Ted Cleaver

Tag: Dance

Dance Like Nobody is Watching

What is dance, a performance art or a unique bond between the music and the individual? Obviously it can be both, and it can be both at the same time. The two definitions are stylized, or you might call them ideal types. Definitions like this function to delineate a concept theoretically and provide insight into the phenomenon, while in reality of course there are 42 million shades of grey.

Keeping with this distinction, dance as a performance art represents the external. In this view, the presence of viewers is emphasized to the point that the quality of dance is reflected by its reception. Quality is then highly dependent on context. The taste of the audience is what determines a show’s merit. A modern dancer giving the exact same performance at a children’s party and in a theatre would be judged differently. Performing by definition presupposes spectators, and performing without the onlookers in mind is at worst an exercise in futility, at best self-therapeutic. Don Campellock put it nicely when he said “you gotta be a ham if you want to be a dancer, you gotta make everyone watch you and you gotta make everyone love to watch you.” In this view, a crowd pleaser is an excellent dancer. Again, what pleases a crowd of classical ballet enthusiasts is a world apart from what entertains TV viewers who follow popular dance offs.

Moving on to the second concept, a unique bond between music and dancer is entirely internal. While performance is augmented by routinized and usually choreographed movements, for this concept control of basic movements is more relevant. The individual takes in the music and responds freely to the input. No one is a blank slate. However, being in the music means feeling the music completely. When feeling is developed, the body follows with movement. Basic building blocks and random innovations can be combined to continuously create new expressions. For one part, dance in this view is a direct translation of the music into physical movement. For the other part, it is expression of individuality. It is hard to imagine that two individuals feel music exactly the same way. There is more to it. Everyone has a unique physique and anatomy, distinctive motoric functions, and characteristic movements. Even more importantly, everyone has an entirely personal creative capacity that is nurtured by a wide range of inspirations, nourished by an innate quality, and cultivated by emotions. Putting it like this, the unique bond between music and dancer is the characteristic translation of music into movement. It is characteristic because it reflects something that is specific to the individual.

Dance is both, a performance art and the so vulgarly described spiritual bond. Both elements matter in almost any situation. As someone who loves freestyle and favours eccentrics over uniforms, my general disposition on the contrast between internal and external is simple: “Dance like nobody is watching!” And although this exclamation would be a nice way to finish today’s post, there is more to be said. Every once in a while you see a performance that perfectly connects with the audience, while at the same time the “performer” seems to be completely free and in tune with his expression. Mastery!

Ronin

It was Soul Saturday. Many don’t know, but Âme, the infamous German deep house duo, is the French word for soul. It is questionable whether two electronic music producers are able to do the concept justice, however their performance enticed a lively crowd to celebrate their humanity freely. If there is an innate human quality, this is the type of party where people connect with each other on a deeper level of understanding.

Enter bboy Ronin, an old friend I hadn’t seen for many years. Between then and now both of us have reached a new stage in our lives. Back then, we battled together and did commercial gigs as part of the same syndicate. More than that, we trained and hung out as friends. The affiliation with this syndicate was by no means exclusive; my most important bonds at the time were with my crew and friends – as was the case for all part-time mercenaries. As a bboy you are an autodidact, plus gaining experience by friendly or hostile exchange is the best way to improve your skills. You use your own creativity to develop your own style, keeping in mind and building on foundation and new schools of flow. Dancing is an expression of your soul. This is best observed when you feel the raw energy of a dancer who completely loses himself in the music. Ronin’s style was powerful, complex, and intricate. He stood out because he invested a lot of time into his brand of movement, and of course his badass a.k.a.

He tells me how he’s making good money as an account manager. More importantly, we talk about relationships. I can count the people I know whose eyes light up when they talk about their partner on one hand. He is one of them. Call it a soul mate, call it the Body Magic Index: you know a couple is meant to be when the chemistry between lovers sparks passion and spreads harmony at the same time. One of these people I know found out in Brazil that “every cell of [his] body wants to be with” his girl every second of every day. Now, my man Ronin tells me his fiancée and he are going to travel South America for a whole year. It’s fitting. A ronin in the modern sense can refer to an employee who is between jobs. However, this does not preclude involuntary unemployment. The ronin in his rawest form embarks on a path by conscious decision. The meaning of this journey has changed from mastering swordsmanship to leading a fulfilled life by sharing the most special experiences with the person most special to you. In the spirit of the Holstee Manifesto, by all means, travel often, share your dreams and wear your passion. Y.G., I salute you for taking the road less travelled.

