In this afternoon’s sub-zero wind chill, staff from our school gathered on the front field. We danced a collective version of the Jerusalema dance that has spread around the world through social media.
Standing in the back row, getting every step wrong, I laughed aloud at the comments of a rugby player PE teacher beside me who was as light-footed as someone half of his size, and even louder at the head of PE who injected Pythonesque elements into his dance (Monty Python that is, not python of the reptilian variety).
At Strode College in Street in the 1970s, Paul Selby strove to teach us Shakespeare. He strove to teach us to see the world in a way other than in the way of the trivial and the material culture of the time. He would prompt us to look for deeper meanings, to search for the things which were timeless.
During one English class he pondered dancing. He felt that dancing of the ballroom variety was a complete negation of the meaning with which dancing was imbued in traditional societies. Dance to mark the passing of the seasons, the fading and the return of the light, the fertility of the earth and human beings, had a significance far deeper than tangos and foxtrots. It is hard to imagine what Paul Selby would have made of the popularity of the television series Strictly Come Dancing.
Dance is about something deeper than the superficial and trivial silliness of Strictly Come Dancing. Considering dance on the basis of whether steps were together and whether moves were co-ordinated is to consider it on the basis of its mechanics. Strictly Come Dancing is like considering a painting on the basis of how paints were applied and what canvas was used. Ballroom dancing is like the work of a local art club where there is so much emphasis on method that no-one stops to ask about meaning. How often do the television judges ponder whether the steps they think are so important actually express any existential thought?
The Jerusalema dance this afternoon prompted thoughts about the meaning of dance and the recollection of the questions of Paul Selby.
Our efforts seemed the ultimate move away from the forms of traditional dance, yet laughing and watching those who threw themselves into the dance there was a sense of both a connection with the music and transcendence of themselves, but there was also a sense of the solidarity of the individual with all those around. The Jerusalema dance is dancing for its own sake, without demand for formal precision, but like the dancing Paul Selby valued, it created a strong bond of community.