WHY WE DANCE, a book review

I read this book on a whim after reading a short essay by the author Kimerer L LaMothe. I’m not sure what I expected when I started the book, but it certainly wasn’t the journey I ended upon. This is a book quite unlike any I have ever read. The title is an understatement. It should read “what is dance and why do we do it?”.

There are actually three parts to this book. The first is a well-reasoned philosophical argument on what dance is, how it has evolved over the last 250,000 years, how it has been largely suppressed over the last 300-500 years by the growth of Western culture’s materialism, how it still affects our lives, and where the author thinks it should go. Kimerer uses the broadest possible definition of dance in writing this book. The author talks about its importance in the evolution from homo erectus to homo sapiens and how we would probably not exist as a separate species without its influence. She delineates its importance in current human development starting with conception through adulthood. This portion of the book is not an easy read because as with almost all philosophical arguments, the language is tightly laced and at least for me, treaded on the ragged edge of my vocabulary. Many passages needed to be read more than once to make sure they fit in the dialogue. Also, the tremendous amount of new thought caused many pauses.

The second part of the book, interlaced with the philosophical argument, was an occasional journey through the author’s experiential mind. Her thoughts about common events in her life and how they related to dance. The mind trips were very intimate, and her command of visual imagery was masterful. You are able to clearly experience the same thing she was experiencing, and it gives you a real sense of connection.

The third part of the book was the notes to the text. One of the disadvantages of reading a book in electronic form is the difficulty of flipping from the text to the notes and back. Consequently, I read them after reading the book. They contained a wealth of information in essentially “sound bite” fashion. Much of it was supplemental to the book and expanded many points. I viewed it as a giant Venn diagram with her philosophy at the center. Reading the notes was an important part of the experience.

I picked a sample of the text from chapter 5, partly at random just so you could get a feel for her writing:

“Here the assumption of humans as individual comes into view. The theory of dance as social cement not only presumes notions of materiality, evolution, and mindedness. It also presumes that individuals are individuals first before entering into social relations. Once they dance, individuals become bound to one another by their own personal experiences of pleasure. They feel loyalty to the group, even love for the group, for granting them this experience of themselves. In pursuit of their own pleasure and power, they thus align their actions with those of the rest so as to help the group endure.”

In a way, I feel this review doesn’t do the book justice. There is so much more. If just one person reads the book because of this review, I will be happy. I guarantee you will not be the same.

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