Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dancing Stories

          Classical dance in India is storytelling. The body becomes words. Phrases. Entire books of movement. Compared to some forms of western dance, it’s much more complex. Much more nuanced. A professional Indian dancer uses her entire body. Her eyebrows move. Her face shines. She becomes her role, as naturally as any actress on stage. Western dance seems rough in comparison. Rude. Occasionally lewd.
            The meters in Indian music are much more fluid than their Western counterparts too. Instead of breaking rhythms into bars of 3 and 4, Indian music breaks into 3, 4, 7, and 9, and the rhythms vary much more throughout a musical piece. A Western song might start in 4/4, move to 3/4 for twenty measures, and then move back to 4/4, but Indian songs don’t seem to know those particular shackles. Like the dancer’s themselves, the music flows effortlessly to and from every measured beat, creating much different music.
Indian music opened my eyes to the idea that dancing could actually tell stories. For a long time, I’ve had the idea that movement is the purest form of expression, but could it actually tell stories? Haven’t stories always been the realm of word-smiths? How could you tell a story with your body, anyway? I could write a story about someone’s body or write a story on someone’s body, but bodies telling stories? It just didn’t make any sense. Then, the Indian dancer came to our class, and my eyes were opened. She used her entire body to show her emotions, thus creating them in her audience.  Then, she used those emotions to tell a story the same way any writer would. It was magic.
            I was particularly fascinated by the way music and choreography was described in the piece we read for Neuro Dance this week, “Time.” One of the most interesting ideas brought up was the idea that stillness could be an integral part of dancing. In a very literal way, stillness in dancing is the same as silence in a conversation or in a play. As the piece describes it, “Stillness is not inaction. It is a waiting, with a sense of ongoingness. A hesitation, a caught breath, is a moment arrived at, held precious, and left.” It’s not used very often, either in choreography or playwriting (and, of course, it’s impossible in a book without putting in a blank page), but it happens almost all the time in the real world. Every conversation will have some silence, and, often, those silences can tell you more than any thousand words. “Could I join you guys?” (Silence)
“She seems like such a bitch.” (Silence)
“Could you please pass the salt? (Silence. Stillness.)

It seems as though most people follow that ancient adage, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,’ which really means that silence isn’t golden after all.  

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