Before coming to college I thought I knew dance. After all, how could a person not understand something that they had done consistently for ten years of their life?
But I had never actually sat down and thought about what dance really is, or how far it spans.
After a year and a half of dancing at Hope College, I have come to the conclusion that I have barely scratched the surface of what dance is. I have discovered that the world of dance is immensely larger than I ever imagined. There is so much outside of the little bubble of my home studio where I once existed.
I used to think of dance as a cool way of moving your body to music. It was an activity that I did every day after school, something fun to keep me busy. Of course, as I got older, I started to see dance as a lot more than a hobby, but I still didn’t understand the many layers to the thing that I loved so dearly.
Growing up, I took classes in many different styles of dance, including ballet, modern and jazz. It’s crazy now to think how little I actually knew about those styles, considering how much of my time was spent doing them.
For one thing, I didn’t know that there were different techniques of modern dance. The names Graham, Horton and Dunham, some of the biggest names in modern dance, meant nothing to me. At my studio, we just had a generic modern class for which the instructor never specified a certain technique being taught.
Since coming to Hope, I have learned that there are so many different approaches to modern dance. This year, I got to take my first master class in the Dunham technique, and I absolutely loved it. As a dancer, discovering new ways of moving my body is one of the best feelings ever. Taking that class and exploring this technique was one of the most fun experiences I have had in a while.
Not only did coming to college open my eyes to the reality of what modern dance actually is, I have also found out that what I grew up knowing as “jazz” is nothing like what jazz dance originally was. Go to any studio’s dance recital and you will see lots of jazz dances consisting of girls in sparkly costumes doing big kicks, leaps and tricks while standing on the balls of their feet with their torsos pulled up. This is the kind of jazz that I grew up learning and doing. I didn’t realize how different that was from vernacular jazz, which emphasizes things such as groundedness, polyrhythms and dancing on flat feet.
Beyond just the styles of dance that I grew up learning, I have started to learn more about the different kinds of dance that exist all around the world. It used to be that when someone would ask me what kind of dance I did, I would say, “Oh, I do everything,” then proceed to name the few styles that are performed in concert dance in Western cultures. That statement, “I do everything,” shows just how ignorant I was about the scope of the dance world. I am so far from knowing how to do every dance that exists. The styles of dance taught in many studios in America comprise just a small fraction of the ways in which a person can move their body. I did know that other kinds of dancing existed in other places around the world, but I never paid them much attention, as they didn’t seem relevant to what I was doing.
Different cultures around the world have their own dances and ways of moving that are unlike anything I was ever trained in. There are cultures around the world where dance is so ingrained in the people that it is inseparable from everyday life. There are dances for celebration, mourning and so many other things, and everybody participates. This idea of dance as a fundamental part of society is something that I find so beautiful, yet something I never considered before college.
Of course, I understand that studios like the one I grew up dancing at are for young kids, most of whom probably don’t care what kind of modern they’re learning or whether their jazz dances are authentic. They just want to have fun and dance. But the reality is that for ten years I was living in the bubble of my studio, which only extended as far as the competition world that people know from shows like “Dance Moms.”
The bubbles in which we live our lives are much like the bubbles that we blow as children: they may be pretty, and they do have the ability to entertain us for a little while, especially when we’re young. But eventually we lose interest in them, longing for something more substantial to bring us joy.
In the same way we grow out of our fascination with soap bubbles, we must also move on from the bubbles that encompass our knowledge of the world. First, we all must stop to notice the bubbles in which we are trapped in order to be able to escape them. Then, we can pop them, and in an instant they’re gone, leaving the air that was held within free to explore the rest of the world.
Since my bubble popped, I have discovered that dance is so much more than simply moving your body through space in an interesting way. It is an extremely vulnerable form of expression, a physical, universal language, a political tool and an art with extensive history. The flood of new information that was available to me when I got to college seemed a little overwhelming at first, but now that my eyes have been opened, I never want to stop searching for new perspectives from which to view this thing called dance.
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