Dancing in America survived in communities. It survived because it served those communities just as it serves us today. It helped to connect people with their heritage throughout the founding, exploring and settling of a new land. It helped folks of different ethnic background to learn to live together in the cities as well as on the frontier. When Americans dance, they are creating a model of their community. A community that needs to understand and value individual differences as well as commonalties.
The values of good dancing are fundamentally grounded in community values. Awareness of the space around you at all times; Giving weight; Timely movement; Smooth transitions; Courteous interactions; these are all based in the common good. But, on top of all this is the aesthetic of individual expression through style, variation and ornamentation.
I hear mixed reaction to the idea that a given dance series is a community. Some people find them to be essential social events, while others say, “How could this be a real community? No one really knows me at all.” Still others believe that they paid their money to come and dance not to join a community or forced to be friendly with people they may not like. The problem here is in the definition of community.
I would like to suggest a sense of community based on ethical behavior. In relating to a group of people one has three basic choices:
1. To behave with one’s own interests in mind. “I take care of myself!”
2. To behave with other people’s interests in mind. “I take care of you!”
3. To behave with one’s own and other’s interests in mind. “We take care of each other!”
The third choice leads me to an iteration of what I call the social contract.
· We take care of ourselves
· We take care of each other
· We take care of our environment
I believe that making a “We” is one of the most important things that human beings can do. However, the creation of a “We” is a delicate thing. Some people try to “We” on other people. They have learned that the first person to make a “We” statement gains some power in the group. e.g. “We don’t like turning during a Ladies Chain at Summit.” If a “We” statement is allowed to stand unchallenged, the right of others to hold different opinions suffers. Some folks spend a lot of time maintaining the boundaries of a group by subtly defining who is “in” and who is “out.” I have very little respect or time for this, although these types are valuable community supporters in other ways if you let them get their way in this one. Finally, I think the most common “We” mistake is assuming that they endure without maintenance or re-affirmation. I believe that ever time a group gets together it must re-affirm its common values. These re-affirmations are usually done by the more experienced individuals who demonstrate community values by helping out or by welcoming newcomers. I feel that the caller can go a long way towards establishing the ethic, “At this dance we take care of each other.” by simply saying it or something like it and then living up to it. Good dancing will grow out of care.