What is Traditional Social Dancing?
It means live traditional music. The dancers cherish the music, and the musicians and dancers inspire each other.
It means dancing as an integral part of life, rather than an activity that is separate from life, restricted to professionals and performers, and consumed passively by spectators.
Social means community. Co-operative, rather than competitive. It means respect for those whom we dance with, whether they be partners or others with whom we share the dance floor. It means taking care that everyone has a good time, rather than being selfish and self-centred. It means being sociable, rather than a show-off. It means dancing with everyone, not just favourite partners, and usually it means changing partners very dance. It means being civil in partnering, waiting until the music starts, before asking someone to dance. It means inclusive, rather than exclusive. (The term "dance community" is open, in the sense that it includes all those with an interest in dancing, rather than only those who belong to something, or have taken training.)
Dancing means an activity to participate in, rather than "dance", a performance to watch.
Traditional Social Dancing is a total activity -- it involves body, mind, spirit, feeling. It is personal, intimate, communicative, social, public. It is creative / spontaneous / individual and structured / coordinated / conventional.
It has no institutional standards or rules, no corporate hierarchies. Just shared universal principles. And the dancing is always part of living, and combined with other aspects of cultural and social life, such as singing, making music, eating, visiting, courting, celebrating. It is multi-generational and includes dancers of various degrees of skill and experience.
Learning in Traditional Social Dancing should not require teachers, classes, or levels. Instead, new dancers are assimilated and integrated into the dance community, surrounded and supported by experienced dancers, rather than segregated and impeded by other struggling beginners.
A traditional social dance teacher is not simply an instructor who teaches for money. He is a leader, a community builder, often a musician or caller. He gives generously, nurturing and passing on the dance tradition, so that others may experience the joy of dancing. And those others, in turn, will later follow his example -- giving to yet others just as they themselves were given before. leadership
Examples of Traditional Social Dancing forms or event types: Alpine, Argentine Tango, Balboa, Cajun, Ceili(dh), Charleston, Circle Mixers, Contra, Hambo, Irish Set, Lindy Hop, Old-Time-Waltz, Polka, Ragtime, Scandinavian, Scottish (Country/Folk) Dancing, Square, Vintage, Zwiefache, Zydeco
As a general rule of thumb, Traditional Social Dance forms are dance forms that were established by 1935.
What about other dance traditions? The traditions discussed here are what I am familiar with, and what has been directly marginalized by the dominant dance and media-entertainment industry. I invite those who know and care about the other forms and cultures to write about them.
The rest of this is being drastically re-organized. It will be changing over the next few days.
Some Characteristics of Traditional Social Dancing:The traditional Waltz, which is small, simple, round, smooth, low, grounded, gently-solid.
Unlike the modern Ballroom Waltz, which is large, angular, stiff, upright, and formal. The Ballroom Dance Establishment has "defined" the Waltz to have a very narrow range of "permissible" tempos, and has thus all but obscured into oblivion an entire musical genre and the old time Waltz that very few people know how to play and dance any more.
The Argentine Tango, which is gentle, intimate, feeling, and very close to its music.
Unlike the Modern Ballroom Tango, which is unnatural, contrived, and theatrical.
The Lindy Hop, which is a low, solid, grounded Jazz dance, close to the music, sensuous, with close, gentle connection,
unlike Jive, ECS, and WCS, which are upright, step-pattern heavy, push-pull, music-indifferent non-Jazz dances. Lindy-Hop Context
The Charleston, Shag, Black Bottom, Lindy Hop, and Balboa are danced with a partner to traditional Jazz music. Jazz is folk music, and jazz dancing is folk dancing. European and African feelings, solid, grounded, flowing, low, improvised. Unlike "modern/jazz" dance which is a choreographed stage dance that is not done to traditional jazz music, is not partnered, and is rooted in classical ballet sensibilities - high, up, pointed, leaps, etc.
The Fox Trot, originally a completely improvised Ragtime dance, dance to a rich variety of lively Ragtime music
in its modern Dance Sport form is now generally done in set patterns with very little, if any, rhythm improvisation.
Irish Set dancing is solid, smooth, low. Various traditional Celtic dance forms were either forbidden (Irish Set Dances), or cleansed, standardized, and simplified (RSCDS). In some cases new "traditions" were invented from scratch, as with Irish Ceili dances, and the high-kicking Irish step dances. In addition, institutions promoted these new dances through performance and competition.
