Who is dancing “Waltz”? Is it a dance for the young? For older people? Or is it a dance for the family? As we look back to our “Golden Century” of Western dance, it is useful to consider the “Golden Age” of dance in the Americas to remember the different ways in which dances, both old and new, were produced over time in the American context.
Before I turn to how a dance was made in the American Southwest, I want to touch briefly on the history of dance. A dance is a performance of movement of bodies and body parts. “Motion” may mean anything from dancing to falling off chairs. It might be a gesture, a laugh, a dance step, a movement in dance, an action, an activity, or a mood. I am talking about “performance” here.
In fact, all manner of art, from poetry and painting to painting and sculpture to music, has been described as “performance”. “Conduct,” too, has often been used to describe something like dance. “Performance” can also refer to any sort of action or activity in an organism, from a dance or a movement in a dance to a play, from a music or a chant to a performance in an arena. It makes a lot of sense that the people who made dances were making performance, too.
What I am talking about here, though, is dancing. The term “dance” (which is also used to mean “movement”) derives from a Latin word “dana” (pronounced “dehee”) that meant “play, movement” and derived from the Sanskrit root “pati” (pronounced “pee”). When there is some movement involved in a dance (whether in motion or not), we call it an “act”, which is an activity for human beings. In the past, dance was a way for adults to have fun, to show people where they were and where they were going. The dance had no specific form or significance and was often a gathering, a group affair, or some other collective ritual. It was a way for people to participate as individuals in what others were doing. Dance was, in this view, not about specific dance moves but rather about how dance, both old and new, affected and was affected by the social world.
Today, in the United States and most other Western nations, “dance” is often used for a dance, an activity, or a performance, a sort of dance
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