Building a Dance Community (download as PDF)
Chris Kermiet, 1996
In our era of mass communication, mass mobility, and
mass differentiation of personal attitudes, beliefs, interests, and
philosophies, communities are no longer geographically bounded
entities. They are communities of shared experiences, shared beliefs,
shared activities, and shared ideas.
Communities grow up quite naturally. You naturally
gravitate toward people who share your outlook on the world. Who like
the things you like. Who want the things you want. You share ideas,
thoughts, and feelings with them, and they become your friends. Through
them you meet other like-minded people, and soon a community is formed
— a community of friends.
We all need these communities as part of our lives.
We need them for companionship, for support, to bounce ideas off of, to
validate feelings, to share hardships, to share our joys, for warmth,
for discipline, and for a feeling of connectedness to the rest of the
world. You probably belong to several. And they're important to you.
Without them we would each be alone and adrift in a fragmented and
Therefore, building communities seems important to
me. Understanding communities is important. Communities have subtle
In a large community, smaller groups tend to form,
usually groups with an intense common interest, such as computer
programmers, or old-time musicians, or cloggers, or vegetarians, or
chiropractors. This is natural. These sub-groups are beneficial to
their members, who form stronger friendships with people with whom they
share an intense common interest, and beneficial to the larger group,
which gains in vitality and love because of the strengthened
friendships which have developed.
Unless the sub-group becomes a clique. Cliques are
inward-turned groups. They are self-aware groups — interested in their
own us-ness, in their own uniqueness. They are not much interested in
admitting outsiders — non-members. They become more interested in
intensifying the interactions between their own members, to the
detriment of the larger group. They become like the self-centered
individual, who become so self-involved that he looses awareness of the
needs and feelings of others. Cliques sap the vitality of the larger
In any large group, leaders will emerge. This is
natural. And beneficial to the group. These leaders who emerge are
usually the members who are most interested in sustaining and enhancing
the vitality of the group. They are the ones with the time, energy and
desire to organize, energize, harmonize, and strengthen the group. In
this way the group and all the members benefit.
Unless the leadership becomes an elite. This is very
detrimental to the group. When the leaders become an elite, they begin
using the group for their own purposes. To give themselves a sense of
self-worth, or self-importance. To exercise control. To gain respect or
admiration. To become a "big cheese." This sucks the life out of the
group. The members begin to feel more distant from the leaders. Warmth
is lost. Members who wish to lead a new activity or contribute to an
ongoing activity are stifled or scorned. Energy is lost. Soon vitality
is lost and members begin to drift away.
The formation of cliques or elites weakens a
community. What strengthens it?
Activities where all members feel a sense of
sharing, participating, and belonging. Dances, of course, come
immediately to mind. They are great shared activities. They give
everyone a sense of involvement, and they're just plain fun. They're
flirtatious. They're human, touching activities. They're aerobic.
They're expressive. They can be both relaxing and energizing at the
same time. Ideally. Hard to think of a better activity. To quote my
friend, Peter Gott: "Dancing is the most fun you can have with your
Sometimes our dances are not ideal. I always worry
when I see a newcomer sitting out. Maybe hesitant to try it, maybe
without a partner. I always try to get them involved, mostly because I
think it would be so good for them. We all have some favorite partner
(or several favorites) we'd like to dance with. And we all enjoy
dancing with someone who's an experienced dancer. But how will our
community grow if we don't involve these new people? A community that
doesn't grow eventually withers, sort of like a tomato plant without
On my wish list, my plan for strengthening a dance
community, I would put this: I wish that every member, just once during
the evening, would make a special effort to dance with someone they've
never danced with before.
When I think of other ways to make a newcomer feel
like part of a group, one other thing comes forcefully to mind. It will
sound old-fashioned and corny to some of you. Introductions. Maybe it's
just me, but I always feel a little shy and hesitant to go up to
someone I've never seen before and say: "Hi, I'm Chris. What's your
name?" It's such a nice feeling to be introduced to people. It's
genteel and gentle — civilized. Think about the last time you were a
stranger in a new group, and your friend introduced you to two or three
others. Didn't that feel good? Didn't you fell welcomed and at ease? I
think introductions are great, whether you're the new person being
introduced, or the person who's meeting someone new to the group or
activity. I have one reservation, though. I dislike meeting everyone at
once in a whirlwind of introductions. I forget all the names. And then
I feel awkward. I think two or three at a time is about right.