There is an interesting analogy between the stages in our lives – from climbing the ranks in the breakdance scene to working fulltime, albeit interrupted by a meaningful journey – and feudal Japan’s history. Bear with me. A ronin traditionally is a samurai without a lord. The role and function of samurai and ronin changed drastically after the final unification of Japan by Tokugawa Ieyasu. From the 12th century up until the Edo period, samurai were fighting for a living. Especially the 200-year long Warring States period was plagued by never-ending violent conflict. During the first phase (1185-1603) of feudal Japan, samurai were the military strong-arm and police force of their lords or province. Ronin, basically samurai with no formal allegiance, could either seek to become new retainers to a master in need of more swordsmen, freelance as mercenaries for hire, or become entrepreneurs outside of the law: bandits. In all cases military proficiency was a necessity, however the average skill of samurai and ronin alike is largely overestimated. Unless of course the ronin chose for his status deliberately. Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the most famous Japanese warrior to have ever lived, chose to live by the sword. He devoted his early life to honing his skills beyond mastery. Being born late in the Warring States period, there were plenty of adversaries for him to crush with his signature style Niten-ryu. Later in his life, privileged as a warrior in good grace with the Tokugawa shogunate, he would reflect on his style and his philosophy in the Book of Five Rings.

The Edo period (1603-1868) was one of peace. Samurai were no longer warriors, the designation now referred to a social class accredited by birth right. As the dominant class, subdivided into three levels, they received a large chunk of the countries resources. With their primary function – doing battle – obsolete, many samurai spent their allowances on prostitutes, alcohol, clothes, and gambling. Most were employed as administrators in their province, while some, like Musashi, took to writing and philosophizing, or the pursuit of another art or craft. Disenfranchised samurai in this period had little hope of relying on their martial prowess to earn a living, but also for ronins artisan- and craftsmanship were a viable option. Grossly oversimplifying things, there were two options for the warrior class. They could either fit in the bureaucratic system engineered by the totalitarian state while spending their allowances on conspicuous consumption, or they could use their creativity in a chosen discipline and pursue a personal goal. True heroes did the latter, although one managed to produce the foundations for one of the most pervasive misunderstanding of Japanese history.
To be continued…

I Love This Dance

I Love This Dance is a French battle concept that pitches expert street dancers against each other in exhibition battles. All invited competitors are authorities in their style. The audience and online viewers decide who won, but there is no prize for winning. The concept challenges dancers to represent their style to the fullest against the representative of another style. So a bboy might take on a popper, a dancehall king light the stage on fire battling a krumper, and newstylers (hip hop) demonstrate their versatility together with house dancers. Each dancer chooses one song to which he/she can prepare a set, while each dancer has to improvise on the song chosen by their opponent. This is what’s so refreshing about I Love This Dance: All invited dancers have the opportunity to show off a devastating choreography for 50% of their performance, however the ability to freestyle on an unexpected song is and remains the benchmark for musicality, creativity, and personality.

The way the event is organized is a tribute to excellence in dance. So far, two editions have taken place with about 10 battles per event. Again, each battle consisting of two rounds per dancer is an exhibition – no one advances to a next round. That means that the artists have exactly two rounds to showcase their skills. I Love This Dance has produced some of the best battles and most mind-blowing runs ever. There is something about the concept that pushes the competitors to peak performances. Moreover, the organizers came up with some very interesting match ups. Dedson versus Grichka pairs two styles (dancehall vs krump) that are relatively small compared to the big four (newstyle, house, popping, locking). Mar20 versus Djidawi is a bit of a grudge match between two heavy weights in newstyle and popping. There are many more excellent battles; these two however are by far my favourites. I highly recommend anyone even remotely interested in dance to take in the mastery at display by these artists.