To dance is a radical act. To think about dance, to study dance, or to practice dance in this 21st century is a radical act.
Because if dancing matters—if dancing makes a difference to how we humans think and feel and act—then dancing challenges the values that fund modern western cultures.
1. Mind over body. A first and fundamental value of western cultures is the one that privileges our mental capacity, in particular our ability to reason, over and against our feeling, sensing, moving bodily selves. I think therefore I am. We believe that “we,” as thinking minds, can exert control over our bodily actions, and that we should. We believe that achieving such mind over body mastery is good, and even our ticket to success in any realm of endeavor.
This idea that reason is our definitively human part was greeted with much hope and fanfare by early modern philosophers and politicians, economists and poets. If only all humans can learn to exercise their reason, it was thought, then many minds will be able to arrive at the same answer—at true and certain knowledge, at a common good, at world peace.
However, we humans are not rational minds dwelling in bodily containers. We are bodies. We are bodily selves whose movements are making us able to think and feel and act at all. And if we are to achieve a just and sustainable world, then we must make sure that our processes of getting there honor the wisdom and agency present in the movement of our bodily selves.
To dance is a radical act because dancing reminds us that the bodily movements we make make us who we are.