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A Review of "Dance with Me": the inner and outer experiences of dance

by Robert Abrams
September 1, 1998




A Review of "Dance with Me": the inner and outer experiences of dance


Robert Abrams


Written no earlier than 8-22-98 and no later than 9-18-98.




Other reviews of "Dance with Me" have discussed the plot of the movie, and the who's who of the dance world who show up in the film. This review of "Dance with Me" will show that this is not your typical Hollywood flick: this is a movie that can make you think, if you know what to look for.

A central idea in "Dance with Me" is the conflict between, and potential synthesis of, the inner and outer experience of dance. Some people are motivated to dance because of the way it makes them feel. Some people are motivated to dance because of they way it makes them look. The former desire to dance in response only to the feelings evoked by the music is representd by Rafael. The latter desire to dance from the appearance generated by a precision of technique is represented by Ruby.

The implication in the film is that Rafael started dancing as a child and lived in a world in which dance was a normal and frequent extension of living. Ruby, by contrast, came to dance only through the discipline of formal training.

Rafael can express himself through dance, but he can't express himself about dance, and thus has difficulty bridging their differing dance cultures. Ruby, by contrast, can express herself about dance with precision, but dances with an empty heart. By the end of the movie, they have both learned from each other and reach greater heights than would have been possible alone.

In the academic literature on dance, writers who are partial to dance based upon feeling and inner experience tend to hold up historically accurate folk dance as the paragon with "authenticity" as the criterion against which dance should be judged. Ballroom dancing, and its ethos, tends to be disparaged by such writers as "salon" dancing. The academic writers who study ballroom dance… As far as I know, there aren't any academic writers who study ballroom dance (I don't count as dance research is only a side interest of mine), but if there were such writers, they would argue that both the folk dances and the ballroom dances which derive from such ballroom dances embody a principle of extensibility. That is, authenticity, while a valid concept, is limited because it is culturally dependent. If a dance has value, it should be shared. The changes in the dance that will occur as it moves out of its original context simply give more data with which to deduce the essential elements of the dance and are artifacts of dance as dialogue. The dialogue is what counts. Of course, one can also proffer an argument that ballroom dance is itself a cultural context with its own authenticity that has to be taken on its own terms, and that ballroom dancers are not the least bit hegemonic once you get to know them, but this arguement doesn't satisfy me because it still leaves everyone trapped in their own culture.

So, the first take home point is that there is an inner and an outer experience of dance. Both halves of dance need to be nurtured to get the most out of dance and life.

As difficult as this dual expression of dance is to implement, "Dance with Me" allows us to glimpse a complexity within this dynamic. The key scene in this regard is the nightclub scene in which Rafael, Ruby and a cast of thousands dance Casino Rueda (the group form of Salsa). This scene shows that while personal fulfillment in dance is dependent upon the inner experience, this inner experience is not soley restricted to dance at the level of the individual. This inner experience is tied to a social level. Such a social level allows bonding as a group, and not just as a series of pairs. This social level also supports the experience of dance by allowing a greater range of movement, and greater complexity of movements (in the sense that patterns can be emergent across large sections of the dance floor), than would ordinarily be expected in a spot dance like Salsa, and especially in the otherwise restrictive conditions of a very crowded dance floor.

Finally, "Dance with Me" offers evidence of ways in which ballroom dance can expand the opportunties for learning, and thus expand the opportunities for enhanced inner and outer experience of dance. At several points, the film makes it clear that dance is dependent upon music. Dance with music is better than dance without, but as the final scene suggests, live music can energize the social dimension of dance. The skills for live music, drumming at the very least, are teachable within the context of ballroom studios.

Thus, I would argue that "Dance with Me" offers evidence that the inner and outer experience of dance are both necessary to acheive quality in partnership dance, and that the inner experience of dance has both an individual and a social component. "Dance with Me" is a film that can make you think about what you want from your dance studio. Initiating the dialogue to make it happen is up to you.

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