Dancing Movement


Dancing movement, which was shaped at the end of the XIX century, expressed the basic traits of modern physical culture: the restoration of ancient spiritual heritage, by giving priority to the spiritual and musical, and a return to nature and natural movement. It is about the right to a body movement free of canons that served to prove the aristocratic elitist (class) status. Nature, spirit and music became collaborators of the advanced bourgeoisie in their fight against the ancien régime. In the second half of the XVIII century a French dancing teacher Jean-Georges Noverre confronted the aristocratic bodily canons as artificial and, like Rousseau, called for a “return to nature”. French actor Francois Delsarte developed a teaching according to which bodily posture affects the spirit and, conversely, our spiritual activity affects the body. Proceeding from his own experience he came to the conclusion that every movement causes a particular (lawful) expression and believed that, by relying on expression, a harmonious development of the body, spirit and soul can be achieved. He, like Nietzsche, believed that man can, by way of “noble” movements, become noble and established the “gymnastics of expression” (Ausdrucksgymnastik): man is to avoid learning the unplanned, accidental and patterned, so as to be able to independently move and use each part of his body. Such relaxation exercises do not weaken us; they rather save us from unnecessary muscular exertion. In connection with that, without strength one cannot achieve the harmony of movements, and therefore he introduced exercises for the body (torso) and for keeping the balance. His student, Steele Mac Kaye, realized his ideas in Boston in the form of esthetic gymnastics”. Delsartes’ student Geneviève Stebbins wrote a book “The Delsartes System of Expression”, which contributed to the spreading of his ideas. Drawing on the European “gymnastics of breathing”, she came to the following conclusion: “We breathe as we think, we think as we breathe.” She believed that man’s ability to strain and relax in the right way – which involves mastering of a special breathing technique – represents the “fundamentals of life”. Thus there are exercises for straining and relaxing the head, chin, etc. All this was shaped in “home” and “school gymnastics”, “esthetic and dramatic gymnastics” – and appears within the comprehensive literature on gymnastics. According to American physician George Taylor, who shared her views on “healthy gymnastics”, Stebbins strove to establish a bridge between body and spirit by way of breathing. Hedwig Kallmeyer, one of their students, introduced this system in Germany. In 1909, she founded in Berlin the “Institute for the Body and the Culture of Movement” (“Institut für Körper-und Ausdruckskultur”), which insisted on “bodily posture” based on breathing, straining and relaxing of muscles. Her work followed the work of Isadora and Elizabeth Duncan, who came to Europe from America in 1899. Isadora argued for a harmonious education in the “Greek sense” of the word, which means discarding the artificial and the unnatural and drawing strength of bodily expression from music. In 1904, Elisabeth opened in Berlin her own school, in which children, through running and jumping, were taught natural movements and thus achieved a natural dancing charm. Her institution became the mixture of a higher school for girls and institute for gymnastics. It can be said that her main orientation was rhythmical gymnastics.

