Loosen Up and Laugh

64 Arts

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.”
~William James

Doesn’t that just paint the neatest picture?

When I was growing up, Mom claimed that while I had a genius-level IQ (140-something, for what it’s worth) I had absolutely no common sense. Granted, this was during the teenage years when mothers and daughter are notorious for not seeing eye to eye. I wonder, then, if I was really as clueless as I seemed to her, or if our respective common senses were just moving at different speeds?

If the opening quote is to be taken as true, then my common sense spends a lot of time dancing.

Common sense (aside from sometimes not being all that common), is kind of boring. Of course, it comes in handy every day. Every little decision we make takes common sense into consideration. It’s sort of like breathing or walking, that way: we have to do it, so let’s get on with it, already.

Meanwhile, our sense of humor likes to look at things differently, it says, if we have to get from here to there, why walk when we can skip or, better yet, electric slide our way over? (Yes, I went there, you know you want to… go on, it won’t hurt anything).

Dancing in general makes us laugh. I mean, what’s funnier than catching sight of yourself (or someone else, even better) gyrating to a song in a mirror or passing window? If it doesn’t make you at least grin, maybe it’s because you wish you could be that free?

Do some dancing today, mentally and physically, and laugh–not at yourself, but with yourself. I will if you will!

Body Language

64 Arts

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words.” ~Ruth St. Denis

How can we watch a performance and follow a story with no words? Why do we weep at the play between dancers on stage during sad on poignant moments? What is something so intangible that one look can convey a page’s worth of information? Sure, the music helps a lot and if there’s a program it might give us a little synopsis to follow, but in the end…

It all comes down to body language.

Dancing is more than just moving your feet in a prescribed pattern of steps. Dance involves the entire body, every muscle–even some you never knew you had!* This includes all those muscles in the face that smile, frown, grimace and do everything else. (q.v. “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard)

Sometimes there are no words.

Usually it’s in times of grief that words take a back seat but even in happy moments, sometimes it’s best to beam at someone’s happy news, jump up and down, clap your hands and just be excited with them rather than say something. Why? Because words are more easily misunderstood than actions.

Any question you ask of a celebrant can (unintentionally, I’m sure) pinpoint that spark of insecurity that even the most self-confident person possesses. You end up in a “why can’t you just be happy for me” kind of thing. By the same token, a true smile has no subtext. Just the way a cold shoulder given to another will more effectively communicate disdain and dislike than a tirade of angry, hurtful words.

So when we dance on stage for others or just delicately step our way through human moments of the day-to-day, it helps to remember that our body’s are talking, too. Sometimes more loudly than our words.

*Seriously. During my first bellydance lessons I learned that the basic hip movements are controlled by muscles along the side of your torso. It wasn’t apparent the first day or two, but after that, they told me exactly where they were and how indignant they were at finally being put to use. I have yet to find anything else they do other than hip raises and drops!

The All-Important Rhythm

64 Arts

“Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.”
~Jaques D’ambroise

And 5, 6, 7, 8–

Rhythm. Some say you either have it or you don’t. I think if a person is willing they can learn to find rhythms and follow them, though it might take a bit more effort for some.

A rhythm is a pattern. Count an even 1-2-3-4 and you have a simple rhythm. Usually the emphasis in music falls on the first (the downbeat) and third beats, with rock ‘n roll and R&B favoring back-beats or the 2nd and 4th beats. Of course, a beat or count can be subdivided a lot and rearranged so that it can take some effort to fit the counts of a dance to the rhythm of the music you are dancing to.

The rhythm floating through my head, as I type, would be counted 1-2-3-and-a-4-and-a (from Higher Ground, the RHCP cover).

Interpretation is a glorious thing in music. It’s what sets the true musician apart from someone playing notes on a horn. In dance, anyone can memorize a set of steps or movements. The dancer, though, imbues them with life, with style, with grace.

Recognizing rhythm is important because you can count off the choreography diligently but if you’re not matching the music, there will be a disconnect. You’ll be out of sync. It just won’t feel right. And if anyone is watching you? Chances are they’ll see it, too.

This can happen with people.

Humans are wonderfully varied individuals and we all have our little quirks. These personality traits make us who we are. But what we aren’t, always, is a perfect fit. Finding the people we click with starts with finding our own rhythm, figuring out the dance steps in our own life, first. Then, when we meet others, it’s easier to see (or hear) when our rhythms match up.

Sometimes people don’t “mesh well.” This can happen both in personal and professional situations. In the latter, you almost have to try and boil it down to it’s basic rhythms and find a common ground–sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In personal situations it’s (occasionally!) easier to find a new dance partner than make a 3/4 and a 4/4 match up.

My middle school band director used to challenge us to keep 4/4 time with one hand while keeping 3/4 waltz with the other. He could do it if he concentrated, I still can’t get it. Give it a try and let me know if you can do it (remember, the trick is that the four beats of one and the three beats of the other both take the same amount of time to complete).

* * *

By the way, when I was writing for eHow.com, I wrote an article about choosing a dance teacher. If you’re thinking of plunging into the fun and learning to dance from a pro, give it a read. Not every teacher was made for every student, but when you find a good one you get way more than you pay for!

Embrace the Insanity

64 Arts

“There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.”
~Edwin Denby

So, you’re self-conscious? You “don’t know how” to dance? You feel awkward?

Join the club.

I’ve often been accused of spending too much time in my head, over-thinking things and not acting enough. I highly doubt I’m alone. It’s tough to come out of our shells, isn’t it? Tough to overcome that shyness or just go ahead and try something without worrying how we’ll look.

There’s a saying, I think, about the definition of bravery is being afraid of something but doing it anyway.

Perhaps, for us thinking types, we can think our way to a door. A door that leads to a dance floor.

So, what can you gain by dancing, regardless of training?

  • A natural high! Dance enough that your heart rate raises and you’re exercising in a fun way. Keep it up and you release endorphins in your brain which make you happy, like you can take on the world–or just keep on dancing.
  • Health benefits. Depending on what type of dance you’re doing, you can reap the benefits in ways from lowering your blood pressure to strengthening your bones to weight loss.
  • Community. Dancing can be done in private, sure, but getting out and taking a class or going to a club gets you living life in public, meeting new people and enjoying the social aspects of the activity.

And just think: on a busy dance floor you’re just another person enjoying the music!

Dance Like No One’s Watching

64 Arts
*this begins our rambling into the 3rd of the 64 Arts: dancing*

“We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”
~Japanese Proverb

Have you ever caught yourself swaying to some music or tapping your feet or fingers without knowing it? That’s the power that music has over us.

But we spend most of our days so tightly wound (at least the average adult) that music, with all it’s power, can only affect a few small sections of us. When we’re stressed, even less. But when we’re happy, well-rested and really and truly enjoying life, music can compel our bodies to move more. Arms swing wide, shoulders rock, hips gyrate, feet move in time to the music.

We dance.

The title of this post comes from a familiar saw that boils down to: live life to it’s fullest. It’s about having the confidence to live your life your way.

Children dance with utter exuberance for life evident in every step, every movement of every limb, and with supreme joy etched across their faces.

Where does it say, then, that when we “grow up” that we lose that ability? Whether it’s because we learn there are “right” and “wrong” ways to dance or become disheartened by those who may be more talented than us or even just self-conscious about our bodies, our movements, our feelings–whatever it is, we lose that abandon.

If that proverb is true (and I think there’s something to it) then we’re going to look ridiculous one way or another. We’re going to stumble, we’re going to say the wrong thing, we may bump into a wall. We might even fall down.

Isn’t it better to do those things while smiling, laughing, moving in joy?