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You Can Dance if You Want To

April 13, 2017

This is a posting about dancing. But first:

 

            In Nautilus magazine, journalist Daniel Gross writes about a “silent disco” party at South Street Seaport last spring in which hundreds of dancers wearing earbuds grooved to music only they could hear. “To some observers,” Gross writes, “the silent disco represents a peculiar form of shared isolation—a way to turn up the volume of modern alienation, to look social but remain solitary.”

 

            Gross finds a counterargument from Peter Alhadeff, a professor at Berklee College of Music: “Maybe our way of being social and being private is changing. In a way, the world was more private before. There is a different way of socializing today.” 

 

            Speaking strictly for myself, that makes sense. But apparently I’m not a sole specimen, because Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a research neuroscientist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience in Los Angeles, says that “The brain interprets the structure of the music as intentionality that is coming from a human agent.”

Gross decodes, explaining: “The moment you hear a sequence of hierarchically organized abstract sounds we call music, a multitude of associations are activated in your brain. These can include memories, emotions, and even motor programs for playing music. Together they can imply a sense of human agency. That sensation is what sets music apart from other types of sounds.”

 

           I get that. Since I’m writing a novel in which music plays a central role, I spend a lot of time with earbuds and this or that recording from www.classicalarchives.com in my head. I spend time trying to figure out how to write about music that people have never heard. Maybe I’m attempting, in some lame way, to make up to my favorite genius, Beethoven, for what he wrote, but never heard.

 

             But music makes up a large portion of my audible life as well. I’m a pastor, so I work closely with a gifted music director at the church I serve. I don’t sing well, but I do my best to sing quietly in a large community choral group. And of course, I’ve got friends who swing by the house and sing. I mean, they just randomly break into song. How lucky am I? (How crazy are they?) It’s a good arrangement.

 

              Nevertheless, whether I am singing in a group or listening in solitude (an activity I much enjoy), I never feel that music isolates me. Gross’ article cites composer Jonathan Berger who opines that, in a concert hall more than elsewhere, “You have to shut up and sit straight, and you can’t move…From one point of view, that’s at least as isolating as people in their own zone with their earbuds on.”

 

              Methinks he doth protest too much. Composers need concert halls. Plus, I also disagree. There is little that is more engaging than watching (and listening) to an orchestra or chamber musicians.

But I said this was a column about dancing and I’m not lying.

 

              My mother was a ballroom dancer.. And my own background is in classical ballet. But since having had children (and maybe a bit before that) I love nothing more than the dance clubs that have taken place in my kitchen. Maybe I’d love a silent disco at South Street Seaport, too. It just happens that I find myself at home an awful lot and that’s where the music is. And the moves.

 

              Whether it is with my daughters, as it was so often when they were young, or one or two friends, sometimes you just move. Because it’s fun. Because it’s purposeless. Maybe it’s a little sexy. Maybe it’s a little empowering.  Or simply basic. And holy.

 

              After all, King David and his kinsfolk from the house of Israel danced before the Lord “with all their might.” And Psalms equate praising God with dancing. And if you’re not of a religious bent of any flavor, that’s no reason not to dance. Remember the Men Without Hats song preaching it so finely:

 

We can dance if we want to

We can leave your friends behind

Because your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance,

Well, they’re no friends of mine.

 

So with or without earbuds, cue the musicians.

 

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I'm a writer, yoga teacher, Lutheran pastor, and music nerd living in New York. I find a feast in daily living - most days, anyway - and write about it here. 

Finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize!
The frank and funny story of a church-geek girl who spent twenty years in the ecclesiastical trenches as a Lutheran pastor, preaching weekly words of hope she wasn’t sure she even believed.