Dancing in the Streets

Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets is a celebration of celebration. It is about ecstatic dancing, religious and profane, as practiced throughout history and across cultures.

Ehrenreich begins her exploration with earliest recorded history, from cave paintings to early religion. She writes:
"To the extent that we can only guess at today, the religion of the ancient Greeks was a 'danced religion,' much like those of the 'savages' European travelers were later to discover around the world. As Aldous Huxley once observed, 'Ritual dances provide a religious experience that seems more satisfying and convincing than any other...It is with their muscles that humans most easily obtain knowledge of the divine.'" (p. 33)
I have to quote that quote again: "It is with their muscles that humans most easily obtain knowledge of the divine." Muscle knowledge. Yes. And yes again. Knowledge of the divine. Knowledge of the self, of love, of community. Through the muscles. And dances, like games, are the liturgy.

Ehrenreich, in inviting us back into the dance, is inviting us to abandon ourselves to the celebration of life. She is not trying to be objective. She is trying to reason with us, to give us perspective, to remind us of what it means to join the rhythmic magic of ecstatic dance, to caution us against abandoning abandon.
"Nothing speaks more clearly of the darkening mood, the declining possibilities for joy, than the fact that, while the medieval peasant created festivities as an escape from work, the Puritans embraced work as an escape from terror." (p. 145)
But all is not lost. The spirit of ecstatic dance has surfaced again and again, throughout our history, despite our most puritanic leanings. The emergence of Rock and Roll, the Beatlemaniacs, the Deadheads, each leading us back to the dance. And most recently, oddly enough, we are finding each other dancing in the stadium.
"So, by the close of the twentieth century, the clash of the athletes was only one part, and for many only a minor part, of the activities and events that made up a game. People went to the stadium for the opportunity to dress up and paint their faces, to see and be seen, to eat and drink immoderately, to shout and sing and engage in the sports fan's equivalent of dancing." (p. 237)
No, Ehrenreich is not objective about the whole thing. She is a brilliant, informed, impassioned teacher. She cautions us again and again against the growing isolation and alienation that we have accepted into our lives. And she offers us a perspective, a promise, a gift, an invitation to the dance.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Blogger Alexander said...

Aaaaaaaand another book goes in the shopping basket at Amazon :o)

Thanks for the tip, Bernie!


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