I can’t dance. And I can never figure out what to do when people around me are.
It’s funny, isn’t it? Not, of course, that you might be thinking this idiot can’t dance but that it’s difficult to decide what to do when people all around you are grooving to glory and you’re transfixed like this gargoyle of an eyesore on the dance floor. The music’s nice, the beats are just fine and something within you is responding, but you just can’t make the moves. And so you’re left there standing, looking around sheepishly, wondering what the heck to do.
Yes, what do you do? What does one do in a situation of that sort? What, if one may, are the ethics of the matter?
Oh no, that’s not far-fetched now. There are ethics involved most of us aren’t struck by them because we don’t suffer from any such debilitation, but that doesn’t change it one bit, What, precisely, are the ethics of looking at people dancing?
Not an easy question, that. Think about it, what is dance but a letting loose, howsoever temporarily, of inhibitions, of those notions of propriety and so-called dignified conduct which guide us in most of our everyday interactions? Each spontaneous jig is a momentary blow to socialisation and though dance as an institution makes sure that such blows are well contained and institutionalised as acceptable articulations, one really can’t deny there’s something atavistic, something immensely primal about dancing. Again, excepting formal forms of dance which are premised on certain rules, much of dance, the dancing which most of the untrained polity indulges in, seems to be precisely about doing just what comes to your mind. There are, of course, modules, people imitate what they consider fashionable and quite a lot of formal dance, or dance in which you get training, is about creating the impression of spontaneity, but more or less dancing does seem a form of purgation.
Or so it would seem. Dance is a form of purgation, but how does one explain dance pour dance, dance just for the sake of dancing? Not just because you feel like dancing but because there’s music and you, as I’m told, just can’t help it. Is it a form of purgation? Do people who spontaneously break into jigs have more pressures, tangible or not, which they break through regularly via this unconscious prance mechanism? Further, not all dance can be explained as that, as purgation: what of the early morning variety, the type which some people are reputed to break into when they wake up because they feel so nice and fresh and can’t but prance about. In that case, is prancing also dancing – or, differently put, dancing all but modified forms of prancing?
Regardless of these considerations, our moot point still remains: how should one look at people dancing? It’s easier with formal, classical dance: it’s safely confined within its own space, audience interaction is seldom invited and, like drama, dancer(s) are all but part of their own realm of creativity of which the onlooker is only an incidental, if important, part. The problem arises with the so-called spontaneous variant, when people break into celebratory jigs as part of some event or party.
Again, it’s easier – for me, i.e. – in the case of men. I mean, of course its awkward witnessing all sorts of respectable looking patriarchs and upcoming studs pumping to some popular tune, but it’s still not half as embarrassing as in the case of women. With men you can still wear the silly, sheepish grin when they dance to de daaru, but what do you do when women, and that too women you know as family and friends, dance to chikkni chameli?
You continue with the dashed grin of course, but you furiously try locating some interesting spot to comment upon in an obscure corner of the venue. You’d think as an onlooker your dharma is to appreciate the beauty of the going-ons, to partake some of the sensuality which all of dance unleashes but then you don’t particularly wish to be doing that when the unleashing agents are your own sisters. I can’t see why all parties need to have a music system and some sort of dancing. I mean, agreed, it’s the most visual way of expressing one’s joy and of celebrating something, but why all the time? And even if you have to have it, why such songs as make you squirm with embarrassment? Things which deliberately declare you to be some sort of meatball which needs must be dished up and devoured as soon as possible because apparently that’s what men and women do it each other – why, I ask, why does it have to be that?
Is one supposed to have the critical eye when all that’s happening, see them but only see so much physical movement, so much expense of energy and nothing else? Or should one openly register all that’s happening, consider the bon-bon and the bootylicious as what they really are because dancing is in anyway accentuating and bringing into direct notice your having them? Should one do both of these, consider the human ensemble as just so many creatures and everything else as part of them and their gyrating motion deserving all attention and merit because that’s what an onlooker should be doing, appreciating all that effort i.e.? Yet, is doing that possible? – for what one claims then is a asexually sexual gaze, a perspective that takes in all the sensuality of a dance and is moved to appreciating it but only in a way which considers the body not as the body, as the site of desire, but as a manifestation of beauty. Is that possible, can one, for instance, see a naked body and be struck by its beauty but not have any desire for it? Is it, in effect, possible to separate desire from sight, to see and feel beauty but not experience desire?