Why We Dance

In medieval Europe, whenever you danced you danced with the specter of death. A young lady or man viewing their dance card beheld a bevy of partners that would shape their future: suitors, allies, enemies, confidants, traitors. Each dance held the potential to seal alliances, cement friendships, or plunge houses into war. Dancing was statecraft and warcraft and lovecraft, and every single dance one danced had the potential to doom or preserve the people you loved. Dancing was danger.

In the antebellum south, dancing was release. In a world where the things they loved had been ripped from them or could be at any moment, dancing was an escape for slaves, however fleeting, however small, into the music. For a few moments, they could cast off some of the sorrow and cruelty that plagued them. Dance was, so often, one of the only ways to connect to a history, a home, that they had been taken from, likely never to see again. Dancing was survival, was release, in a way I will never be able to truly understand.

For me, dancing is wrought with all the nervousness you’d expect from a social anxiety-suffering nerd. For my best friend, dancing is a way to have a little fun in between sets while lifting weights. For my girlfriend, dancing is a way to be completely free, wild, and uninhibited in a moment. Dancing is, for everyone, a deeply personal activity, one that we imbue with our own meaning and desires. It is not one thing but several, not a strictly defined activity but one that we all make our own every time we do it.

This is, of course, true of far more than just dance. Music means many things to many people, as do books, as do sports, as do music. There is nothing that is just one thing, just as there is no person who is just one thing. The world is a tangled, interwoven snarl of meaning that defies simple categorization because it is populated and given meaning by us, and we are not so easy to define either. We have always been such complicated beasts, made of so many different things. Our world has always been just as complicated, it always will be, and nothing can make it the kind of world that fits neatly into boxes and expectation. What word do we have for all this wonderful depth but beautiful?

With excitement and optimism,