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Why We Dance

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For as long as we have been upright creatures, human beings have been dancing. Dance is a form of expression that supersedes verbal language; it is possible to convey far more meaning in a sweeping gesture than a simple phrase. But why do we dance? What compels us?
Celebration. Every culture across the globe celebrates for many different reasons. Social events, such as birth and marriage are two of the most common causes for festivity. There are also dances to praise the merits of each season. In Africa, for instance, there are dances of praise for fertility, of both crops and offspring. Other dances may be more specific to a particular area, or tribe, such as dances to celebrate a recent victory. One could argue that dance rituals of death fall in this category. While dancers grieve over the loss of a loved one, they simultaneously celebrate the life of that person.
Communion. Most humans believe in a Higher Power, and with this belief comes the desire to communicate and receive blessings from that entity. Sacred dances have been practiced for centuries, and are still quite common in places such as India, Asia, Indonesia, Africa and the Middle East. Dancing for communion is intricately linked with prayer, as well.
Connection. Humans are social creatures, and dance has long been a way for people to find connection and community. The array of group dances over time is staggering, from the simple maypole dance of spring, to waltzing, contra dancing, square dancing, and the ubiquitous conga line. Never has the old adage “no man is an island” ever been more correct than on the dance floor.
In the end, the simplest reason of all may be that it feels good to move our bodies to music. It is one of the most natural forms of expression, and a common language we all share. Young children are the most accurate barometers of how innate dance is for humans. If they hear a beat, they move their feet. Or hips, or anything else they can think of. Dance is not only our heritage, but also our birthright.

A Dictionary of Dance

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Title: A Dictionary of Dance
Author: Liz Murray
Ages: 9-12
Publisher: Blue Apple Books, 2007
ISBN: 978-1593546137

Learning to dance means learning an entire new language, and this book covers the dance ABC’s, from arabesque to zones. Colorful, expressive line drawings add a dynamic, playful quality that makes learning fun.

The Human Alphabet with Pilobolus

 

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Title: The Human Alphabet
Author: Pilobolus, John Kane, photographer
Ages:4 -8
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2005
ISBN: 978-1596430662

As a dance company, Pilobolus is cutting-edge and thrilling to behold. Part dance, part acrobatics, the performances often showcase groups of dancers working together to create sculptures and shapes with their bodies. The Human Alphabet is a celebration of this unique technique and will inspire any young dance enthusiast to learn their A,B,Cs with style. />

Dance as Expression

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When we dance, we use our bodies to express feelings and ideas. Movement is a powerful alternative to speech, and can often say much more in a shorter amount of time. Helping children learn how to use their bodies as an expressive tool can give them an entirely new emotional outlet to deal with feelings, which at times are intense or overwhelming. It is important and healing to have positive ways to deal with feelings and to move that energy out of the body, instead of squelching or repressing it.

Naming a feeling is the first step. Help the children get in touch with what they are feeling by standing still in one place, closing their eyes and focusing on their bodies. Ask the following questions to help them get in touch with their emotions. Do they feel heavy or light, hot or cold, hard, or soft? What is their face saying right now? Are they smiling or frowning?

There will probably be a range of answers, and of course, the ubiquitous, “I don’t know”. Use whatever clear answer comes first and work from there. As an example, suppose the answer is “Mad. My friend said something that I didn’t like.”

As a teacher, any feeling that arises is something to work with. Put on music and let them create a dance about how they are feeling. The response can be, “Great. That sounds like a very clear feeling. You are mad. How can you show that with your body? Can you show that feeling with movements instead of words? What does your body want to do when it is mad?”

We all need healthy ways to deal with intense emotions, and dance is a potent alternative to hitting a pillow or yelling from the peak of the nearest hillside. Humans are emotional creatures, which is both our greatest blessing and our largest challenge. Having the proper tools to ride those powerful currents can help make the ride a whole lot more fun.