It is human nature to want to build relationships, to belong, and it seems that partner dance is a natural vehicle for that since to dance one must ask someone else, and share a small space of time together while physically connected. Yet, not all is as simple as it seems.
There are many dance styles, and from my experience as a dancer of several years the sense of community often depends on three factors: personalities of people that participate, the dance style, and money. Often to fully participate in the dance community one must know something of the dance style and that can be a significant barrier. While in contra there is no such obstacle as people can jump into a simple called dance without knowing anything, on the other extreme there is Argentine Tango where the partners upper chests are in contact. Firstly, one must accept that the required upper chest contact is “non-sexual”, and subsequently eliminate all superfluous body motion to leave only the body signals that one wants to pass onto ones partner.
Then there is the looming omnipresent issue of the “green stuff”. Often dance studios/clubs create communities, but those who belong and learn are those who can afford the fees to participate. In addition there is the critical role played by the personalities of those who are part of the community. It is easy for people to form groups/cliques of shared background that an outsider may not have, so it is critical to have people who are open and welcoming to all. If people are not open to dancing with “strangers” or those not as technically skilled, how will communities form and grow?
When one can eliminate the barrier of knowing the dance, and fuse that with friendly welcoming people it creates a truly open dance community; a group that can achieve radical transformative action. One such community that has done that with salsa is Pa’lante.
“¡Pa’lante!,” is the short form for the Spanish “para adelante” and means moving forward. The Pa’lante community was started by Michael Ristorucci and friends who believed that the creative arts was the ideal vehicle for working on issues of social and environmental justice, creating a more holistic world in the process. As a recent member I have found that it truly is an open community that grows by being welcoming to everyone: those who do not know anything about dance, to those who are at performance level. Even the annual fee is not a barrier for those who cannot afford it as other arrangements are made! In practices people help those who need assistance, and often more technically advanced members will assist in classes. In addition to classes and workshops centered around dance Pa’lante has reached out to the local community. It has raised funds for low income families who cannot afford the fees to belong to a Community Shared Agriculture produce program, and also has promulgated the issue of fracture gas drilling in Central New York. A community that I am proud to be a member of, even though just newly part of it.
I’m sure that there are other great dance communities and if you know of any I would love it if you shared them with me.