Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and classless and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
[John Winston Lennon, Working class hero]
The dance as social situation illustrates how reaches, grabs, twists and shimmers of the body, too often seen as the shadows of God’s light, are themselves acts of worldly production and transformation.
[Randy Martin, Dance as Social Movement]
Dana Mills opens the last chapter of her book “Dance and Politics” with the introduction of Jonathan Lear’s work on the sun dance of the Crow peoples, the Native American Tribe that re-learnt the dance from their enemies - the Shoshone tribe - around 1941, after the period of dance’s absence. The sun dance is described as central to the way of living of the Crow peoples,it is the “prayer of revenge”, a system of signification manifested in steps and rhythms. Lear’s work poses a question: is it possible to continue dancing after the colonial rupture, after the previously known ways of telling place and time are replaced by the logic of the empire? In the world swallowed and destroyed by the white conquest the communal life may rely on that possibility of self-determination - on dance which
Is performed in a world not yet built; a world in which Crow culture once again is constitutive for their way of life
This may require finding a new purpose to be realized through dance. Other option could be reproduction,repetition, of the ritual that gradually would become emptied of its initial aspiration. Dance faces the question of adaptation or extinction. Mills reminds us that, when confronted with such loss, we should insist on recognition of dance as a tool of creation of worlds ,for it can evoke new symbolic structures to be articulated beyond verbal order. The ritual of dancing relies on the collective movement, through dance the community is reinforced and enacted. This may give rise to the possibility of the future for those wanting to survive the Doomsday of the Empire. Radical hopefulness must fuel the Body of the Dancer of The Future.
To say that in dance we overcome the immobility brought upon us by the violence, oppression and trauma, is to understand dance through its disposition to engender and maintain life. Radical hope realized through dance is based on the embodied knowledge of the generations of dancers that have demonstrated resilience through their physical presence and insistence on the ability to move,but also through the continuous symbolic re-configuration of sense and relations ( that happens through dance) that set the foundation for the thriving of communities and cultures.
North-American formation of the modern state gave rise to a capitalist society born out of the steam of the Industrial Revolution, that entered the New World at the expense of the millions of Others that were doomed and locked up in the past, thrown under the feet of those who “discovered” their land. “The genocidal will” is not a paradox of modernity, but rather its very constitutive feature ( Zygmunt Bauman). Technologies of exploitation, extermination and domination enabled the global procession of capitalism. The destruction of worlds created space for some “miracles” and “dreams” that were to be fulfilled by/for those obedient to the capitalist logic and the modern project of humanity.
czy chciałbyś za kilka lat mieć u stóp cały świat?
wszystkiego w bród, tego czego Ci brak
w czystej pościeli spać snem spokojnym jak ocean
instrument dobrze nastrojony, ręce w kieszeniach
porozmawiajmy o celach i marzeniach
bez wiary i fantazji zostaje tu i teraz
przecieram oczy ze zdumienia
prorocy znają datę, a tu tyle do zrobienia
rakiety niebo-ziemia, bomby, epidemia
nie zabiją nas dopóki nie będziemy pękać
powodzenia życz sam sobie - zamknięty obieg
na zdrowie zaczynamy święta
zrób zdjęcia albo zapamiętaj
bo to tylko jedna wersja prawdziwego szczęścia
[Kaliber 44, Rok podniesionych w górę rąk]
Learning from the modern western history, we could recognize how the situation, or rather, situatedness of bodies - those classified as human, even “fully” human,superhuman and those “less” human, more animals, animals and the rest - was affecting the possibility of the future of bodies. And as a consequence, it dictated the future of communities, ecosystems and the world at large. The modernist turn in western dance and its political developments are a curious case to study along the invention of the modern factory and progression of capitalism from the period of the Industrial Revolution till the contemporary moment of the neoliberal decay. At the intersection of those histories we can maybe grasp the ideological and psycho-somatic shapings of bodies under the new paradigms of production.
But, before some communist dance history, let’s start from the dystopian near futures.
In his last movie “Sorry to bother you” Boots Riley paints the late capitalist landscape in which half-people, half-horses have replaced workers to make process of production, as always, better, faster, more efficient and cheaper. Slave labor and pain of the monstrously enhanced workers’ bodies generate obscene wealth for the Worry-Free Company ran by a coked-up hipster ‘visionaire’. In order to resolve the problem of inequality and precarity laboring bodies are transformed into non-human half-machines deprived from rights and recognition. There is a revolt coming, though we will see only its beginning...
Rather dark vision of the capitalist future.
Or... is it in the Now? The now Now?
Where are we now?
(...) the relation between dance and politics today takes on a myriad of forms and guises. As in many modernist forms of dance, the most obvious way for dance to address political issues is by striving for an alignment for a political cause and its mobilization for change. Dance speaks about and articulates political grievances raising the public conscience for its cause.
