Last week, ballroom competition adjudicator Bianka Schreiber-Orschitt lamented that she had seen far too much “running instead of dancing” at a competition, and took the time to share some wise words by philosopher Allan Watts.
While not ignoring some of the anguish we go through when things don’t go the way we like, Allan Watts points out that the world around us is essentially playful. Life itself and the experiences we go through don’t have a planned destination that we are all intended to arrive at. Life happens. We are along for the journey. We have our own experiences and the choices we make determine our destination.
In the words of Watts, “Existence, the physical universe, is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arive at. But it is best understood by analogy with music, because music, as an art form, is essentially playful.”
As he puts it, “We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano.”
Watts compares music to other endeavors we enjoy such as travel. When you travel you’re trying to get somewhere. Humanity, being compulsive by nature, are busy getting everywhere faster and faster until we eliminate the distance between places. By speeding things up in this way, we are removing the distance between the beginning and ending of the journey. Essentially we are then removing the journey itself. That sometimes makes sense in getting somewhere. But the fun of the journey is in the travel, not in removing the travel.
He goes on to point out how absurd this is when it comes to music: “So then, in music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. If so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest and there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concern just to hear one crackling chord because that’s the end!” Travel is very different from music in that we have a destination in mind when we travel but in music the journey is the whole point.
Getting back to Bianka’s point, dancing is no different. Today, far too many competitive dancers are so busy trying to link the beginning to the end that they are removing the journey. Since the whole point of dancing is the dance, this becomes an obvious absurdity. Why are we rushing around, attempting to make everything so athletic that the whole experience is degraded? As Watts puts it, when dancing, “You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive.”
So then, in music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition.
I like some of the athleticism that is being expressed in today’s ballroom dancing. I like the evolution of 3-D dynamic shaping and the deeper understanding we have today on such issues as body flight, swing, musicality and groundedness. But for heaven’s sake, why are competitors (and their coaches) making athleticism so important that the experience of the dance, the entire purpose of two people moving together as one to the music, is becoming lost in trying to reach the end as quickly as possible? Let’s slow down a little and take time to enjoy the journey.
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