Just dancing

by Bratan Bratanov

(5 minutes of reading time)

* This essay was written as a response and impulse after the workshop “Introduction to NUTRICULA” (Apr 10-12, DNK), co-produced by Radar Sofia and Drama Pact, bringing more than 40 participants from the local contemporary dance scene together for a combination of physical and writing exercises and intense discussion about the role of their practice.

Dance, words and discipline

If you want to kill the vibe of a dance class, rehearsal, or workshop it’s enough to initiate a discussion on concepts or a Q&A session. Speaking intellectually in dance creation process, if not contradictory, is very soon getting redundant. Nevertheless, dancers do like to talk about dance and movement, sometimes for hours. Strangely the conversation often turns to verbalizing ideas introduced from outside rather than sharing personal sensations. This partly reflects the element of dominant authority in the way dance and movement knowledge is usually being transferred. An unexpected twist in this story is that the more restrictive the learning process is, the more you want to dance in-between or after completing the tasks. If not totally tired out, you can find yourself in liberated dancing on the way back home after a tough rehearsal.

Speaking about dance can spoil the dancing mood while discipline and authority can motivate it by actually oppressing it. Either way it’s remarkable to see that factors like wording and discipline are so relevant to a natural physical activity such as dancing.

Bratan taking part in the workshop Nutricula. April 2021. DNK, photo: Martin Atanasov

Dance as a path

Dancers start to dance because they love to. But it happens that once on the semi/professional path in the field they rarely feel like dancing. One can state that dancers are applying, auditioning, practicing, recovering, researching, executing, performing, competing, but they are not dancing. Imagine being a dance student in a 3+ years program with permanent involvement in versatile training, theory and methodology. You are expected to be constantly studying and improving, but not dancing. It works in much the same way when taking part in the rehearsal process of a dance piece. The directing choreographer, torn apart between organizational factors and the innate need to present an artistic vision, nowhere near wants to see someone dancing in this serious and time-constraint engagement.

The initial impulse to dance can be easily drowned within the depths of academic and artistic traditions on the one part and labor practices on the other. In combination with the invasion of new technologies, the fragility and vulnerability to manipulation of that impulse are increasing. A good step to start investigating the current trends is to create a TikTok account.

Dance art and human bodies

The medium of dance has the moving body of a dancer both as its tool and object of representation. Even so, it is inhumane to use a person as a tool. But it’s not a secret that dance art does use human bodies as instruments. The more being used, the more the tools wear out. Worth noting that the actual responsibility to maintain the physical and mental health lies on the dancers themselves and not on the person generating the ideas and guiding the embodiment.

This is part of the game and part of the job – a non-written rule grounding the dance field. If you want to be a dancer, be ready to battle under а slogan like “He who fears scars shouldn’t go to wars”. A question that naturally suggests itself is how exactly this convention is established and maintained or simply – who is aware and who really cares about it?

Dance vs. dancing

Dance is an art form, while dancing is a mode of existence. One is either operating in the dancing mode at the present or not. Dancing arises in specific context and it could be allowed to happen or restrained by the same circumstances that brought it up.

Dancing happens when nobody is watching, or it doesn’t matter if there is a watcher. Usually when an outside eye is involved, or the camera is on – a sudden rigidity emerges and the dancing becomes a dance. Parties and gatherings are (not always) an exception, but only after breaking the hard ice of all eyes on us. Drugs and alcohol come in handy. What to say about dance on stage – the focus is on presenting choreographic forms and concepts to the audience and there is little to no space for dancing. This is the state of art and the lineage is so far back that is not even questionable.

What is dance?

Dance related studies and scientific approaches are nowadays vividly extending in depth and volume. Fundamental topics as “What is dance?” can generate thousands of research pages, articles, reviews, and induce open calls, and conferences. In cultural terms, this is no doubt of extreme importance, but can also lead to increased complexity that distracts the involved in the dance and research fields from the real problems at home.

photos: Martin Atanasov, The Nutricula workshop

Distinguishing dance and dancing in this essay is a mind trick as well, but it is meant to bring the attention to common knowledge that is somehow obscured by historical and market conditions. To a different extent there was always a restraint on dance and dancing as a way of behavior. When speaking about advocacy it’s also arguable if the dance field is protecting and supporting dance as inherent human activity or the dancing itself needs a protection from the agency of the dance field. Who else if not the dance art world should work towards liberation and authentication of dance and dancing as natural events?

The temper of the times

In times of regulated movement and isolation of people, dancing can be one of the last free gates of connection between the self, the flow of life and the world around. It’s well-worn, but not redundant to remind that many of the conventional ways of education, creation and presentation of dance served important roles in their times but can now be respectfully released and transformed.

At the end we can ask ourselves if it’s really possible to restore and bring back dancing as natural human impulse to dance as an art form? But let’s harbor no illusions – the strive for power and control on oneself, on the others, and the situation is ever strong. Still a good practice should be to re-open our perception and allow more space for dancing to happen and see what it can bring to the creative process and the course of life.

Let the dance dancing or leave it alone!