dance, out into the public arena, take it into other contexts and imagine other ways to dance (climb, abseil….) But mostly it is the connections I have made with people dancing….with the family of dancers that I have created with or the moments of connecting with an audience…a little boy letting me lift him above my head and swim him around Rundle mall, getting a group of strangers to jump up and down with me in a dark room in Edinburgh, surprising my dance class on Halloween by appearing in a skeleton costume after talking them through a “bones” visualization…

how does dance challenge you?

Perhaps in that generational way…where the same narrow perceptions of dance repeat themselves with each generation…as I continue to find myself (and now quote myself!) “hung between tutu and g-string”…where dance is turned into a competitive sport rather than a communicative exchange.

does costume affect or have anything to do with how you dance?

of course…costumes have featured in those memorable moments…animal suits, characters on stilts and in tap shoes, shedding coverings like skins, like eras… They make fun of our limits and celebrate the ridiculous…by becoming larger than life we equalize ourselves.

One Response to Why do I dance?

  1. Nick Karakottas says:

    I would like to thank Mel Smith for posing these interesting and simple -yet complex- questions! And so I try to answer them for myself…

    Why do you dance?

    Why do I really? Whenever I look back on special occasions or memorable moments of my past I see a dance. I see my family, I see my friends, I see myself… we are all dancing! And we are all having fun! Dance is undisputedly one of the things that makes us human. I believe this to be so, as for me to be human means to communicate with others, to be social.

    To me dance is also a place for expression. Through dance I can communicate with others in ways that words can’t. A single movement in space can say 1000 things that words can’t.

    what do you see in dance?

    I see truth. For me movement is always sincere. There is a clear direction, speed and quality that comes with it. An intention, which is somewhat clear. It cannot be something else. It is what your eyes see and your mind feel, regardless of whether you try and interpret that movement in a certain way or not.

    I see respect. Dancing to me is respecting. Respecting yourself (body, mind and soul); respecting the people you dance with; respecting the space you dance in.

    I see the past… movement habits, teachers’ techniques, moments of my past translated and carried on in my movement. I see the present: what my body is feeling now, how I am feeling today, where I am positioned in space. I see the future: It’s like I know than in a 1)th of a second my arm is going to end up in that position, or a particular event happening in my body when I dance.

    how does “disability” or “different bodies” interest you in dance?

    Normal is nice and in many ways familiar, but it also tends to become mundane. Almost everyone can do “normal”. When you try something out in a different body, things start to become interesting again. You begin to wonder… can this body do this? Can the other body do that? That is when questions arise. Imagine having 10 perfectly trained ballerinas’ bodies performing a pirouette. It would be the same thing, Now imagine 9 ballerinas and a random pedestrian trying to perform it. They will all perform the pirouette, it’s just that the pedestrian will find a totally different way to execute it. And that for me is when interesting starts to happen. Now, how would it be if you had 9 different bodies and a Ballerina?…
    what has been your most memorable highlight in dance and why?

    My most memorable moment would be dancing in NYC with fellow students and friends for a Contemporary Dance study tour in January 2015. Dancing with people I know in a different setting, but also building on what I knew as dance stayed with me. They say if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And I did, so I feel proud of myself and my fellow dancers! It was something unique to experience and will stay with me forever.

    how does dance challenge you?

    In every way! Remembering steps and sequences in dance classes. Trying to execute material as best as possible. Trying to think of one thing, while executing another. It is all utterly confusing for me! But, when I accept the challenge and eventually get that little detail I was missing I become better. Dancing brings me to my limits, and then it extends them.

    More importantly, Dance is not a thing guys commonly do. So, dance also challenges me in a way that I have to always justify my reasons for being in the dance scene to other people. I also seldom get to interact through dancing with other men of my age group. I often ask myself…why does it always have to be a meet-up for soccer? Why can’t we just casually meet mates for an improvisation jam? So I can say that dance challenges my position in the world and what I do!

    does costume affect or have anything to do with how you dance?

    I believe that how you feel in your clothes affects the way you dance. For instance, I often find the light and weightless touch of my pajama pants on my thighs much less restrictive than other tracksuit pants. I instantly want to explore that feeling of airiness and greater range of movement I gain. Costume is also something to remind you that dressing up (and dancing) is fun!


in the moment
I'm noticing
I'm working with what I'm noticing
a form emerges

Nothing But Bones In The Way - Trailer :: Dianne Reid and Melinda Smith 2018