Alpine dances are solid, grounded, small, smooth.
After WWII, Germans had no interest in or knowledge of German traditions of any kind. There are probably more Americans who dance the Zwiefache, an ancient German turning dance that contains a Waltz, than Germans. And there are far more American Modern Western Square Dance clubs in Germany than German folk dance clubs.
What Has Happened to Traditional Social Dancing?Arthur Murray promoted the notion that dancing is steps, and that you need to take lessons to be able to dance. He built a lucrative mail-order business where customers could step through his patterns in the solitude of their own home. He also created a vast network of franchised dance schools, which, at first, also taught local dance forms.
Victor Silvester , in 1935, declared that dancers should not have to dance to traditional music. He invented the notion of "strict-tempo" music, and actually created "strict-tempo" bands. This broke the ancient tie between live, traditional, popular music and dancing. The "purest" "strict-tempo" music is a metronome, and there actually are "ballroom dance" competitions done to metronomes.
The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing promoted the notion of dancing as competitive sport. ... ISDF ... NATD ... books
Whereas the Lindy Hop, the jazz folk dance from Harlem was free, and combined African as well as European dance traditions, with black and white folks mingling in the ballrooms of Harlem, ISTD "cleansed" out the African elements, creating the "refined" dance called Jive, no longer a jazz dance.
Fred Astaire presented dancing as an art form for the screen, to be performed and enjoyed by spectators, rather than a popular social activity for everyone to participate in. ... www.reelclassics.com In this sense, he was to dancing what Frank Sinatra was to music. Before, dancers and musicians were all active, co-operative participants in a team. Afterward, there were stars and admirers.
Today, most people think of Dance as something that professionals perform on stage and spectators watch passively. It is an art form (or professional, competitive sport), separated from ordinary people and from everyday life.
The fact that our culture is dominated by visual consumer media reinforces dance as being visual, passive, rather than participatory, social, tactile, or even musical. Social dancing does not look spectacular on TV, and therefore it does not exist in the consciousness of typical TV consumers. The only social dancing that makes it onto the TV screen is choreographed performance or competition, in other words, not social dancing.
Almost all the ballrooms have disappeared. The expression "Ballroom Dancing" has been redefined by the commercial franchise dance studio industry to mean competitive dance sport. These studios have created a monopoly not only on dance teaching, but on dancing itself. They have created a very small list of permissible dances, each of which has been severely pruned down to a small set of allowable moves, with the music confined to a narrow range of allowable tempos.
All other dance forms, including the originals that were appropriated and re-defined for the dance sport culture, are looked down on as "street dances", and social dancing is often looked down on as what failed dance sport competitors end up doing.
The general public assumes that you need to have taken lessons at a dance studio before you can dance. It is also assumed that dancing is steps and moves, rather than feeling, connection, improvisation, and harmonious attention, based on respect between the dancers and a love of the music and dance culture. Dance teaching illustrates the difference between teaching and instructing. Most dance instruction is actually destruction (of the natural joy of dancing, the natural ease of dancing, the nature of the dance forms, the interest in the dance form, and ultimately, the dance community and the dance tradition). Of course all this is done with only the very best of intentions, by people who may be very fine dance organizers or very fine dancers.
Governments have regulated, taxed, and privatized traditional dancing, ballrooms, and music into near oblivion. Bureaucrats, politicians, corporations and artists generally value that which is lofty and visual. Not what used to be common and participatory. Dancing is not seen as a cultural heritage.
Meanwhile, what remains of traditional social dancing has been relegated to a "niche" existence, often done in church basements, often to recorded music, or, in the case of Swing and Cajun, the only venues that have live music are often unhealthy smoky bars.
Something similar has happened to singing. Everyone used to sing songs naturally as part of playing, learning, teaching, living and interacting. Songs about many aspects of our cultural treasure. Today only professional performers sing for money. Trite songs.
I think that tradition is a process where cultural treasures are passed on and received with respect and competence. Post-modern ego-flattering self-expressive deconstructionist value-deprecating misappropriation is no folk-process.
Dancing is the loftiest, most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself!" -- Havelock Ellis: The Dance of Life