[The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics, Introduction]
Fordist revolution did not only change the idea of work but, as Edward Palmer Thompson suggests in “Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism”, transition to the advanced industrial society required complete restructuring of working habits, development of the new disciplining and motivational tools and of a new idea of “human nature”. The work was inserted into human life on the premise that one cannot merely live, but that one must “earn a living” and subjugate rhythms of life and death to the timeframes of work under the capitalist governance.
We felt that the workers had to dance…
[Fanya Geltman del Bourgo, interview by Karen Wickre, Works Progress, Administration : Oral Histories]
Labor (...) is more like dance than work; it is an action, a process. Because of the ancient intellectual tradition linking dance with play, the movements of dance were the least likely set of movements to become definable as wage earning, and the dance itself was the artwork least suggestive of itself as a stable object or product. The circumstances immediately joining dance to the labor force in 1930s constitute, therefore, a historically unique moment in which dance contributed to political struggle.
[Mark Franko, The work of Dance. Labor, Movement and Identity in the 1930s.]
New Dance Group ( NDG) was established in New York in 1932 and aimed at combining left-wing politics with modern dance ( Phillips Geduld) . The first anniversary of the group’s foundation was accompanied by the bulletin that stated
Dance is a Weapon of the Class Struggle
Inspired by the comrades from USSR, NDG dancers saw in dance a revolutionary tool that could counteract the disembodiment of the work culture. The creative force of a body was recognized by the fathers of modern factory and gradually optimized and framed to serve the interest of the capital. Taylor and Gilbreth conceived their “time and motion studies” to enable what Artur Szarecki called, in his book on somatic capitalism, decoding and recoding of the body. The fragmentation of body in the process of production was a consequence of its complete separation from itself,but also - from time and space. It was then re-inserted into the abstract model of work in which body of a worker became a part of a machine. The “surplus movement” became a waste of money. Workers were to comply with the radical instrumentalization of their bodies but, as Szarecki argues, the perspectives of a worker and of the factory owner were irreconcilable. The object of exchange ( productive force of the body) is a foundation of worker’s existence , while for the capitalist profiteer it is a mere economic abstraction. To comply with the new paradigm of work, the laboring subject must consent to her/his own exploitation.
According to Mark Franko, 1930s were “a formative period for the ethos of historical modern dance”. Feeling was introduced as an aesthetic material and a foundation of the self-projection in the world. Following Dana Mills’s take on politics in/through/of dance we could look at the modernist dances, that entered the factories after the Great Depression, as tools of inscription - choreographed bodies became location of such inscription but also they were the very tools of inscribing into the bodies of the collective. The ‘subject matter’ belonged ultimately not to a director of dance, nor dancing agents but to the society. Franko suggests that in order to move, some sort of courage was needed - the source of such personal strength was based on
Emotional conviction derived from the authenticity of a felt politics.
If the political implies the capacity of the ordinary people to respond collectively to challenges they commonly face ( Tocqueville), politics find its comrade in dance understood as action ( on our own, but together). Eleonor Marx in “The Woman Question from a Socialist Point of View” describes politics as arising from the collective action. As much as it starts from the individual, it transcends the singularity of one moving body. As such, she describes the possibility of intervention beyond the dialectical vision of history. We could recall here my favourite Isadora Duncan and her socialist dreams. Similar to Marx ( Eleonor, not Karl), she wrote and talked about the radiant body, through which the singularity of self is overcome for the sake of becoming of many ( rather than representation of many). Duncan’s metaphors of radiation should be read along her ( not quite fulfilled) ambitions to mobilize the working classes through dance. ( read more about that here )
In order to give the members of the class an understanding of what it means to move together as a group, a few simple exercises should be given, such as standing together and swaying from side to side, walking together backwards and forwards, sinking down and rising up. These are exercises purely on a movement basis.
[Jane Dudley, Mass Dance]
As much as the body of a dancer is constructed and situated within the spectrum of socio-political identifications, the working class identity is far from being spontaneous or natural - it requires a conscious cultivation ( Franko). We could say then that the class consciousness relies on the incitement of a sense of collective struggle and the articulation of liberatory goals. In 1930s dance was recognised as the practice of such articulation and tool for formation of the class identity.
The vibrant qualities of readiness and expectancy in the proletarian body were central to the politically radical meanings of organization. When ignited by the prospect of emancipation, the masses were ‘organized’ emotionally. This could not happen without emotional self-recognition, for organization signified a readiness for action. Each individual was ‘organized at the level of his own responsive capacity.
[Mark Franko, The work of dance. Labor, movement an identity in the 1930s.]
Ruth Allerhand, dancer and teacher involved in the organization of the mass dance classes for workers, described the pedagogical ( and revolutionary) goals of the dance practice as follows ( I replaced every “he” with “she”, just to continue with Duncan’s idea of a “she” when writing about Dancer of the Future and to give a proper pronoun that would reflect the prevalence of female dancers in the period and context i’m writing about):
Through union with others, in adjusting herself to the group, she comes to an active discovery of real solidarity. From the individual to the mass. The individual no longer feels that she is the whole, she now sees that she represents the substance. She is not so much a link in a chain, a cog in a machine, but a very alive, very productive cell within the body.
