I had originally planned on writing an article called, “One Diet to Rule Them All,” which was going to be about what we as dancers can learn from dieting fads. I even wrote up a first draft. My point was going to be that those of the Western civilization persuasion are drawn to systems that promise to be the final answer to life’s questions. Hell, Einstein’s life work was an attempt to find a unified theory of everything. We tend to do that with our diets as well.
Taking this idea over to the dance world, I was planning on pondering what effects this phenomenon has on us as dancers. Do we also seek “The Ultimate Truth,” the correct and approved way of dancing certain dances? My suggestion was going to be that those of us who grew up in the Western educational system appreciate being told what is the correct way to do a dance. We love our Systems™ don’t we?
After blankly staring at the first draft of that essay, I realized I wasn’t sure this is what I wanted to write about. The draft came off as kinda passive aggressive. In a vain attempt to summon inspiration, I drew up list of dieting fads from the past century-
1900’s masticating your food and drink
1910’s counting calories
1920’s the cigarette diet
1930’s the grapefruit diet
1940’s no diet needed… WAR!
1950’s the prayer diet
1960’s Weight Watchers
1970’s the pill diet
1980’s the Scarsdale Diet
1990’s the Atkin’s Diet
2000’s the South Beach Diet
2010’s Paleo, Keto, gluten-free and on and on…
2020’s … “Save the World” Diet?
Looking at the list now, it seems to me that I was fumbling together some sort of Youtube clickbait article.
I guess what I really want to write about is about freedom. The downside of a System™ is that its leader receives the power to compel its followers towards its truth. Now, don’t get me wrong, often times this truth is born from a sincere expression of compassion. The goal is usually to help people. For example, this diet will help you lose weight, or this dance will help you be more attractive.
However, the temptation within a System™ is that compassion overflows into compulsion. Cults spring to mind as the extreme version of this, but we find it all around us, such as in diet shaming or dancer exclusions. If we want to go way back, aren’t the religious crusades of the Middle Ages a perfect example of this phenomenon? Let me bash your head in until you submit to my religious system. The power of Christ compels you, indeed!
But as the world spins and ages continue to turn, the spirit of the times evolves too. I have a feeling that we’ve spent the past couple of thousand years exploring the theme of compassionate compulsion to its max. We’ve fully explored what it means to centralize all of life under a single, unifying idea, be it Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Fascism, Communism, The South Beach Diet, Salsa… We’ve had lots of practice being told what to do, and feeling good about doing it.
I wonder if we are not heading into an age where the dominant theme is not compulsion, but its counterpart… freedom. Of course, the theme of freedom is similarly fraught with perils and contradictions, enough that we’ll probably need another couple of thousands of years to play out all of its variations. Not enough freedom is probably just as ugly as too much freedom. But yeah, what if freedom is the theme at which we as a species must grapple with going forward?
Does it mean that as dancers, instead of flocking to a System,™ we should look inwards to muse on our personal “spirit animals?” That our dance development is as unique as we are as individuals? That just as no single diet can fulfill the needs of every unique body, no dance system could ever fulfill the needs of every unique dancer?
Looking in at my own dance journey, I grew up in the Western education system. I live in Europe and can speak the language of systems. But my native dancing tongue is Blues, which follows a different tradition.
Much to ponder on, holding these different approaches within me at the same time… my apologies for the rambling post. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and I apparently need more of it.