Barbara Dickinson: “Why Dance?”

Why do I think dance is so immensely important, not only to those whose lives are dedicated to it or to audiences who enjoy attending dance concerts, but as necessary for all humankind?

Why is dance really important in the larger scheme of things (this crisis time of the world), when we are closing ourselves inside an overstimulating wall of electronic noise and images; when we are exposed so repeatedly to scenes of violence that the simple human ability to feel compassion is dulled; when we treat this planet as our own private candy store to be consumed at will and to litter with the wrappers?

Why do I continue to dance and create dance when, to so many, it is a marginalized, somewhat trivial activity that surely takes no “real” thought; when most of the population are illiterate about the language of movement;  when the reaction to what you do for your life and living is a blank look; when people assume dancers get together for a week or two to produce a concert though in reality it takes months of backbreaking work; when it’s sweat and labor, labor and sweat, and a daunting awareness that as you gradually gain wisdom in movement,  you lose your physical range of motion to time?

So. . . why?

Sarah LoCurto, a dance undergraduate performing her choreography to Roger Zahab’s “The Earth’s Jig.” This video was her first music assignment for Prof. Barbara Dickinson’s Dance Composition class (Dance 105S.02). Sarah managed to find an outdoor space to perform and film this video. Luckily, she loves rain!

Because dance requires us to invest all of ourselves: the intellectual, the emotional, the spiritual, and the physical, which includes that wonderfully kinetic sense of self that we all possess. While dancing we cannot become absent even as we are present.

When we create dances or learn dances, we must be absolutely honest, with ourselves and with each other.  We must communicate, we must listen, we must understand.

Students rehearse their modern dance performance, “Arc of Time,” for ChoreoLab 2017 in the Reynolds Industries Theater. “Arc of Time” was choreographed by Barbara Dickinson and student dancers.

It is impossible to work in dance with others and at the same time, glide over the experience, be numb, be detached, be uninterested, and finally, be bored.  In a dance class or rehearsal, or dance activity, you cannot sit in the back of a classroom and blame others for your boredom.  Boredom is the ultimate cop-out in life.  It is not imposed on you by others, it is imposed on you by yourself.  Dance requires that you overcome the dependency on others to stimulate your curiosity; you must feed it yourselves.  If you don’t engage, don’t invest yourselves fully, you aren’t dancing.  Dance reminds you and teaches you the infinite nuances of life.  Excitement and joy in life is not limited to the big bangs, the major earthquakes; it is also the light brush of grief or the gentle awareness of beauty.  Dance can teach, or reteach, us what that means.  When we discover a profundity of meaning in the smallest gesture, we begin to be able to understand ourselves and the world in all its subtlety, all its shades of difference, because we understand that in ourselves.

In dance you are the laboratory for your work; your mind, your body, your emotions, your beliefs are the unified filter through which the experience is transformed.  You must live it and know it and own it in order to shape it, to form it, and to use it.

Barbara Dickinson is Professor of the Practice Emerita of Dance for the Duke University Dance Program where she teaches Modern Technique, Repertory, Performance, Choreography, and Dance History.

“Blossoming Tree” by Lauren Hadley, ’20, created for DANCE 230: African Dance Tech II taught by Ava LaVonne Vinesett, Associate Professor of the Practice/DUS/Dance Faculty Director/Baldwin Scholars. Music: “Ghost” by Leila Sunier.