Alive, felt what's real, known what's real.
[Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties]
Practicing of mass dance was to be ‘moving’ to the participants. Only when the feeling actualized the purpose of dance, could the dancing body find itself anew in the space shared with other fellow dancers. Their bodies were joint in a composition that
provides the sensation of intensely compressed experience characterizing momentous historical events
The significance of dance must be felt. In such rediscovery of a feeling body, one can be liberated not only from the alienation in relation to work but also in relation to self and one’s community. If we used to dance dances that meant something for us ( Anna Halprin), the revival of dancing is initiated when its meaning is restored. The 1930s development of proletarian dancing practice suggests the possible strategies of awakening of the class consciousness, but also of the transnational organization of workers which are brought back into participation through the somatic experiencing of their creative force beyond the production regimes.
How can the body become a vehicle for liberation? Dancer enters the stage of (re)productive labor - through the virtue of movement she engenders the world(s). Not always though.
The question of dancing should be framed through the investigation into what forms and manifestations of a dancing body carry the potential of autonomy and expression that oppose the regimes of functionality and use-value. Dance here, in its entangled containment of times, unravels the temporalities and timings of material(ist) histories, of the body itself. We could investigate dances that sustain the communal living, that are fundamental expressions of subjectivities constructed at the intersection of stories and thick webs of interdependencies that put each of us closer to our own living and in relation with the living of others.
The world dies from each absence, the world bursts from absence. For the universe, as the great and good philosophers have said, the entire universe thinks and feels itself, and each being matters in the fabric of its sensations. Every sensation of every being of the world is a mode through which the world lives and feels itself, and through which it exists. And every sensation of every being in the world causes all being of the world to feel and think themselves differently. When a being is no more, the world narrows all of a sudden, and part of reality collapses. Each time an existence disappears it is a piece of the universe of sensations that fades away.
[Vinciane Despret, Afterword; in: Extinction Studies, Stories of Time, Death and Generations]
Though there are various ways of learning and practicing of dance, let’s put aside those that focus on discipling and militant modelling of the body. Let’s send our oppressive teachers away. On the other end of this learning spectrum we could see the contemporary neoliberal dance call for feeling oneself that is based on somatic speculations and fictions. Under the late capitalist premise of profiteering, those fictions were formulated into the rules and protocols that ultimately were closed off with a copyright sign. Practices such as BMC (Body-Mind Centering) often obscured the rich historical ( and often non-Western) origins of their foundational concepts and claimed the authorship over knowledge and practices that, in the other world, we could imagine as belonging to the commons as technologies of somatic experiencing and knowledge sharing.
On one hand we have the obsessive, almost fascist cult of the body as something to be worked on. Body plays a key role in the formation of our identity and our transformation into the perfect reproductive agents in the world of aggressive darwinism, where the spornosexual paradigm makes the bodies grow bigger and tighter but not necessarily smarter. The body is here paradoxically separated from self due to the self-optimisation regime that dwells not on the fundamental bodily capacity to act and develop knowledge - through its multiple layers, tissues, structures of sensation and memory - but on the (alleged) possibility of the body to be a mere facade hiding the living potential behind the technocratic auto-erotic work-out art.
At the same time, we suffer from the ever-present, yet often invisible, violence that swipes off the living with a single push of a button, from the cruelty of development and expansion of capitalism that, as we today can see, has pushed millions of humans and non-humans into death, disappearance and extinction. The victorious modernity gave birth to some new, rather spectacular, yet sometimes completely obscured, ways of dying out.
What is the feeling body we need to rediscover in order to transgress the visions of progress that do not include the multifarious and multivalent formation of living with their somatic universes? How do we take on the task of maintaining the generational flow and sedimentation that were shaping the particular ways of living - rhythms and temporalities far more advanced and sophisticated than round around the clock futureless capitalist project? How do we reimagine such regime outside of the notion of its inevitability - that grants it possibility of having no beginning and, what’s even more disturbing, no end? How do we survive the capitalism and recover from the ruination of the planet?
Today the desire for justice is multitudinous. This is to say that struggles against injustice, struggles for survival, for self-respect, for human rights, should never be considered merely in terms of their immediate demands, their organizations, or their historical consequences. They cannot be reduced to ‘movements’. (...) The promise of a movement is its future victory; whereas the promise of the incidental moments are instantaneous. Such moments include, life-enhancingly or tragically, experiences of freedom in action ( Freedom without action does not exist). Such moments - as no historical ‘outcome’ can ever be - are transcendental, are what Spinoza termed eternal, and they are as multitudinous as the stars in an expanding universe.
[John Berger, Hold everything dear]
Choreography has to dance in the dark, or dance without something to show, but with plenty to tell, so to reveal the ethical horizon of that ‘nothing’ that structures the centre of life and the centre of a recovered vision, so that finally, a movement that matters may come into the world, and indeed, dance away the conformity.
[Andre Lepecki, The Politics of Speculative Imagination in Contemporary Choreography]