Short Reflection on Learning to Dance

by tigermanifesto

We see, therefore, at first the picture as a whole, with its individual parts still more or less kept in the background; we observe the movements, transitions, connections rather than the things that move, combine, and are connected. This primitive, naïve but intrinsically correct conception of the world is that of ancient Greek philosophy, and was first clearly formulated by Heraclitus: everything is and is not, for everything is fluid, is constantly changing, constantly coming into being and passing away.

–Friedrich Engels, “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.”

In my humble opinion, there is only movement in heaven and on earth….

–Mao Zedong, “A Study of Physical Education”

For reasons of bureaucratic necessity, I enrolled for my final undergraduate semester in a dance class. Specifically, I am learning the fundamentals of the art of tap, a hybrid vernacular dance form that emerged, after a long and varied gestation, in the early industrial period. Combining the footwork of Irish jig with the expressive movements of African American performers, it is–for my often gangly body–demanding and difficult to learn. My basic lack of lower body coordination and tenuous grasp of balance are my most critical impediments, which I somewhat doubt will be solved in only twelve sessions of practice and evaluation. Nonetheless, I take this task seriously as part of an attempt to harmonize my intellectual studies with a refinement of my physical abilities. There is, too, something about the grace of movement that compels me both aesthetically and politically. Can dance be a tool of political education? Well, if the mere written word, so fixed and apparently silent, can be, why not? One of the most striking parts of Hisila Yami’s excellent proletarian feminist book People’s War and Women’s Liberation in Nepal is not in her impressive prose but rather in a photograph of Maoist cadres performing a traditional dance infused with political significance. Whereas fascism aestheticizes art, Communists have the opposite mission–to politicize art. Absorbing the fact of the universe’s constant change and motion, the foundations of dialectical materialism, in your body, to be able to translate motion into stillness and back into motion, to refine the body and hone your skills to the point of mastery is a worthy goal, to be sure.

None of this saves me from being a terrible dancer at this time. But it fortifies my resolve to keep going and discover where the motions of my own body can take me.