I'm currently re-reading one of the most influential books I’ve come across in regards to my work in dance and ecological regeneration and it’s blowing my mind for the second time. The first time I read Kimerer Lamothe's book ‘Why We Dance?’ felt like a homecoming. I covered most of the pages with highlighter marks, scribbled notes, and stars in an effort to remember and reflect upon each gem of wisdom. It took me so long to read because I wanted to understand every line - to really understand it and allow my bodily self to process the concepts into tactic knowledge.
Coming to these well-worn pages once again is taking me another layer deep. Since my first reading, I have written my practice-informed thesis, developed a solid dance practice, deepened my earth connection skills, experienced my first wilderness solo (aka vision fast), launched my first business, and generally spent more time in nature with the intention to move and open myself to be moved. Knowing that these movements or actions have shaped my becoming. They have shaped who I am and the process of who I will be. And so I return to her book with a new level of bodily knowing and resonance.
As my eyes travel across each page, I feel urged to do a little jig while declaring - “yes, yes, yes, yes - this is everything”.
You know that feeling when you read an author and you wonder how on earth did they perfectly captured the reels of thought and ideas whirling through your mind, and expressed them so eloquently and insightfully. It feels relieving and exciting to be understood at that level. To know there is someone that ‘gets it’ and thinks about this stuff at the same philosophical depths that can be both thrilling and isolating.
As I feel my energy surge, taking in the words that ring so true for me…..it reminds me of why I’m doing what I do. Why dance and movement matters, despite what our current cultural narrative may suggest. And why dance is a vital pathway to restoring our ecological relations with the world.
The central takeaway:
The dismantling of the ideological structures that sustain the paradigm of scientific materialism in order to appreciate dance as a vital art for human survival and the survival of the Earth.
Because the current paradigm implies that matter is real. That it has substance, it is solid, predictable, that it can be known. That matter cannot be changed and matter is fact.
Where in truth, everything exists as movement.
Movement is what matter exists to do and the medium through which matter becomes. There is nothing that is truly unchanging. Even change changes. It moves and dances. As Kimerer shares “there is no mass, no entity, no being that exists prior to the moving that begins it all”.
For example, the appearance and acceptance of your hand as a solid mass of matter is evidence of the materialism myth that has shaped our reality. As the quality of your hand is actually an unending process of becoming that is shaped by a series of movements. The movements of blood & bacteria beneath the surface, the elements that mould and shape your external tissues, the activities you engage in. “It” is constantly evolving respective to and because of its environment and other movements it interacts with.
The human body itself is not a testament to the regularity of mater, but it is rather an example of a complex movement matrix that allows the body to develop in the way that “it” has, is and will. Every part of our bodily self is a result of a complex choreography of sensing and responding that has been rehearsed and shaped by our ancestors (human and non-human) over millennia who were constantly seeking out the most life-enabling patterns of movement in response to their environment, in order to survive and become the collection of movements that exists in the form we see today.
In other words, every movement of our bodily self has been practiced by the generations of life forms from which we have evolved. So “we are, in every strength and skill we call ‘ours’, equally amoeba, fish, amphibian and mammal” (Lamothe).
Yes, it’s a bit heady. But hang in there because I’m getting to the juicy part about what this has to do with dance.
If we are willing to acknowledge this alternative movement-based paradigm - where movement is appreciated as the telos and source of all life (that is, the movements we make create our reality and who we are) - then dance gives us an opportunity to consciously PARTICIPATE in the creation of that reality and who we become.
Kimerer stresses that if we want to survive as a species, we must learn to move our bodily selves in different ways than we have been doing. And since the dawn of time, dance was THE practice that taught us how to create and become patterns of movement that are mutually life-enabling, for us and all our relations.
It is why all earth-centred cultures maintained a core practice of dance.
“When dancing, we are engaging our sensory awareness as a guide to finding movements that express and evolve our health and wellbeing” (Lamothe). As dancers, we innately learn how to move in ways that avoid pain and pursue pleasure. How to move in ways that support our continued movement (aka survival).
It is the activity humans have evolved to do in order to become who we are and teach us HOW to cultivate mutually life-sustaining relationships with the earth in us and around us.
Dance also exercises our kinetic creativity to create new patterns of movements (i.e a new reality) if we chose. If movement ‘made us’, then very movement we make today opens or closes trajectories of life into the future.
So why not consciously chose to create patterns of movements that reflect our interconnectedness with all life and enable us to evolve beyond the paradigm of separation? As Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance reminds us, “the dance of the future will be a new movement, a consequence of the entire evolution which mankind has passed through.”