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Ecstatic Dance

Posted by Bob on October 1, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Long ago, when tribal people danced, it wasn't with precisely learned steps but rather the music or drumming moved the dancers to dance ecstatically. As humans became more "civilized", rules were made and had to be followed. Dance became a performance.

 

Dance started to regain some of its ecstatic nature with the advent of rock and roll. The hippies of the sixties promoted "do your own thing", and this was reflected in the music of the day as people ignored the rules and started to dance in ways that just felt good. Nevertheless, there were still some restrictions when dancing to rock-and-roll; you may have been doing your own thing, but you were still doing it to the music, still trying to look good. Ecstatic dance takes it another level up and returns to what was lost in our tribal roots. It's not about looking good with ecstatic dance; it's about "dance ugly and drool". It's about being so deeply into the dance that you're only aware of others as some vague vibrations while your movements are guided by what's deep within instead of by what your conscious mind thinks would look good.

 

There have been other examples throughout history to regain our tribal roots in dance. One of the more interesting was a supposed medical condition, common in the 16th and 17th centuries in southern Italy, called tarantism. Tarantism was presumed to be caused by the bite of a tarantula (or more likely a type of wolf spider as true tarantulas don't actually live in southern Italy) and for some reason young women seemed to be particularly susceptible to being bitten. Once envenomated, the only cure was to dance wildly until the toxin was sweated out of the body. When it became known that a victim had been bitten, the townspeople would grab their musical instruments and start playing the frantic music, helping the poor girl to fall under the spell of the music and dance out the venom and thus save her life. Supposedly a particular kind of dance, called the tarentella, evolved from this therapy, but at its roots this was an ecstatic dance and often included ripping off one's clothing and dancing naked in the frenzied dancing delirium. It is now known that no spiders were ever actually to blame for this condition. Rather, the guise of emergency therapy for bite victims was likely the only socially acceptable outlet for wild ecstatic dancing in an increasingly suppressive culture. The trouble was that you only got to express yourself in this way once or at best a few times in your life, for if it became more frequent than that you would likely arouse suspicion that just maybe you actually enjoyed this sort of thing, and there would go your reputation.

 

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