“Dance plays a role in healing rituals across many cultures and is also recognised to promote social bonding".
Dance stimulates a particular kind of awareness that not only helps us to experience ourselves in a more holistic way by grounding us ̳in the moment‘ and ̳in your body‘, but also opens us to a direct connection another. Here, dance allows us to experience a form of communication or dialogue with another, characterised by a mutual openness and a transcendent state where self and other are both drawn out of themselves into the ongoing communicative and creative experience of co-expression.
Our sense of self is the feel we have of our body and how we connect to the world. It is a much more holistic concept than separating, and privileging, your mental capacity over your body. It shifts the focus from the private, invisible experience of thought to the lived body through the redefinition of human being in terms of embodiment and behaviour, these being visible and publicly available.
In the private world of the mind, it is impossible to fully connect with another. But the embodied mental / physical world is based in a mutual awareness, which is understood as a reciprocity of perception. This reciprocity can bey demonstrated through the basic model of one of my hands touching the other where the hand that touches can also be touched by the hand that was originally touched but is now touching. Indeed being able to touch anything requires that the toucher is also touchable, as to touch a thing is to feel the thing touching me. This perspective dissolves any clear distinction between touching and touched, sentient and sensible, and thus between the body as subject and the body as object. This is termed inter-subjectivity. My sense of self is no longer a private inner world, but a shared, visible, reflexive experience of me as the giver and receiver of an entire body/mind experience.
The process of of dancing with someone else, is particularly interesting for rethinking inter-subjectivity as it involves a form of connection or communication which is achieved without words and through the medium of bodily contact.
"you're in the moment and you're in your body, but you also have to be super-aware in the way that you're ready to accept anything, and that's like that communication that happens which is not, you don't talk you just know, you even feel it in, you feel inside and you just react – that‟s the strange thing and that‟s really exciting when you just have that, when it‟s in sync like that. [Louisa]"
As Louisa suggests, openness to such bodily communication is part of an overall tacit or pre-reflective awareness of your body in space and time. Here, the dancers are not consciously formulating thoughts or reflecting on the situation but are reacting to each other – to each other‘s bodies – at a pre-reflective level. Thus dance grounds us in our own body awareness and intention, but also opens us to the body- intention and awareness of the other dancer.
The analogy with conversation used by many of the dancers is significant because this notion of a (tacit or unspoken) "dialogical" interaction emphasises a two-way process between two mutually engaged beings. Dancing together thus involves a reciprocal openness or awareness allowing this type of tacit bodily communication to occur:
There's this like different kind of awareness that you have to have, just because you have to be able to move together.... you have to talk with your bodies so you have to kind of listen to each other – you can't always do it your way, you have to find the way. [Anna]
The awareness of and connection with other dancers achieved in this way is not, therefore, limited to understanding the materiality of their bodies in terms of weight and position in space, but also includes an understanding of them as intentional beings who want to do things in certain ways that may be different to what you want.
….you can kind of listen to each other through your bodies. You can become quite close to people – you have to be prepared to work very closely with people physically, but because you‟re so close physically, it opens up something mentally as well, there's some connection there. [Tara]
We can come to know people‘s thoughts, feelings and intentions through tuning in to the physical and mental overlap between their bodies and ours. Dance training and practice, with their emphasis on mirroring and adapting to others‘ movements, open us up to this reversibility inherent in mind-body relations, and Tara‘s comments suggest that the physical and mental identification involved in learning dance also makes the dancer more open to those dimensions of the other‘s existence that she describes as mental.
Through moving with each other and attending to the body/mind schema of the other dancer, dancers can come to understand and experience a kind of physical and emotional or mental synchrony or kinaesthetic empathy with the dancer with whom they are moving.
Dancing with another person thus returns us to a recognition of our shared humanity and our capacity for mutual openness and connection.
if you're really invested into the moment and invested in this connection then you have to let those masks and those barriers fall down so that you can feel one another, be with one another and experience this thing with one another.
I think that you get to know people incredibly well through dancing – incredibly, incredibly well in a way which is really quite beautiful actually, really quite beautiful, because of the context of it, it allows space for... almost for like your...for your souls to interconnect in many senses ... it's just simply about being with someone in the space and connecting with someone and that is such a beautiful sensation. ... it gets to a place where you're communicating, you're operating on a level of sensation and connection and it's almost like you‟re, you‟re having a conversation of sensation but there's no attachments or connotations of anything else really – it‟s really quite beautiful, really something quite special.[Steven]
The context of dance as creative collaboration opens up the possibility for us to transcend our individual ego-centric concerns and feel that we are genuinely in touch with the other in a direct and open process of co-creation and co-expression.
What is special about the relationship formed when we dance with another person is therefore that it develops in us a capacity for openness towards the other which may feel too dangerous in alternative situations where it doesn't arise pre-reflectively from mutual trust being slowly built up in the process of joint movement. It provides a context in which mutual openness (and its attendant vulnerability) develops between embodied beings, and thus returns us to an understanding of our basic potential to connect with "the other" and the world and thus with our own humanity.
Dance can be intimidating, because it exposes you to another in a way that is difficult to hide.
You can read a person’s personality by the way he/she dances (G)
In a world where negative feelings of detachment, fracture and alienation have consistently been identified by psycho-social theorists as symptoms‘ of modern living, it becomes increasingly important that any understanding of health engages with issues of groundedness and connectedness.
Importantly, it is dance as an end in itself that is brought centre-stage in this discussion, and the focus on the experiences of those who engage in dance as creative practice rather than those who subsume dance into their broader (psycho-) therapeutic practice is significant for re-adjusting the way we think about dance (and all creative arts) as healing and life-enhancing.
This move out of the clinical setting is also significant in the context of the aims of the Health Humanities to democratise the practice of healing arts beyond professions such as Dance Movement Therapy and to extend their reach beyond patient populations.
As has been shown in the discussion above, dance stimulates a particular kind of awareness that not only helps us to experience ourselves in a more holistic way as embodied beings by grounding us in the moment‘ and in your body‘, but also opens us to a direct connection with the embodied other. Here, dance allows us to experience a form of communication or dialogue with the other characterised a mutual openness and a transcendent state where self and other are both drawn out of themselves into the ongoing communicative and creative experience of co-expression.
How is Tango different
From above: “Dance training and practice, with their emphasis on mirroring and adapting to others‘ movements, open us up to this reversibility inherent in mind-body relations”.
This is where Tango diverges from other ballroom dances. It is not a “mirror” dance. In Tango, the partners, whilst maintaining a close embrace, are rarely doing the same thing at the same time.
Tango is not a “lead and follow” dance; it is a question and answer, or proposal and acceptance dance where the lead / follow changes between the dance partners from moment to moment. In addition, the dance includes an exchange of space and energy from moment to moment, between dance partners and others simultaneously.
This continually changing exchange occurs within a complex polyphonic musical form where the dancers are required to maintain a typical steady rhythm, whilst also responding to a disconnected melodic rhythm.
These dynamics add a unique complexity to the communication that requires close attention to your partner, respecting suggestion or leadership when required, whilst giving the respondent freedom of movement, expression and support at every opportunity.
Dance is a powerful learning experience for individuals, couples and teams. It reinforces qualities of leadership, support, initiative, teamwork and sharing responsibility, within an empathetic, caring framework. Tango is pre-eminent in its demonstration of communication and cooperation at complex levels.
Adapted from a research essay by Aiemie Purser, University of Nottingham, “Creative Practices for Improving health & Social Inclusion” (Ch. 5).