The Politics of Dancing

By Simon Slieker

A latter day treatise on the fundamentally subversive power of dance

Dancing, human movement that is free of linear purpose, (maintenance work: get this, do that, go there); that is motivated by a desire to articulate a physical response to music, infused with feeling, is a profound act of political subversion.

But I’ll get to that. Let me first just expound upon the virtues of dance as I’ve come to understand them.

The process of dance, dis-inhibits patterns of social control, it loosens thinking, feeling and imagining, so that the mind and body are able to apprehend a sense of freedom.

On being yourself and belonging

“Being yourself” is so easily affected by external opinion and “likes”, (especially for younger people tied to the whims of social media), and “belonging” so inextricably bound to image, that any notion of being oneself is easily subjugated by fear of rejection.

Dancing, and giving in to the urge, is like giving yourself permission to be, do and act in the way you Seems to me this is an excellent message to receive. It brings the onus on belonging, back to the self. It is an intrinsic message of affirmation and self-acceptance. What better bedrock upon which to be oneself, unashamedly and free of an external judge and jury.


On being yourself in community

Dancing with other people who are also dancing, encourages a communal agreement that says: “This is okay, it is okay to express, be, feel…” Where the dance floor is open and multi-directional there are 360 degrees of potential for facing, expressing and directing the dance. This then encourages interaction between people, more engagement in community, harnessing the expression of: “This is okay, and we’re all in it together.”

Dance parties have the potential to encourage this type of dancing. And yet, increasingly I notice that something else happens instead. A unified force of facing the front. Of busting learnt moves on one hand, and a torpid inertia on the other. Of bumping into others with flagrant disregard at best, and nefarious intent at worst (gross acts of groping and unsolicited touch). None of these lend themselves to the sense of freedom I described at the top. Nor do they inspire it in others. Worse, they actually detract from and breed something else, something boring, and staid, and way too common. Something, many of us, were moving away from when we came to the dancefloor in the first place.

The unwritten rules

As a man who has grown up amidst the tacit socialization of urban Australia, I have absorbed some prevailing and inherent messages. They’re hard to ignore, but I’ve made a conscious effort to dismiss them. Some of them could be articulated thus:

  • It is not okay to feel.
  • It is certainly not okay to express your feelings.
  • It is not okay to think thoughts that contradict:
  • the laws of society,
  • the tenets of various religions,
  • the social constructs around race, sex and morality.

So when I first encountered dance party culture, I thought, “something about this is really, really, good. Convention here contradicts convention out there. And in that, this new thing subverts that old thing.”

How? By liberating patterns of control that are part of the construct of the society in which we live.


Dancing is subversive because it tugs at the fabric of that construct

I saw people, coming together, reclaiming spaces which were (potently) symbols of western industrial society, warehouses, filling them with art, and colour and light and above all loud drum based music, music that evoked a sense of the tribal, the primal, and the dance.

Dancing like I’d not really seen before.

This was dancing in all directions, and every direction was filled with movement and other people swirling around the space. And the DJ or music source was there, acknowledged, but less a focus than the dance itself.


I came to realise: There is no front in 360 degrees of space


Reclaiming the liberating potential of the dancefloor

In reflecting on these moments in time, my past and what has changed, I have come to wonder: What can we do to reclaim the dance as a powerful act of liberation?

This is what I have come up with; but maybe you can think of more:

  • Let go of the concept of “the front”. It is hard, it can be like facing the back in a lift, but it can be done.
  • Know when you are doing “moves” and see if you can also just move.
  • Acknowledge the people around you, relate to them as colleagues and co-conspirators, not obstacles and bumping poles.
  • Notice if you are watching the dj out of habit, and allow yourself to see if there is anything more interesting.
  • If the dj is being awesome, then watch.
  • Notice when you start being “judgy” of people who are letting themselves really dance, and ask yourself what it is that makes you judge them. There are bound to be a world of realisations in that alone.

I am very tired of seeing my female friends cringing away from predatory men, going the grope. The more one person makes a choice to seize the creative moment on the dancelfoor the more it is enabled in the next. The more it will stand out when some choose to violate another’s freedom.

You may argue that this is fine in the aforementioned utopia of unlicensed venues and warehouses, before the culture was cluttered with the dross of commercialisation and crowded club spaces. But, and here’s the thing, there is nothing stopping us from being ourselves wherever we are and whenever we want to be, other than ourselves. And maybe in this day and age where we are so focused on who is controlling who, this notion is the most frightening of all.





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