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Using Dance to Spark Social Changes and Conversations

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

As with any visual, performing, or literary art, barriers are broken to reveal fragments of the human experience otherwise untouched and unnoticed. Through movement, dance breaks these barriers with grace, passion, persistence, and bravura. When it comes to discussing a difficult subject with hundreds of people, words can easily become weapons. No longer do people feel safe to express themselves when their thoughts are shut down. With dance, our opposing viewpoints and complicated opinions create a collective work of art. This collaborative work of art allows social issues, personal dilemmas, and unspoken grievances to be seen, heard, and hopefully understood.

Sometimes in dance, there is not always a “technical” term for a movement. Each choreographer, teacher, and student gives that particular movement their own name or description, just like the complicated issues we experience. Our society is constantly evolving. Addressing challenging topics is dire to our progress as a society. Yet, for many, these “trigger” topics create barriers between people and destroy relationships. The fact that people either shy away from expressing their opinion or let their blood boil over makes it clear that there is an issue in our communication. We can all recognize a “trigger” topic. However, we give that particular topic a name or description based on our own personal perspective. That seems fairly similar to the aforementioned dance movement idea. In dance and life, we share difficult experiences, but perceive them individually.

Aside from the fact that dancing simply makes us happy, dancing also releases feelings we may not know we have. Dance brings both our conscious and subconscious feelings to light. Those feelings are not always concrete, nor are they always abstract. Simply put, what we feel is what we feel. No matter how hard we suppress an emotion, it stays with us until we figure out how to let go. Sometimes the only way to release that feeling is to dance and move. If we move without thinking, our bodies think for us. If we intentionally choreograph our bodies to dance what we feel, we can do amazing things. We can break barriers and open the floor for complicated conversations.

Dance is a place to express our insecurities or worries. Although writing or singing can also express our feelings, they are forms of verbalization. Verbalizing an emotion is quite different than physically embodying an emotion. Verbalizing gives a difficult topic a name and definition. More often than not, though, we find it hard to define our feelings. That is where dance comes into the picture. (Or should we say choreography?). The essence of dance is storytelling. In some form or fashion, all styles of dance, from classical ballet and flamenco to hip-hop and swing dance, are telling audiences “something.” If the audience is paying attention, they will leave with questions or answers. Perhaps, if they are lucky, they will leave with both. Finding new questions in search for answers utilizes the art of dance to its fullest potential.

"Medal of Resistance" | Choreography by Fiona Scruggs

Photo credit: Deborah McLaughlin

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