Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Are We Human? Or Just Dancers?

(Sometimes when I have so much I have to write, I simply cannot. And then something as simple as a Facebook status sparks my insomnia-time-killing-activity du jour. I don't know if this will make annnny sense when I re-read it in the morning, but for some reason I felt compelled to respond to a question posed by a friend: "Are we humans? Or just dancers?" Feel free to argue. Or just tell me I make no sense at 4am, haha...)

(5:13am update: now that my internet is slowly working I found that the question is actually a quote from a song by The Killers ((ok, I admit my slight pop cultural ignorance...)) that has been debated over whether they're actually saying 'are we human or are we denser?' I don't actually care - it still got me the way some responded to the Facebook question...)

Are we human? Or are we just dancers?

A great person asked this on Facebook recently, only to receive 15 comments romanticizing the idea that dancers are somehow superior to average people: we are “a higher form of humans,” “superheros of the body and spirit,” “maybe ‘hancers’ or ‘dumans.’”

No. Dancers are very, very human.

Dance is primitive. Without language, words, tools, or music, we danced. Does dance not imply the very archaic nature of the human race?

First off, being “just” a dancer is putting it mildly. As artists, technicians, performers, movers, we have a heavy job. It’s like the old adage of having either brains or beauty. The proportion may lean heavier towards one in certain people, but most everyone onstage today is more than “just” an empty dancer body.

That’s not to say a thing about education. Humans are largely uneducated at their primal core. Dancer, scientist, dumbbell, genius – we all have human instincts we cannot deny, both good and bad.

If, as a dancer I were not human, I wouldn’t feel my achilles tendon shredding slowly with every plie, for starters. My back wouldn’t pop, your knees wouldn’t crack, and my teacher’s hips wouldn’t give with years. We would not be bound in a single fragile body, for better or worse. If the young dancer were not human, she would not care that she misses play dates and birthday parties to be at the barre. And we wouldn’t desire to improve, to please, to grow at an expense. But what kind of dancer is that?

Being “just a dancer” would mean a world of perfection. Without humanity there would be no jealousy. No dancers’ arched feet would be enviable, no “trina” too skinny, no attacks to our self-esteem. What self could we know? Casting would not shed a shadow on the underdogs. A faulty performance would be a speck in the glassy sand. A trip onstage would never happen – only humans make mistakes.

Those icons before us would never retire. They would not pass away, involuntarily stealing their knowledge from nourishing young starving artists. Immortality would grace Balanchine, Robbins, Nijinsky, Nureyev, Diaghilev, and so many more.

Your heart would not shudder when Juliet, Odette, or Giselle dies.

My bun would not frizz after sweating at barre. And forget about our animalistic senses. I wouldn’t need eye contact, acknowledgement. Who wants to be able to see that spotlight anyway? I wouldn’t smell those surprise yellow roses at the stage door, or the musk of an old tutu. The dry thirst of grande allegro would quench itself. That blister, the ingrained leotard strap, the stabbing bobby pin, the raw slice of a drawstring, would go unfelt.

And music, unheard?

You wouldn’t rouge like a tomato after doing the wrong step. Smiles wouldn’t be contagious. Though nor would frowns. There would be no voices to drown out. Dancers don’t talk.

We would never be short of breath. We’d have none.

Time off would not be hard to stomach. Digesting artistic meaning would be obsolete. A weightless wonder, we could fly with no impacting burden to our bones. I’d have a better arch. Maybe a sixth toe for stability. And turnout, please.

But no pleasure to be felt with your partner’s touch. You couldn’t bear a little dancer of your own. You wouldn’t want to. You’d dance alone. We would sense nothing of community with those moving around us. No corps. Who needs chemistry in a pas de deux? We would feel no loyalty, trust, appreciation, respect, love for our leaders, our teachers. No admiration. No motivation.

Applause wouldn’t stimulate. Correction would be unnecessary. Comfort wouldn’t be found in the dailyness of class, only robotic repetition. We would be obedient, never questioning how or why. Never innovating.

I wouldn’t tire. I would sleep. Peace should be constant.

The human condition plagues us. Dance is not an antidote. It’s a symptom, our way of coping, our expression of the soul that is the essence of our individual humanness. Why would one classify us as otherworldly, or different? Is it not enough to be human?

The same gifts and hazards that identify a human life, breed a dancer.

If I were not human, my heart would not ache every time the curtain tears closed before my wet eyelashes. I would not love what I do.

9 comments:

Victoria said...

Actually, that made perfect sense. That was one of the most awesome, beautiful things I've ever read.

evgenia said...

great post!

ACW said...

"The human condition plagues us. Dance is not an antidote. It’s a symptom, our way of coping, our expression of the soul that is the essence of our individual humanness. Why would one classify us as otherworldly, or different? Is it not enough to be human?"

... exquisitely put, Taylor.
This is a gorgeous piece of writing, one which left me blinking away tears with its truth, honesty and candor. It is exactly how I feel. And you nailed it in five sentences.

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

Anne Coburn Whitmore

"...Your heart would not shudder when Juliet, Odette, or Giselle dies."
-- too often one's heart so shudders;
and, as so, "(t)he human condition plagues us. Dance is not an antidote. It’s a symptom, our way of coping, our expression of the soul that is the essence of our individual humanness..."
:)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Taylor, and so true!!!

Rebekah said...

Very nice post. My favorite of yours so far. It is very true, if we were not human, we would not move anyone and dance wouldn't be worth pursuing.

Taylor said...

thanks all! :)

Anonymous said...

A beautiful piece, and yet I still can't help thinking of you as a multitasking superheroine!

James Wolcott

Angelia said...

wow... this is the most beautiful post that I´ve read...

Taylor said...

Thank you everyone :) I was just glad it made sense after writing at 5am haha.