What is Dance? by Brian Buck






What is dance? Well that depends on how one defines dance. The existence of this journal is a reflection of the fact that we all have different ideas. Even Webster’s dictionary provides two definitions broken into five smaller refinements. Any one of those explanations can be reduced into a tighter definition or expanded to cover other possibilities. “To move quickly up and down or about” is a reasonable definition, but leaves a great deal of ambiguity. A piece of paper drifting through the wind can “move quickly up and down or about.” If one accepts this definition, what about and extension: does the poet dance when writing of such visions using words of such actions? Someone walking down the street could be moving quickly about from one place to the other. Walking could be a dance. In sports the Super Bowl is considered a dance; the entire major league of baseball is considered “the dance.” In school students attend dances. These latter statements change the word “dance:” from a verb to a noun. All these euphemisms and metaphors leave me wondering if everything is dance. Could life itself be a Dance? Are mankind and nature in a kind of ballroom dance of their own? At the very least the planet is whirling through space in an interplanetary dance through the universe. To define is to put walls around something. If one’s definition of dance is that dance is everything, is it really a valid definition?
Many a dance piece has been created to imitate nature. Nature is life. Could life itself be a dance? I have witnessed many a dance created to imitate nature -none as beautiful as nature itself. I would contend that a tree growing out of the earth is dancing just as much as the dancer on “stage” is dancing or dancers in the ballroom are
The way tree branches reach and weave through space and time is similar in nature to both the way a modern or ballet dancers carve a stage. And ballroom dancers reach and weave across the floor with grace and dignity similar to a red oak growing from the mountain side. The space, time, and even gestures may be different but the principle is the same. An entity, be it a tree or a person, grows through movement toward a greater good.

The ideology works for both people and nature. Beside, beauty is as the cliché goes, “in the eye of the beholder.” In the winter roots of trees reach for water through the dirt. Through dirt that most of society believes is dirty. Whether “good” is sunlight for a tree or grace and beauty for the individual is an even grander topic that cannot be addressed in the brevity of this article.

Even at our stillest moments our bodies are always in motion. Our beating hearts and rising lungs keep our bodies constantly in a dance. At the cellular level, electrons are rotating like miniature universes around nuclei creating what Steve Paxton named the “Small Dance.” The cutaneous membrane – the skin – is where our bodies congeal to meet the world. It is where our nerves sense the environment around us, every instant sending messages to our brains which inform how we reach for the sunlight and guide our own dance of life. Movement is constant on both the micro and the macro levels. Like change, it is inevitable.

I am not here to define “dance”, but rather am trying to demonstrate that like life, dance can be anything. Defining dance would be a crime in and of itself. It would be like trying to contain oxygen (which when contained is highly explosive and dangerous.) “Dance” is meant to be free and wild and ever evolving with the times as they change, as movement and gestures of people, places and things evolve. One can define dance in anyway one might like to. One can look at the entire Universe and see one gigantic dance or one can look at a tree and appreciate the uniqueness of the arches, twists and turns that it offers to shape itself in this world. One can see a gas station, clouds, an old dog, a ballet, and the same tree again and see all of this dance.

Brian Buck dances.

Bourgeon’s mission, through our online publication and community initiatives, is twofold: to increase participation in the arts and to improve access to the arts. Bourgeon is a project of the not-for-profit Day Eight.
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  1. Brian, i am impress with your words. you just convined my two favorite things, Dance and poetry. The way you used the words to create a beatiful image of what dance is. As you said there is no way to define the word “dance” dance is just a way to express our feelings throuhg the movement of our bodies.
    sergio. perza


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