Merce Cunningham was once asked after one of his performance at a university in India if people in America liked his type of dance. Merce Cunningham started to respond with an explanation of the popularity of his performances. No, this is not what the question was about: did people in America like to do this type of dance after dinner?
This distinction between dance as a performance and dance as a social activity has existed for a long time. There is also dance as a hobby, along with dance education and dancing competitions, all of these blurring the line between performance and dance as a social activity.
This weekend I saw a variety of dance and I danced. On Saturday there was the extraordinarily powerful, acid-trip level, experience of seeing Chunky Move’s production Mortal Engine. (For a review of Mortal Engine read Alison Croggon’s blog Theatre Notes.) And on Sunday I went to Fabian’s dance theme party danced and had a good time.
Fabian has evidently been doing Cuban dance classes amongst his wide variety of hobbies. And there were obviously other members of his Cuban dance class at the party. Fabian, ever the extravert performed two Cuban dances each with a different partner and then opened the floor for other of his friends to perform. And so I saw a sample of the type of dance that Melbourians like to learn, practice and perform. There were more Cuban dancers, a bald fire twirler dressed in a kilt, two women doing a pole dance and a woman doing a belly dance. Amateur belly dancers are typical for Fabian’s parties and they are always attempting to be more seductive than the belly rolling professionals at Coburg’s Turkish restaurants.
Dance is not an unproblematic activity for cultures due to the eroticism of moving bodies. However, this is not the case in most of Melbourne and certainly not at Fabian’s party where the gender of your dance partner was determined by your preference. I do remember seeing a Bosnian Moslem friend keep his eyes firmly fixed on his wife during a belly dancer’s performance when we were having dinner at Turkish restaurant in Coburg. And at the performance of Mortal Engine there were the ubiquitous warning about “partial nudity, smoke, laser and strobe lighting effects and loud volume audio.”
In some places how people dance, where and with who is determined by tradition, it is an expression of their identity. In contemporary Melbourne dance is a choice not tradition; Cuban dance is not an expression of Cuban identity any more than pole dancing is an expression of vice.