In my dance class last week (with Margaret Paek, whom I highly recommend), we had a guest instructor, Gabriel Forestieri. In class he told us about an experience he had where he and a fellow dancer were outside enjoying the day, stretching and moving their bodies through space. He recalled the numerous odd looks they both received from numerous passers-by, and later remarked on it to his partner. Her response stuck with me and created a slew of emotions the more I thought about it. “We aren’t allowed to enjoy our bodies publicly.”
After this statement was first stated into the atmosphere of my dance class I saw a few faces of confusion and slight disbelief as my fellow students and I tried to negate this statement. But, the more we thought on it the more we found examples that only proved this fact to be true. And although this new understanding of an unspoken rule of my culture that I have subconsciously known and obeyed since I first knew what ‘socially acceptable’ meant brought with it the peace of finally having that rule brought into the light, it also made me very sad.
I have loved to dance since I was first put into ballet class at 3 (maybe even before that) and to learn the real reason why my dancing — both the emotions and effort I put into it, as well as the amount I do now compared to my childhood has changed was a sinking feeling I felt helpless to change. In class the day Mr. Forestieri came I was not the only person to remark that it felt like we were ‘dancing like children.’ The dance class was split into two groups and each had to go out into a space in the Warch Campus Center and then recreate a dance they had made for their partners in an earlier experiment. Dancing outside of the safety of Esch, our designated dance class space, and especially in front of various students and staff was a challenging experience, but many of us stated afterward we found confidence being in a group who were also breaking the norm of what kind of movements were expected in that particular space. I found my dancing to be childlike, becoming something curious and exploratory in nature. And after some contemplation on the idea that we are not brought up to enjoy our bodies publicly I made a connection between that and a reversion to childlike dancing.
Mr. Forestieri, when discussung what type of movement is acceptable in the public eye, used the idea of people working out because they are usually very driven and forceful in their movements and not often smiling. I thought of children, who usually are not yet the best at following social norms. To see children dancing around in public spaces is not anything that creates an awkward and uncomfortable feeling like when adults do it. And perhaps that is because of the belief adults should know better as full-grown members of society.
The culture of today, with its rampant advantage of sharing opinions via tabloids, the news, Facebook, your phone, basically anywhere you look — has a very strong influence on our lives. Body-shaming is something that has already been brought up and is still being fought as I suspect it will be for a long time unfortunately, and this realization that dancing is specifically only something to be done on a stage, this specific categorization of dance, feels like just another way of making us feel bad about our bodies. Perhaps there are connotations associated with ‘enjoying your body’, such as more intimate relations, that groups all forms of enjoyment into that private category of sensual touch. Maybe people think enjoying their body publicly will bring criticism from others, quick to give judgement on shortcomings in that person’s physical appearance or ability. To go out into the world and publicly enjoy your body, in whatever way that means, should not be something that brings with it a fear of scrutiny and scorn.
I dropped out of ballet after 6 years because of an acute awareness that my short little round body was nothing like the elegant, lithe bodies of the other dancers. To this day I still regret leaving ballet. Maybe if I hadn’t felt the pressure to no longer enjoy my body, with all it’s oddities and quirks that make it uniquely mine, I would have stayed in ballet, or at least found another dance style which would allow me to still enact this form of art I love so much. I watch dance videos of flash mobs, and I see the big sensation they make because they are creating a space where dance is allowed wherever they choose- the park, a street, the mall. I hope one day people will feel free to dance, to move their bodies, in whatever way makes them feel like they are enacting physically the joy they feel inside, anywhere.