How do bodies move through space? What leads them? Motivates them? Some move more gracefully than others. Is it all because of training? Talent? Perception? What role does music play? How about playing music? (So much word-play in English. It’s wonderful.)
This week in Neuro Dance, we had a tap-dance instructor come in and talk to us, and I was surprised by how much she sounded like a percussionist. She kept using phrases like, “how the music speaks to me,” and how you have to “find the beat and find your feet.” When I thought about it a little, it made perfect sense. Tab-dance isn’t just dance. The whole point is to make sounds with your feet; to add to the music in a way that no other type of dance can; to feel the rhythm with your feet instead of your hands. She talked about the two main different types of tap: ballroom and ‘street.’ In ballroom, you move on the balls of your feet and glide above the music. In street, you’re much more grounded and dance into the music. In a similar way, percussion can either drive the song or garnish it, depending on what piece one happens to be playing.
A piece we also read for Neuro Dance, “Thinking In Movement” also really resonated with my background in percussion. Like playing trap (drum set), dance improvisation is almost pure movement. No thinking. No real planning. Just movements that run together somehow. When I’m drumming (and occasionally playing tennis or writing), the thinking part of my brain seems to shut down, and I slip into flow. When I’m in flow, time plays tricks on me. One minute, the sun will be out. The next, it will be dark and my stomach will be empty.
In the piece, the author says that, “the process of creating is the dance itself;” you can’t separate the dancer’s thoughts from their actions because their thoughts are their actions. They’re no longer thinking in words. Only movement. A tired leg raising. A slick arm stretching across a taut body. Green eyes beckoning another dancer forward. Neuroscientists can try to map the brains of dancers; try to find the exact pattern of activation every movement has, but doing so would miss part of the point. Dancing is communication in its rawest form, and only looking at a heat map of activations is like missing the forest for the trees. It misses some essential beauty that you know only by experiencing. By feeling with your body.
Now, that’s not to say that looking at a dancer’s brain wouldn’t be incredibly fascinating. It would be super interesting to see if there are any similarities in how tap-dancers and drummers perceive music neurologically and to find the parts of their brains that are active while they’re practicing their craft. I would bet six shiny pennies there are more similarities between drummers and tap-dancers than there are between drummers and other dancers.