Dancer vs gravity
“Oh no!” My kids have turned away. “Again, Mom is talking about dance. Everything moves all the time! They do make a good case. I read books, articles, and research studies every day that tell me that dance is important. Because I’ve been trained in dance, I’m able to notice and understand each person’s movement in terms of how it fits into the continuous rhythm of their bodies.
This week wasn’t any different. I was interested in the balancing, rocking, and fidgeting, as well as the full-body leaps, spins, twists, and taps. What do these moves have to do with the word “dance”? For example, I read about a study that looked at how runners move in very small ways. The people who wrote the study say that running doesn’t have to involve doing the same things over and over again.
At first, I was interested in the article because it made a lot of assumptions about the relationship between “a body” and “movement.” In this case, a body is a physical thing that moves. We can measure that motion. The fact that muscles “misfire,” that the body “falls,” and that it can run upright are all “subconscious.” From a different point of view, falling is just something people do, not a problem that needs to be fixed. It explains how the physical self uses gravity to gain speed and move in dynamic patterns.
When you walk, you will fall at some point. Every step has a lift or pause during which the body falls through space and picks up speed. The front foot hits the ground first, which makes the ground push up against the bottom of the foot, up the leg, and back, redirecting the falling energy. A dancer makes it possible for herself to tumble through space so that she can use the pull of gravity to get back up. “They fall so they can rise,” Martha Graham used to say about her dancers. So, one of the main goals of dance training is to wake up the “subconscious” body-self ability found by the running researchers, practise it, and learn to use it more consciously. The running study made me think about gravity and how people deal with it in a broader way. The study says that gravity is a force that works on “it,” while a body is something that falls.
But once we accept that we have a physical self that can do things like use gravity, that relationship looks different. Gravity, or the pull of the earth, is the medium in which a body exists. The reason for a body-based self to exist is to use gravity as a way to move. All of our cells, senses, and biological systems work together, resisting and giving in to the force that runs through and organises everything about us. Gravity has us in its grip. Sally Hess, a dancer, says that our connection to Mother Earth is built into our bodies: “All of the cells in our bodies sing and dance to the pull of gravity. We are animals, and our love for our parents is like a magnet.