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Dance as an instrument: a reflection on the return to dancefloors

On the first time dancing post-restrictions.

Art by Chloe Callow.

Until now, it had been more than a year since dancing had been allowed in Sydney’s local venues. An experience that would strike many as a rite of passage in one’s final year of school was positively unattainable for many, making its resurgence a surreal experience for the niche group that graduated amongst the past year’s insanity. And yet, it is one that feels profoundly natural. As someone who only truly felt it for the first time last Friday night, it stands out as profoundly familiar, even as a newcomer. The simplest way to describe it would be to say that it feels absurd to imagine that it hasn’t been the norm for these thirteen months, and even stranger to imagine it disappearing once again.

As a musician myself, it is easy to distinguish the stark difference that one feels when sitting down to music, and being able to roam freely. It affects the energy, the volume, and even the actual speed of the music in the best ways possible. A band has no reason to extend themselves one more time deep into a song if there’s no means to react — plainly dancing makes the audience an instrument to be played. The emotion of a crowd is just as important to the quality of music as that of the band. This is something you can feel as a member of both crowds, as I did on one night soon after restrictions were lifted — being first a musician and then joining the audience for the following act. The greatest difference I noticed on stage is the new meaning that dancing brings to rhythm. You can feel this most in the emphasis you have to put into the flow of your music, with dancing allowing any individual member of the band to take a back seat or even stop playing in light of the percussive force delivered by strangers some thirty centimetres away. I felt this strongly myself, often leaving my band, Alpha Goose, on the stage to join the audience towards a song’s end, allowing the rhythmic energy of the dancefloor to carry the tune far longer than would be wise or enjoyable without them. This exchange gave a purpose to our performance that we previously deeply desired.

Frankly, dancing is as important to music performance as the music itself, and its role as an artform is meaningless without being able to influence and affect people and the way they act. Dancing is much less a practice of tradition, and a natural element of human celebration and communication — leading my experience playing to a dancing crowd on Friday to be nothing short of revelatory.

However, there’s also the crucial impact that dancing has on the viewer, which I also experienced in the viewing of the band that followed us, Starcrazy, that night. As I swapped roles between performer and admirer, I realised the profound similarities between the two. As I’ve already stated, the audience exists as no less than a main instrument to a performance’s extravagance, and as such my role in the music being produced didn’t seem to diminish no matter where I was in the room. In this setting, where dance was previously absent, I had the right to add rhythm and feeling, which was inaccessible to myself when playing guitar and singing. The freedom I felt when dancing allowed me to add extraneous percussion and exaltation at any point I felt necessary. I was not bound by a score, and in this sense a dancer is the true conductor of a concert. The hollering and mindless movement delivered by the 150-odd sweaty forms present on the night had more power over the band than vice versa. Put simply, in dance, the line between observer and performer is banished.

Thus, overall, I can recommend nothing higher in this time than to experience such a feeling yourself. After so long without it (or rather, without feeling it before) it is easy to dismiss the role dancing has in music and human expression. We listen in our headphones, our cars, our stereos, but the only way to truly feel music’s power is to be there. In a time where physical interaction is progressively rarified, there is nothing more important than to become a tangible part of this expression.

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