Those who have taught (or been in) a Dance Appreciation course may be familiar with the “Dancing” video series and the episode about “Dance at Court.” In it Albert Opoku, Dance and Art Historian at the University of Ghana, says: “If you are taught dancing and you know it properly, when you hear the drums – I don’t know exactly how to describe it, I think the Americans say: it does something to you.”
He emphasizes “does” with a gesture, and adds, “the nearest English equivalent is that inside the head [becomes] sweet, like tasting sugar. There’s a certain kind of pride that you belong to a great people. You are not conscious of it, but it makes you move.”
As someone who loves music – and sugar - this makes a lot of sense. The response is visceral and contagious. It infiltrates the body. And it makes me think of two passages from a book called “We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love” which a friend encouraged me to read. I admit I was skeptical: another new agey/how-to manual for relationships, but some of the first chapters made me curious enough to continue: it takes the story of Tristan and Iseult as metaphor for how we respond to people and expectations.
One passage describes the difference between learning from experience and learning from books: “The bells and music of Christendom have been the only voices by which the West told of the spirit without getting lost in concepts, abstractions, and words; the bells send forth a sound that is pure feeling, that darts past the mind and sets up an involuntary reverberation in the soul. [The bell] has the power to reveal the Dionysian side of spiritual existence, where truth is felt with the senses, felt in the images that flow from the unconscious, felt as a living encounter…”
Here I am reminded of Professor Opoku’s sweetness which bypasses words and explanation. "We" continues:
“The bells are among the few remnants of Dionysus in our Western religion; they call us to music, hymn, dance, feeling – to at-oneness with the cosmic drama…. the bells recall that King David danced before God…”
In relationships, extraordinary moments are balanced by the ordinary, finding “the relatedness, the value, even the beauty, in simple and ordinary things, not to externally demand a cosmic drama, an entertainment, or an extraordinary intensity in everything. Like the rice hulling of the Zen monks, the spinning wheel of Ghandi, the tent making of Saint Paul, it represents the discovery of the sacred in the midst of the humble and ordinary.”
And lastly about religion today: “We take a jaundiced view of religion in our age, partly because of what passes for religion has ceased to have much meaning for many of us. Carl Jung opens up an approach that takes us back to the roots of religion – the experience of psyche as soul, as a reality. He discovered that each person’s psychological structure includes an independent ‘religious’ function. This does not mean there is a need necessarily to follow creed or dogma. But it means that each human being comes with an inborn psychological urge to find meaning in life… Jung saw that most Westerners, although they consciously only believe in what is physical and rational, have dreams and fantasies overflowing with symbols of those very qualities people used to seek in their religious life: symbols evoking a sense of wholeness and a vision of a world larger than the ego.”