Sunday, May 25, 2014

Isla Vista Reflections - and Dance

UCSB is my alma mater.

I lived in and loved Isla Vista while I was there.  Unfortunately, IV is not a stranger to tragic deaths.  But, the recent mass murders shake me and my memory of youth, freedom and learning to the core.  When I heard about the tragedy and read the transcript of Elliot Rodger's declaration of war against people, the first thing that I thought of was the insidious and pervasive isolation that our culture has created for itself.  The mental illness behind this event and those like it is worsening as our culture continues to alienate and perpetuate instability, loneliness, and hate through a disconnected society.

Obviously, I enjoy engaging in social media.  I keep this blog among others, tweet regularly and post the usual pictures of pretty flowers from my garden to Instagram.  Last month I gave a talk to dance educators about the need to get onto social media in order for dance education to catch up with the rest of the online world. 

But, I am first and foremost a dancer, a dance teacher and an artist.  I love the performing arts in part because I love the community I feel when I engage in them.  My private dance company is special because we are all friends - we love dancing with each other as people.  Performing together is an act of community and reminds us of being human.  

Our increase in electronic connections have come at a huge cost to our physical connections. We have abandoned most of our outlets for heart-to-heart and hand-to-hand connection that comes with being physically together and interacting through movement and touch.  The computer screen and the internet offer us a lot for the mind and even some for the spirit, but we are human and we need to feel embodied to feel real. And, movement and touch is our best means to finding that. 

I wonder if Elliot had more social dance in his life if he would have felt a stronger connection to others (especially women).  Social dance classes teach so much more than steps. Have you seen Mad, Hot Ballroom?  If you not, put it it on the top of your list today! Social dance classes teach us how to share the space with another person, how to respect them and yourself as you join together for a human experience: dance. 

We desperately need the arts, and we need opportunities for individuals to feel connected in a safe (non sexualized) environment.  Going out to a club and jumping around in circle or grinding on someone is not clearly the same.  It is not altogether bad, but it has a different appeal and is so unstructured (and usually intoxicated) that connections made are fleeting and confusing.  If we lived in a culture where all people learned to dance together, we learn compassion for each other and our differences.  I mean, there have been people in a social dance class who I have not preferred dancing with, but when the time came and we danced together, I inevitably learned something about myself and that person that I deeply value.  Even if we weren't a great match for each other (temperaments, style, height - whatever) I had a chance to connect to feel that the other person is real, that they have a personality, complete with struggles and strengths.   

Dance has been used for millenia to remind people of their humanity.  After the rock era we broke away from partner dance and formalized group dance as the common method of social dance. Perhaps the terror of isolation endemic to our culture could easily be lessened if we took hands, found the beat and moved together as equals - as one. 

If you teach social dance, please share your thoughts and experiences in a comment below.  How have you seen social transform your students? 


  1. Your words resonate deeply. From one Santa Barbara dancer to another, thank you.

  2. Thank you for your comment! We are each so precious and we get to take the time to connect with others to ensure that they feel they are a part of the fabric of humanity.