Thursday, August 09, 2018


For the past couple weeks the kids enrolled in our summer program have been requesting almost daily "dance parties." It's an easy enough thing to do. We have an old shower speaker, a music service account, and other people. I take requests and the kids engage in their own free-form booty shaking.

Dancing is a uniquely human activity, an art form that goes back to the dawn of our species. No other animal dances. Oh sure, there are a few varieties of parrot that will bob along to a regular beat, but they get lost the moment the one changes things up, whereas humans transition easily, naturally, from fast to slow, from regular to irregular, moving our bodies not just to the beat, but also to melodies and moods, telling stories, expressing emotions. Every culture that has ever existed, stretching back to our hunter-gatherer roots, has danced. Human babies, even before they can walk, respond to music with their whole bodies.

Certainly, dance is an aspect of how the human species has evolved and survived. When I watch the children dance, I feel that I'm witness to something important about humans. Most of them start off dancing alone, but within seconds they come together, making eye contact, smiling into one another's faces, mirroring one another, one-upping one another, taking hold of one another, expressing their love for one another.

And I think that's what I see, love, as they dance. Sometimes it's obvious, like yesterday, when they simply began to fall into one another's arms, wrapping one another up in swaying hugs, joyfully laughing. Other times, like on Tuesday, it might not look like love, but I think it still is. Instead of hugging, they began taking swings at one another, like punches; not hard, but not gentle either. It started with just a couple boys, but within seconds there were eight kids, boys and girls, standing in a circle, hitting each other, swinging their arms to the music, landing their punches not where it might hurt, but on backs and hips and bottoms, intuitively avoiding stomachs and faces. It looked wild and their faces reflected that: mouths wide open, laughing, even shrieking. It wasn't violence, but it was violence-like, as if they were engaged in ritualized fighting, as if telling a kind of story about this aspect of their humanity, one in which the goal is not to subdue or hurt, but rather to connect.

No one loves, nor dances, like four and five year olds. It's not just that they want to move their bodies together, to look into one another's eyes in joy and agreement, to spontaneously create together, to lay their hands on one another in ways both gentle and not so gentle, but rather that they need to. Indeed, I'm beginning to believe that dance is so central to our humanity that we all need to. Dancing together is perhaps the highest, most human form of play.

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