Leonard Cohen’s beautiful love song, Dance Me to the End of Love, actually had its inspiration in the concentration camp practice of forcing a string quartet to play while death was going on all around them. Cohen himself, as a Jew, could have seen it as a symbol of death. Instead, he saw it as a metaphor for the intense passion of both life and death. The opening line “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin” not only refers to the intensity with which existence can flame out, but to the passionate beauty of life and love, and the need to approach everything in life with music and dance in our hearts
Dance is one of the oldest methods of human expression. There are dances to express joy, dances to tell stories, dances to celebrate victory, mating or love dances, ritual dances, and dances to invoke healing trance states. Dance is a way to express positive and negative emotion, a way to become revitalized and build resilience to face adversity. “Dancing through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in” is a perfect description of what dance can do.
Dance therapy arises from that concept, and is built on the principle that the body and mind interact closely, so dance and physical movement will affect emotional and mental functioning. Dancing is an unconscious and non-verbal expression of the soul and spirit that allows the dancer to experiment with new ways of being. It removes inhibitions and allows us the freedom to be anyone we want to be. As our physical body explores new horizons, so does our mind. Dance is a way to define who we are. Cultural and ethnic dances are intended to make a statement of collective identity and bind a community together. Historically, nations have prepared for battle by dancing and singing, and dance is used by traditional healers to initiate a therapeutic trance. Researchers have found that dance stimulates the mind and has incredible power, both individually and collectively.
How, then, can we incorporate dance into our lives in a meaningful way that promotes a healthful attitude? Start by dancing alone in front of the stereo. Add a skip to your walk. Put loud music on and have a dance party with your kids. Try one of the popular video dance games. Take a tap, salsa, or ballroom dancing class. Join a square dance class or an ethnic dancing group. Go to a Latin dance club or a hip hop party. Even if you can’t dance physically, dance mentally.
If we play our bodies like a fiery violin, always willing and ready to dance to express how we feel about life, our whole perspective will change. We will reframe the events of our lives as something to be enjoyed, moving through each with the grace and fluidity and freedom of dance. Music and dancing can celebrate the positive and it can expunge the negative. Most importantly, if we see life through the passionate lens of dance and music, it will, as Cohen sings, “lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove.”
Dance Me to the End of Love, Leonard Cohen: www.azlyrics.com
The Society for Dance Research: www.sdr-uk.org