The word “authenticity” has been used, and maybe even overused, a lot lately in Social Dance. Is that right?
It’s not my job hier to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. But what I can say is that I hear that word more and more especially lately, and more often than not it’s used as a criteria whether someone is a good dancer or a bad dancer.
But what does this word “authenticity” or “authentic” really mean?
In its place you could also say: original, real, primary. It comes from the Greek “authentikos” and that means original, primary, or also author, authority…
And what does authenticity mean in relation to dance?
Most people use it as a criteria to decide whether a dance style looks “real”. Does somebody dance according to the roots of the dance, or does he dance the “style-specific” figures… Whatever that might mean… 🙂
I think it leaves a lot of room for interpretation… and discussion… if somebody happened to be inspired…
I’m not… 😬
During a conversation last night with our colleague Lisa, who has now been with us for 8 years, we managed to shed new light on the subject… She knows us very well (sometimes better than we know ourselves 😀) and she opened our eyes to see how she sees our dance philosophy. That was very refreshing. Thanks Lischen! ❤️
We have delved deeply into so many dance styles and the more we learn about a style, the more there is to discover. The more we try and find the essence of every single dance, the more it becomes clear to us, that all of these dance styles, the looks, the movements and the skills “communicate and exchange notes” with each other.
The question that arises next is: Do we want to let a dance style, that we put so much energy into learning, be influenced by a “foreign” movement or a different style of idea e.g. a different way of leading and following? Does a dance then become less authentic?
Here’s the most unpopular answer of all times: IT DEPENDS! 😀
Every dance style has its “pillars” that shape it, that give the style its structure, look, feeling, atmosphere and character. But these pillars are dictated mainly by the music, right?
Take West Coast Swing for example… How many faces does this dance have? I’d say at least as many as the music styles that you dance to. Classic Blues, gentle acoustics, lyrical music, fast contemporary or very slow ballads… And then there’s the individual interpretation by each dancer… And what’s authentic then? Who decides that?
But there are definitely a few factors that characterise a dance in general and especially at the beginning of learning a new dance, one should “respect” them and see them as guidelines, inspiration and support.
Our approach can be expressed in a metaphor… I love metaphors!! 😉
We try to teach our dancers the official, written form of a language, not a regional dialect, the kind that you can understand everywhere in the whole country. We think that you can still adopt a dialect afterwards, but it’s more difficult to do it the other way around…
In other words, we have a holistic approach to Social Dance in general and try to see the roots, the tree trunk, the branches and the leaves separately so as to be able to distinguish them better. We see the different dance styles with their authentic look etc. more as branches and SOCIAL DANCE in general as the trunk with its roots. We personally feel there’s something missing when we just look at the branches without the rest of the tree.
What I’m trying to say is that in our day and age, in the age of information, there’s not much that remains “clean”. Everything is influenced by other information and factors in some way or another. And these in turn change very quickly. There’s no stopping change. Everything continues to evolve and becomes a symbiosis with other “species”… It’s in the nature of the time we live in…
Is that good or bad for dance?
It doesn’t matter!
Because it’s completely subjective and it’s up to each of us to form our own opinion on the matter.
Everybody has the desire to dance authentically. Conny and I do too. I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t care less if it looked “real”. But it’s also easy to take the whole “authenticity-thing” too seriously and to block out any other influences and thereby miss out on many good and interesting things.
An authentic look often comes from key personalities that shaped that style of dance. Here are a few examples, although of course there are many more. In Lindy Hop there’s Frankie Manning, in Salsa there’s Eddie Torres, in Tango there’s Carlos Copes, in Ballroom there’s Walter Laird, just to name a few. Those are all fantastic dancers that set the standards in their own personal dance styles. People tried to look like them. If it looked like the way they lived and interpreted the dance it was good, if it didn’t… it wasn’t…
However, often these personalities are glorified and their being and doing is put on an untouchable throne, so that everything “else” looks bad.
We’re not trying to put any of these fantastic dancers down in any way, because, as we have already mentioned, they set the standards and cleared paths and were just plain geniuses in their field. But if you look at it from another perspective, it was also precisely these dancers that reinvented a dance completely, that gave it a whole new look or a new direction. 😉
For example, a small detail… Frankie Manning was one of the first to introduce aerials on the social dance floor (the wild over-head lifts!). So he also changed the basic look of the original dance, right?
Is that authentic?
For Frankie Manning! Because being authentic also means being true to yourself and not trying to fake it. Aerials were simply his thing. Full stop!
Don’t get me wrong now. I admire all of these dancers I mentioned before, and many dozens more too. I constantly watch videos of “my favourites”, their moves, their way of expressing themselves.
These personalities are all extremely fascinating and inspiring. But that’s the end of it for me. Or rather: the beginning… The beginning of my own interpretation of what’s “real”… The beginning of my own expression, my own authenticity.
I adapt the look of the dancer that inspires me to my style, not the other way around.
I don’t need a prophet to guide me and to decide every meter of my path. I want to follow my own path in Social Dance. Or rather: Our own path😀. And other’s can influence this path and help us create it, but Conny and I have the steering wheel in our hands. And every one has their own steering wheel for their own path too…
Authenticity in dance is a great thing, but for us it’s more like guidelines, a recommendation, inspiration and input.
Not a religion. No dogmas. No laws. No peer pressure.
We teach every Social Dance in a way that one can move as comfortably and harmoniously as possible together. That’s our priority!
Everything else will follow, and with it also an authentic look. We stand by that. We’re not saying it’s not important. But it’s not the most important thing either.
We try to give everybody the tools to find their own style and THEIR OWN AUTHENTICITY. We see these tools in the connection to the music and to a dance partner. Which is why one of the most important keys in social dance for us is to train the ability to lead and follow and thereby improve the harmony in all dance styles.
That’s also the way we see this blog. It can be used as guidelines, as a source of information, inspiration, input, opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.
So yes, we celebrate harmony in dance. This desire for harmony has shaped us in our personality, our relationship, our establishment, our projects and in our life as a whole, and it has made us what we are today. And what we are today might change tomorrow. Because we’re open to it and we’re excited to see what comes next. That makes our lives a lot more free and interesting… and authentic too! 😉
What’s your interpretation of authenticity?
How do you deal with this delicate subject?
How important is it for you?
As always we look forward to all the opinions in our Social Dance community…
Be authentic to yourself, 😀
Dance & Make a Difference