On my wish list, I'd put this: Try to introduce
every new person you meet to two of your friends. They'll soon know
In spite of the fact that dancing is such a
wonderful group activity, I do have some reservations about it. In
spite of all the good things it is — exciting, fun, flirtatious, a good
way to meet people, etc. (see more extensive list above) — it is not a
good way to really get to know people. For that, you need to sit down
and really talk with someone — socialize, visit, find out the things
they're interested in, find out what shared interests you have (besides
dancing). A sharing of ideas/feelings -must occur for a friendship to
develop. Otherwise, you will have a dance group of acquaintances.
Too many of our dances end in a great diaspora — a
scattering of energy in a hundred different directions. Then what could
become a community of friends becomes a loose-knit community of
acquaintances, or a loosely-linked group of sub-groups. That's why I
often feel that the social part of a dance event is more important that
the dancing itself. Often, to me, the opportunity to go and have a coke
or beer afterward and just socialize, is more important than the
I think a truly successful dance community needs to
promote more social events. Dance or music weekends or retreats are
great. Or hiking or cross-country skiing trips. Pot-luck dinners or hot
I suspect there are other types of activities that
the dance community, or a significant chunk of it, could participate
in. And these would increase the feeling of community, and the vitality
of interpersonal relations within the community. I suspect we have a
great deal more in common than we often think, due mainly to the
natural way in which communities are formed, that is, people inviting
their friends, and those friends inviting others, etc. A community of
similar values tends to result.
In fact, we could probably make the following
generalities about our own community:
•Generally liberal bias. Peace, anti-nuclear,
love-oriented attitudes prevail. Probably against building more nuclear
weapons, star wars defenses, reinstating the draft, etc.
•Outdoorsy, environmentally conscious group. Lots of
hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers.
•Generally supportive of environmental causes and
•A certain level of new-age consciousness. A general
interest in alternative health strategies, holistic healing, well-ness.
An awareness that changing minds and attitudes promotes better health
in individuals and in societies.
•A high level of interest in music, singing, and,
obviously, in dance. Perhaps also a higher-than-average interest in art
and theater, folkcraft and folklore.
•General belief in a knowledge-based society. Open,
knowledge-seeking attitudes, with interests in computers,
information-sharing, and networking.
And, of course, exceptions to the above
generalizations. But this general nexus of interests and attitudes give
rise to the thought that the dance community, or at least a significant
proportion of it, might want to work together in other activities. Such
as anti-nuclear or anti-war efforts, environmental causes, aid to
Central American refugees. Perhaps we could institute a computer
bulletin board for the exchange of ideas and news, or stage a
theatrical dance event (I've always wanted to do a spoof of those old
glitzy Broadway musicals, where all the men -danced with spats and
canes, and the women danced with-fruit-on-their-heads). Or a health and
well-ness weekend. We could stage a dance marathon to raise money for
some important cause. We could form networking groups. Maybe all the
chiropractors or computer programmers or massage therapists would like
to organize a social evening to talk shop, exchange ideas, techniques,
etc. Or we could all give each other foot rubs.
Or none of the above. This article is meant to be
food for thought, not a plan. Any plan must evolve from within the
community. But I would like to see more social events — big and little.
Opportunities to get to know people and exchange ideas. Get-togethers
after the dance, or before the dance. These things would strengthen our
friendships, and strengthen our sense of community, which I obviously
think is important, for the reasons cited above. I think we all need
the warmth and support of loving communities of friends.
What do you want our dance community to be? You are
the dance community, so your ideas are important. I see a lot of
potential for the evolution of a much-more-vital community. There are
limitations, too. Limitations of time, distance, communication, and
desire. There are limitations of harmony, and limitations of coherence.
These few random thoughts I've stirred up into this
food-for-thought dish. Please chew carefully.
Building a Dance Community (download as pdf)
2267 Hudson St.
Denver, Colorado 80207 USA