pssst… Today and for the rest of this month, I’ll be releasing excerpts from my upcoming book, Dance With This Book, to be officially released on May 12th, 2017. This chapter in particular was written and added last, but I feel in many ways is the most important part of the entire book. (If it resonates, be sure to check out my upcoming Immersion Workshop on June 24th in NYC.) I hope you enjoy it and I can’t wait to share the full read with you in a month!
I’m not claiming to be psychic, but I will venture to guess some of the reasons why you don’t dance - or at least why you don’t dance in the ways that you truly want to or even know you’re capable of dancing.
In upcoming blog posts, I’ll be diving into 5 specific roadblocks to dancing and expressing yourself - everything from body image to fear of judgment to injuries - but before we even get there, I want to talk about the deeper societal reasons why you don’t dance. Reasons of which you might not even be totally conscious.
Zoom out for a minute, out of your personal experience, and into the collective experience. Take yourself back to the prehistoric times, before recorded music and So You Think You Can Dance even existed. A time when hunting and gathering were survival. When women held down the home front and all forms of culture and art were in their primitive forms.
Those were times when women’s bodies were worshipped. When dances, sculptures, and cave drawings were created to celebrate the magic of women’s bodies and fertility, which birthed new life.
Back in college when I started to discover all this, I became entranced with a book called “Gestures of Genius: Women, Dance, and the Body” by Rachel Vigier. In it, Vigier lays out this history really clearly, beginning by saying:
“All dance began as a sacred activity which allowed humans to reflect on the mysteries of the natural world and the embodiment of these mysterious forces in divine figures.”
Dance was ritualistic and symbolic of the life-giving nature of the female body. Cultures all over the world engaged in creating moon dances, birth dances, fertility dances, rites of passage dances, and more.
There are still cultures and dance styles today that keep this aspect alive, but far too much of our modern-day dance world has adapted to fit a different way of being, one that forgets this original, sacred expression of dance.
When patriarchal society began to dominate, the once body-worshipping women’s dances became taboo. The focus was now on controlling women’s bodies, sexuality, and reproduction.
The same thing happened with dance in the Western world, in particular with ballet.
Ballet first entered the scene around the year 1500, when this dance style was introduced to the courts in France. Women who performed these dances for the royal courts wore opulent yet restrictive clothing. It was very much about making a spectacle and pleasing those who watched, versus the dancer expressing something from within.
Without getting into a full history of ballet, we can see how later evolutions of ballet were part of this new controlling era of dance history: women dancing in pointe shoes, the prevalence of male choreographers (men being in the role of the director, the creator, the gazer, while women were the one’s who followed instructions), the traditionally passive roles women danced in ballet (the classic princess waiting for her price to save her), the literal prostitution roles many ballerinas were made to play (as wealthy men would come to the ballet to seek out a partner for after the ballet).
When young girls in today’s culture start taking ballet and other formal dance classes, they are simultaneously being led into their bodies, and out of their bodies at the same time. In these environments - I can speak for the ballet world since I know it personally - you are taught to internalize an outside gaze. You police your body to make sure it’s thin enough, to make sure your lines are correct, to make sure you’re doing it right.
Like many artistic forms, striving to perfect the craft can be part of learning a new skill. With dance, though, your body is your instrument. It’s easy to take that critical view of your body and your dance and let it seep into your self-esteem and self-awareness. Especially as a young girl going through puberty and witnessing her body change form, this can become problematic.
(Do you see why many women and girls especially might not want to dance?)
Thankfully, in the course of dance history, pioneers like Isadora Duncan came onto the scene who brought the focus back to freeing the body and accessing movement from within. Isadora wore free-flowing Greek goddess-inspired togas, and encouraged her dancers to access movement that started from the belly.
Unfortunately, these types of dance forms aren’t so mainstream (although I’m seeing them becoming more and more common). I for one had never heard of Isadora Duncan when I was young and studying dance, as I’m sure many others hadn’t either.
When I did start to dance again after quitting ballet and taking years off, I was drawn to African Dance. I’ll never forget how freeing it felt to sink my feet into the earth with bent knees and let my chest and my butt arch outwards to the beat of the live drums that echo the rhythm inside us, of our heartbeats, our wombs. How you can simultaneously release joy and sorrow and freedom and constraint all at once. After years of holding things in, trying to be perfect, and striving for lithe and lean body type which wasn’t natural for me, this moment was extremely freeing and opened up new possibilities in dance for me.
So let’s zoom back in to You. If you’re reading this, you are a child of some version of this history.
Maybe you had the experience of growing up in more restrictive forms of dance, too, or maybe the restrictions came from what you thought you could or couldn’t do to be accepted.
If you stopped dancing because your body didn’t fit the ideal, because it felt like too much pressure, because you lost the joy of it, because maybe you didn’t know there was another dance form out there that would work for you, you’re not alone.
But that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.
You can create your own dance world now.
To reclaim dance later in life, you are not only dancing again for your current self, but for that little girl inside of you who always and only just wanted to dance freely.
And all that to say -
A big part of the reason why you don’t dance now – or don’t dance in a way that feels truly fulfilling - is probably because of an unclaimed part of your history, conscious or not, in your actual lifetime or from generations passed.
It doesn’t mean you have to boycott ballet, if that was the type of dance you loved most. I’m just encouraging you to make it your own. To dance because of a conscious decision on your part to dance from the inside out. To dance because of how it FEELS inside of you, how it awakens your body and your soul, how it gives you creative license - not just on the dance floor, but also in life.
Choosing to dance again IN YOUR OWN WAY is not only a personal feat, but it’s part of a revolution we are all part of in reclaiming the power of our bodies.
Welcome to the party.
to your dance,
p.s. Want to share this? Please copy and paste the following statement with it, tag me on social media outlets, and use this link: http://jessgrippo.com/why-you-dont-dance/
From dancer/creativity coach/founder of You Can Dance Again, this is an excerpt from Jess Grippo’s upcoming book “Dance With This Book” to be released May 2017. Join her “Creative Fridays” list for continued inspiration and updates on the book release here: http://jessgrippo.com/blog/