Two Perspectives on the Alignment Among Dance Culture and Society Essay

Jonas (1992) points to the first signs of life as the quickening of an unborn person in the womb. From prenatal quickening, a person soon learns self-expression in different ways. One is in the form of a meaningful series of bodily activities or motions called dance. It has evolved into both a tradition and an unconscious external display of purpose, emotion or message. Through history, it can be a form of wooing, entertainment, mourning, praying, healing, teaching or communication. These expressions evolved into a people’s culture upon which their society was built (Jonas). Sklar (2001), on the other hand, lists five premises for a culturally sensitive approach to, and an appreciation of, dance. He lists them as a knowledge of movement as cultural in nature; as conceptual, emotional and kinesthetic; as embedded into other kinds of cultural knowledge; as requiring a discernment beyond physical movement; and always an immediate physical or sensate experience.

Dance, as an expressive form of communication and interrelation, has been used as part of a culture of a society (Jonas 1992 p 12):

” Courting and courtly dances; wedding dances and funeral dances; dances of healing and dances of instruction; dances to arouse, amuse, or uplift onlookers; dances to usher in the seasons and dances that appeal directly to the gods; dances that tell stories and dances that seek to create a formal beauty that cannot be put into words:”

The use of dance in expressing feelings and thoughts has become an unconscious mode of life itself and, hence, a culture upon which a society is built (Jonas 1992). He describes this with precision and artistically also on page 12:

“So intensely personal is dance, so closely linked to cultural identity, that when people disagree about the meaning and value of specific dances, the resulting confusion may breed contempt, anger, even violence.”

And again, on page 17, Jonas elaborates on dance and elevates it into an entirely new discipline with its own unique structure:

“All dance is charged with power. To explore the idioms and sources of this power, a relatively new field of scholarship called dance anthropology views dance in its social and cultural context. Encoded in the form, technique, and structure of every dance are meanings and values of importance to the dancers and to those who share their view of the world.

Sklar (2001) makes a parallel recognition of the value and place of dance in a people’s culture and society: While concluding his study on a yearly religious fiesta in Las Cruces, New Mexico, he came up with five premises for an ethnographic perspective in analyzing movement:

“These premises … are the essential theoretical parameters for considering movement or dance in cultural context” (p 30)

On page 32, he further delineates that:

“one has to close one’s eyes to look at movement, ignoring its visual eHects and concentrating instead on feeling oneself to be in the other’s body, moving.”

Summary of Key Ideas

Jonas (1992) related how dance was incorporated into, and revered, the culture and society of the people of Cambodia from the 9th to the 19th century at the Khmer empire; by the people of Siam in the mid-15th century; of the Vietnamese; of Tahitians; the Greeks and the Romans; and the people of London and France. Through times and places, the purposes into which dance can be put are virtually endless. He emphasizes that, because beauty or the lack of it is a matter of perspective, dance can be perceived as either a marvelous or a revolting sight. What is clear is that dance is an intensely personal visual experience to a viewer who is being treated to an encounter with the dancer’s cultural identity. The viewer’s pleasure or displeasure does not and cannot censor the execution of a dance. He may feel confused, offended, angry or even violent, but to question or put down a culture’s or society’s message or expression made through dance is to dispute their birthright to choose their identity (Jonas).

The five premises are the lenses Sklar (2001) proposes to use in adopting a culturally sensitive approach to dance. The first is to see that movement knowledge is in itself a kind of cultural knowledge one immerses himself into in his culture and society. A people’s movements are means of knowing who they are in the way they move or speak. Movement is not to be construed as a merely physiologic or physical activity. It must be seen as more than art or entertainment. All of a people’s movement is motion, which embodies a knowledge of their culture. It is essentially an aspect of their culture, which has unfortunately been deprived of adequate value and study. It has been reduced to a triviality. Time has come for movement to be seen as it really is and be given the rightful and central place in culture. The second confronts the bigger issues of belongingness and human behavior. Postures and movements do not only represent or enunciate a sense of order but also fire emotions. Underneath ideas and movements always lie feelings. This means that habitual movements are always executed by, or associated with, emotions (Sklar).

The third premise proposes that a knowledge of movement in dance is merged with other kinds of cultural knowledge (Sklar 2001). Art, music, and similar movements may be expressed in dance. The steps and movements flow along with the rhythm and construct a work of art in that merger. The fourth premise suggests that one who studies dance must be able to look and see beyond the appearances of movement in order to apprehend its true and deeper meaning. The concepts contained in movement are not always visible in the movement itself. The beholder must attempt to interpret it in words as far as words can capture the concepts. And the fifth premise is that movement is first of all an immediate physical experience. Words may estimate what the movement symbolizes, but cannot reveal what is perceived through movement as the medium. That will put too much value on what is perceived by the senses over what is kinesthetic, where the deeper meaning lies (Sklar).

Interpretation of the Idea of Interrelatedness

Jonas (1992) focuses on the idea that movement is the original signal and symbol of life right from the womb. From birth to death, it is a measure and means of expression in every human being. The author explains the connection of movement as dance to the cultures and societies of peoples from ancient times to the present. He describes the interrelatedness of these three phenomena among the Cambodians in the 9th to the 19th centuries in the Khmer empire, the Siamese in the mid-15th century, the Judeo-Christias, Tahitians, Greeks and Romans, the people of London and France and in the evolution of the ballet (Jonas).

Sklar (2001) lists premises for approaching a study or experience of dance in a culturally sensitive way. Adopting these five premises links dance as movement to a people’s culture and society. One cannot see or experience a people’s dance separately or independently of their culture as the foundation of their society (Sklar).

The Authors’ Intentions

Jonas (1992) emphasizes the fundamental element of movement in life itself and as the basis of the very dynamics of existence and interpersonal as well as communal relationships. He intends that those who watch dances should be able to discern the culture and identity of the dancers as expressed in their dance. He encourages the viewer to be more sensitive to the cultural implications of dance and every movement in the series. He intends to raise the level of awareness and aesthetic experience of dance in the viewer. He provides many instances of how dance evolved through the ages and not only shaped but also enriched the cultures and societies, which used movement to express their ideals (Jonas).

Sklar (2001) sets forth five premises for adopting and using a culturally sensitive approach to the understanding and appreciation of dance. He intends that the viewer should perceive that movement knowledge is a kind of cultural knowledge in itself. The viewer should not separate these two elements as he watches the dance. The author also wants the viewer to recognize that movement knowledge proceeds from a concept that must be explored; that it is emotional in nature rather than rational; and is kinesthetic rather than merely sensate. He would like dance audiences to see the interconnection of movement knowledge with other kinds o cultural knowledge. He encourages viewers to discern the deeper meaning of the movement and must therefore look beyond appearances and sunds. And he intends dance viewers to realize that movement is at once a physical encounter with a people with their own set of beliefs and ways of expressing these beliefs and messages to the world (Sklar).

Comparison and Contrast

Jonas (1992) delves more on the aboriginal basis of dance in the quickening of prenatal life. Then he proceeds to provide actual examples of different…

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