African drumming and African dance are my happy place. Everyone’s presumably got something: for some it’s gardening, for others it’s motor racing and for yet others it’s nature walks. Isn’t it neat, and also, somewhat strange, that we have these specialised passions? Weird animal.
West African rhythms feel good to me in a way that nothing else does. They’re the basis of much of the pop music we listen to today, having travelled to America with slaves, then evolved. They are complex polyrhythms – some beats are off the beat and placed in between others – and that gives them their groove.
One of my favorite pastimes for years has been getting together with another dancer friend or two over coffee and hearing their stories and insights about dance. There’s really nothing better than listening to someone talk about what he or she loves to do, even though such deep investment in dance, as in anything, invariably includes some history of pain and sacrifice. Talking with dancers of many forms, I’ve watched spines elongate, breath deepen, gestures become more fluid or expansive, and eyes begin to shine. Overall, as people reintegrate memories and feel listened to, they become both energised and more peaceful.
As the 2017 Caroline Plummer Research Fellow in Dance, I have been in Dunedin, New Zealand, since February seeking out the many ways that people dance here. I use oral history as my research methodology for the fellowship. In addition, for my own welfare, I participate in as many dance practices throughout Dunedin as I can. In these sessions I meet people, learn about the city by going to studios and community halls, feel the benefits of exercise, challenge my brain with new patterns, rhythms, and ideas, and stimulate mind, body, and soul in a positive, supportive environment.
The title of this article may conjure images of the ill and infirm physically urging the grim reaper to leave forthwith, but in fact it refers to the transcendental power of dance. “With these gestures, we somehow defy death” was a statement made by a participant in a dance project called ‘Circle of Life’, which I facilitated during my tenure as the 2008 Caroline Plummer Fellow in Community Dance at the University of Otago. For this project I invited people living with cancer to create and perform a dance. This article summarises the experience, and examines the link between health care and the somatic movement discipline of dance. Continue reading “With these gestures, we somehow defy death”