Jacques Dalcroze, a musical pedagogue and composer, sought, at the Geneva Conservatory, to develop musical skills in children by way of gymnastic exercises. The results of his research were presented in 1905, at a congress in Soloturn, and his teaching on the connection between gymnastical-rhythmical and musical-rhythmical and their mutual conditioning has been widely recognized. He posed the question on man’s essence in a new way and contributed to a breach with purely intellectual upbringing. The principle of play which he adopted is reduced to the following: a student beats a rhythm to the music he hears or has within himself and then begins to move, first following the dancing steps he recalls, and then gradually demonstrating his own creative powers. The exercises are performed now individually and now in groups, setting in motion, through this shared activity, a mysterious fluid of the feeling of community – which enables prolific improvisations. Striving to popularize his teachings, Dalcroze visited London, Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna, and in 1911, in Hellerau near Dresden he founded his own institute. The visitors of the institute included Paul Claudel, Bernhard Shaw and Max Reinhardt. His method was adopted in Europe and America. The festivals in Hellerau in 1912 and 1913, and in Geneva in 1914, attracted the public attention. During the First World War and in the post-war period Dalcroze worked in Switzerland. In 1927 he returned to Germany where he achieved success, and he was equally successful in America and England. His methods were to be applied in over 20 countries. The headmaster of the school in Hellerau, Christine Baer-Frisell, transferred the school to Laxenburg near Vienna, one of the royal palaces. From this shool came also the famous dancing teacher Rosalie Chladek. A contribution to the development of the dancing movement was given also by the (pro-Nazi oriented) philosopher Ludwig Klages, who paid special attention to the clarification of the concept of rhythm. According to him, life is a rhythmical state. Rhythm is opposed to tempo: “Tempo repeats, rhythm renews” (“Takt wiederholt, Rhythmus erneuert.). Here we should also mention W. Grässer, who published the book “Bodily Sense, Gymnastics, Dancing, Sport” (“Körpersinn, Gymnastik, Tanz, Sport”), in which rhythmical gymnastics represents, as “metaphysics of physical culture”, the basis of gymnastics which gives artistic expression to “bodily life impulses”. Speaking of sport, Grässer points out: “What is important in it are not rational ends … but the experience of the body”. George Hebert also belongs to those who, with their system of physical exercises, gave momentum to the development of man’s playing being. During his voyages as a naval officer, Hebert came into contact with South-American Indians, especially those near the Orinoco, from Columbia and South Seas. Fascinated with their bearing, appearance and physical capabilities, he came to the conclusion that it was the result of their free life in nature. Similarly to Rousseau, he demanded that physical education be “natural and at the same time useful”. Hebert’s conception, based on the principle that “every man carries within himself a dancer”, is completely opposed to the conception of “human nature”, dominant in the sports theory, according to which man is a bloodthirsty animal. He resolutely rejected sport, was against artificial movements and artificial obstacles (apparatus), discarded commands and argued for free, individual exercises, gradual improvement in performance and exercising with pleasure. His physical culture primarily involved running, climbing, balancing, singing, gymnastics of breathing… Hebert’s system of exercises was part of the European movement of physical culture called “natural gymnastics” (Naturgymnastik), which appeared in Austria, but left traces also in Germany and Sweden, as well as in the entire modern education. (20)

In dancing, as the highest form of physical culture in civil society, the dominant movement is that of man towards man (in traditional dances also the movement of man towards nature), whereas man becomes an inspiration for another man, the picture of and challenge for his humanity; bodily movement is the expression of an emotional and spiritual movement; play has a collectivistic character, so the human group appears as a playing community in which individual (spiritual and bodily) differences are not an obstacle for establishing and developing of play (interpersonal relations); instead of an imposed (quantifying) pattern of movements, play is dominated by spontaneity; instead of the “disciplining” of the body, which subdues man’s impulsive nature, it focuses on man’s humanization; instead of a productivistic-belligerent, there is an artistic movement expressing love, tenderness, joyfulness, solidarity, passion, victory of life over death, procreation, natural cycle and the like. It is no accident that almost all representatives of the dancing movement rejected sport as a pedagogical instrument. When dancing technique is concerned, dancing movement contributed to the development of new forms of motion and created a new relation to the body which offers the possibility of a more complex expression of man’s playing being. We deal here with technical presuppositions for the development of creative flexibility and thus creative personality. Speaking of Dalcroze, Magazinović concludes: “In the beginning of his work, Dalcroze transferred musical metron and rhythm (agogic, tempo and dynamics) to body motion. It is only during his work that he realized that the human body itself possesses rhythmical lawfulness of movements and that the sense of physical rhythm creates a technical background of rhythmical-musical performances through body movements. Before that the European educational public had not been aware of one-sidedness of contemporary physical exercises, which knew only of the principles of muscular tension, while of the principle of relaxation it had no idea whatsoever, and thus was almost rhythmical. Dalcroze’s exercises in rhythmical gymnastics, which by bodily movements attempted to express dynamic tonic variations, contributed to the realization of the need of the principle of movement relaxation and bodily rhythm in alternating straining and relaxing of the body, as the expressive instrument in the art of movement in dancing and acting. Thereby gymnastics, as the basis of physical-esthetic education, as the system of bodily rhythm harmonized with musical rhythm, gained in value.” (21)

