Some thoughts on culture and dance in choreography

Culture and dance

Within the student group, the choreographic process was personally experienced as a journey where ethnic influences from the past were realized during the dance.
Karen Woodley Dance Movement Psychotherapy and elderly peopleThe dance had a shoaling piece at the beginning and at the end where cultural influences were evident through each student’s movements. Irish dance, ballet and an Italian walking interweaved throughout among others.
“I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living.” (Graham, 1998, p. 95)
We were living our cultures. Moreover, these cultural movements were expressed in a harmonious relationship within the flow of the shoal, as fish, where each could dance and be part of the whole together.
“One reason for the inseparability of dance and culture is the inseparability of dance from its creator and instrument of expression. The creators and instruments live in a cultural context that shapes them and their dance.”(Royce, 2002: 214-215)

However, my experience was of being uncomfortable within this group of ‘fish’, which led me to confirm that body movement is more than culture. Analyzing this further with the belief that dance is not separated from the person dancing, it seems possible that the dancer can liberate him/herself from cultural conditioning thus connecting with an instinctive identity. In thinking of expression and identity, one could appreciate how dance movement therapy encourages this liberation through interventions that draw attention to the integration of mind and body through simple movements. Peggy Hackney talks about the mind-body connection being apparent in:

“An individual moving in harmonic relation to him/herself, other people, and or the universe. This sense of the word touches on the spiritual, which seems to be under acknowledged in our current culture.” (Hackney, 2001)


Within the shoaling sequence of the dance, I was jumping lifting knees alternately towards my chest with arms held closely by the side using the four muscles of the quadriceps, the Sartorius muscle that flexes the knee and the hip rotating the thigh laterally, as well as tarsals and metatarsals to hold and take the weight of my body. These muscles, all located in the lower region of the body naturally have a responsibility in supporting the weight of the upper body (Blakey, 2001) I was dancing an Irish dance, which focuses on the limbs below the hips.

“For control of posture three types of information are essential: information from the proprioceptive system (receptors in joints, tendons, muscles and skin), the visual system and the vestibular system. The upright posture is maintained by muscles acting against the force of gravity.”(Astrand, Rodahl, Dahl, & Stromme, 1986, p. 119)

So, in moving against gravity I observed posture in the door plane that consisted of isolated, strong movements from the lower body that were direct, without making full use of my kinesphere, showing near space with a vertical shape.

“The shape in this plane is best imagined as being between two planes of glass, and is one of display with no closing or retreating quality.”(Davies, 2001: 61)

Without closing or retreating inwards, the movement had a yang quality, an outwardly focused dance. According to Chinese medicine, health is manifested through a balance of yin and yang elements. Inward, introspective and radiant and fiery respectively (Bienfield & Korngold, 1991). Perhaps this was why I felt uncomfortable as I mentioned earlier in context of the cultural influences. In addition, whilst holding this vertical position a strong, bound, hastiness was being felt. Perhaps an inner attitude was being revealed (Laban & Ullman, 1971) through the effort quality.

“All effort action or reaction is an approach towards values, the primary value being the maintenance or achievement of the balance needed for the individual’s survival.”(Laban & Ullman, 1971, pp. 119-121)

Another way to view this position is to understand that happiness in life, in work, in love is a result of one’s personal development, growth and use of their effort (Laban & Lawrence, 1947).

The choreographic process certainly highlighted numerous motivations and efforts of each student.


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