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Are we dancer?

If we worried less about how we looked, we’d be dancing all the time

brunch Updated: Jul 12, 2018 12:28 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Are we human,or are we dancer?,The Killers
Dancing is one of the few things I can think of that rids me of thought(Photo Illustration Parth Garg)

A friend visiting from Canada recently gifted me a string of battery-operated tiny shiny disco balls. I’ve twirled them around the bottles in the bar in the living room so even weekday afternoons seem festive. I’ve always been a break-into-dance-anywhere person. But this prop has seriously strengthened my party ethic. Which brings me to the point. Are we human, or are we dancer? as The Killers bewilderingly asked in their 2008 hit. Apart from the grammatical anarchy the song loosed upon the world, it also posed a philosophical conundrum. Can’t humans be dancer?

Dance like no one’s recording

As a child, I imagined myself to be a brilliant dancer in the Madhuri Dixit mould. I was confident, upbeat, cool. Watching a video years later from a cousin’s party I realised I was mistaken. Stonewashed denims, arms undulating in a wave formation, face disturbingly expressive. Watching the tape was a sobering experience. But by then, rum had entered the building. Alcohol, as a million posters announce, helps you do stupid things with great confidence. So there were the carefree years of headbanging to Chumbawamba and naagin-dancing to Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera.

Dancing for yourself is a thing. And if you dance like I do, dancing by yourself will most likely also be a thing

But I’m now far beyond the enthusiastic grooving of adolescence or aggressive Bollywooding of my inebriated 20s. As I moonwalk towards my 40s, the goddess of dance has bestowed upon me the gift of uninhibited dancing, even while sober. I can move to The Clash around my desk or break into a sit-down jig to Gulaabo at a restaurant. It turns out, like Madhuri Dixit’s Maya in Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), dancing for yourself is a thing. And if you dance like I do, dancing by yourself will most likely also be a thing.

Take it easy, Urvasi

So now that we’ve done away with the audience and occasion, it brings us to the important matter of – why dance? Well, like George Leigh Mallory (who said the words before Edmund Hillary) replied when asked, “Why climb Everest?” “Because it’s there.” Dance is there, too. From our ancestors moving rhythmically around bonfires to Prabhu Deva contorting himself like an infinitely malleable variety of rubber, it’s what our bodies often do. And it brings us pleasure.

While watching a nature documentary recently, the narrator spoke about how a certain species of bird takes long flights just for fun. Just for fun! That is one of the most liberating concepts in biology, which is so often turned into a mechanistic manual. Why it’s fun and how it’s fun is a subject for an academic discourse I can happily do without. That it’s fun I can vouch for. Especially since a helpful (and hopeful) young fellow asked me to get my shoulders into the game. Such terrific advice! Another hopeful once told me it was rude not to look at your dance partner while dancing. I’ve had no use for a dancing partner ever since.

Mr Fry vs Ms Smith

One of my big loves, actor, writer, comedian, rationalist Stephen Fry, goes on and on about how dancing is “not so much an accomplishment as an affliction.” He finds it dreadful, awkward and embarrassing, and fires a whole barrage of invective against the exercise in a famous podcast. For all my admiration of the man, I differ wildly with him on this count. Dancing is one of the few things I can think of that rids me of thought. The body moves as if obeying commands that the brain has not sent – the music has. I suppose sporty sorts would testify to the out-of-mind experience of athletics. But even there you find that rules, spectators and the competitive spirit keep you attached to material things. Unless you’re a professional dancer or veteran clubber, dancing is a private matter, no matter who’s watching.

“What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading,” says Zadie Smith in her beautiful essay Dance Lessons for Writers. From Fred Astaire to Prince, she encircles different forms of dance with her pen, drawing illuminating parallels between the two arts. Mr Fry might find it insightful. Perhaps the duo might discuss it over a dance.

From HT Brunch, July 8, 2018

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First Published: Jul 07, 2018 20:36 IST