Dancing movement was formed against the aristocratic forms of physical culture, based on the principle ordre et mesure – which is in the most authentic way expressed in ballet. It is an endeavour to adapt bodily movement of an atomized citizen to the dynamic rhythm of the capitalist way of life, and free oneself of the patterns that curb self-initiative and thus the feeling of “freedom”. Dancing movement does not depart from the whole of the emancipatory heritage of civil society, but from partial starting-points and thus leads man to ghettoization. In dancing movement there is no confrontation with the existing world, nor the visionary dimension. The development of man’s playing being is not seen in the context of man’s liberation from the chains of a repressive civilization and the creation of a humane world; an illusion is rather created that freedom in play is possible in spite of the fact that man is not free in society. The representatives of the dancing movement do not see man as a complete social being, but reduce him to a “dancer”. At the same time, they depart from the dualism of body and spirit and try to bridge it through the development of playing techniques. Instead of the fight for a new world, they offer an escape from the world and autistic immersion into oneself through specific techniques of physical exercises. Hence the insistence on physical activity which excludes man from the world and directs his attention to what is going on in the body. The obsession with one’s own body is proportionate to the intensity of the experience of a world deprived of humanity. Pursuit of “internal harmony” becomes an answer to the chaos of everyday life, where there is less and less space for humanness. Dancing movement, which was mainly supported by rich patrons, was reduced to a hopeless attempt to offer man, on the basis and within an inhuman world (or by fleeing to nature, which more or less comes to the same), a possibility of realizing his true human potentials, and thus humanize the existing world. It is an activism which, ultimately, leads man astray in his endeavours to win the cause not only for a better world but for survival. Play turns into a fight with man’s critical, change-aspiring energy and becomes a form of his depolitization. Instead of a fight to eradicate the causes of non-freedom and destruction of humanity (nature), it directs man to create such forms of behaviour which in the existing world are to offer him an (illusory) opportunity to attain his playing being. Hence one of its basic features is to insist on “spontaneity”, regardless of  the fact that man’s “freedom” in non-freedom means letting off the steam of non-freedom –  and regardless of what man himself (fanaticized, alienated, stupefied) may think of it. “Free play” becomes a compensation for an unfree life and a hopeless attempt to escape from life – and as such the space of “happiness”. In any case, “free play” becomes determined relative to life in which there is neither play nor freedom. Hence the main role of “players” is to give to the ruling destructive order a playing dimension and show that “freedom” and “happiness” are possible in a world of non-freedom and unhappiness.

As far as the struggle for women’s emancipation is concerned, dancing movement is (another) wrong road with a sectarian character and leads women to ghettoization. A struggle for “free sensuality” becomes a substitution for the struggle for women’s human and civil rights and escape from reality. The views of Isidora Duncan on women’s emancipation are more of a cry for humanity, then struggle for freedom. By opposing the traditional ballet, unnaturalness of its technique, patterned movements, dressing and false spiritual expression, degradation of women to means for entertainment – in the article “Dancing of the Future” (published in Leipzig in 1903) Duncan speaks of what the “future dancer” must be and thus indicates the true position of women in dance (and society): “The future dancer must be a women whose body and spirit are so harmoniously developed that her body motion is natural expression of her soul. She will not belong to a particular nation but to the whole of humanity. Nor will she represent fairies by dancing, maenads or coquettes, but will through dancing express her femininity and her humanity… By dancing she will incarnate the changing life in nature and the movements of her body will emanate her thoughts, her hopes. She will in her dance incarnate freedom, and to women she will bring knowledge of strength and expressive beauty of their bodies.“ (22) Her “dancing of the future” will express “all that is beautiful, healthy and honest in human life”. (23) This article could be entitled: dancing of the future – in a world without any future. Duncan’s noble vision remained entrapped in a world that degenerates every attempt of man to gain freedom through the development of his playing being. According to Russian critic J. Svetlov, Duncan was the first who managed to realize the “fusion of pure playing plastic with pure music”, and “restore to the movement an ancient simplicity”. (24) Duncan and her co-players managed to “set free” the dancing movement of chains of traditional dancing patterns, but not to set man free from the chains of capitalism.

Dancing movement pursued “perfection” in the existing world and ended on the market of “consumer society”. Its basic intention, to be the incarnation of the ruling rhythm of life in a “spontaneous” playing form, brought about its degeneration. Aerobics and other forms of commercialized physical activism are the “final” forms of the capitalist degeneration of dancing movement: in capitalism only those forms of bodily activism develop and survive which correspond to the ruling spirit and can become the source of profit. A variety of bodily expressions in dancing are not the confirmation of “freedom” but a manifestation of an increasingly various repression by the ruling order over man. Even the dances which are meant to establish a critical detachment to the existing world indicate that man cannot liberate his body through play, without at the same time liberating himself as a social being of the repressive (destructive) civilization. Only in a humanized nature and a society of free people the genuine dancing movement is possible – as the realization of man’s genuine playing being.

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