Dance, Power, and the Body, Part I: First Thoughts

Every now and then, my half-hearted checking in on artistic creators whose work I like turns up something that fascinates me. Today, for example, Iron & Wine posted a little blast from the past on Facebook:

As much as I adore Iron & Wine (and I do), what really caught me about this video today was not just the song. It was the dancers. I guessed, when I watched the moves, that I was seeing flamenco or something very much like it, beautifully choreographed and very well filmed. I found it marvelous — the combination of power (in both restraint and in release) and subtle, communicative grace (especially in the hand gestures) is magical. I admit to knowing relatively little about flamenco music and dance style, so I cannot say with any certainty whether or not what’s happening in this video is in any way representative of how flamenco dancing ought to look when it is done well, but I suspect I am seeing something quite good.

To watch the posture of these dancers is to see command and allure brought together in perfect balance. They draw energy from the earth and the air all at once, with the body dynamically closing and opening the circuit between the ground and the sky. Even the slowest and smallest movements are infused with tension and power. This is not a soft, dreamy sort of sensuality — rather, it is challenging. It does not lure or invite so much as it dares.

While the song in the video is far from proper flamenco music (as far as I can tell), it calls that style out in an interesting way, like a sort of soft shadow (much like the ones the dancer “draws” on the floor late in the song). For a harder-edged truth that captures the rhythmic complexity of the dancer’s work more effectively, I did a little research that led me to this compilation of some of the film work of old-school flamenco great Carmen Amaya, who could really bring the thunder:

To watch her dance is to see an impossible amount of power unleashed — she seems to level up every time the music changes. The way she uses her dress in the segment starting around 3:55 or so is brilliant. The most amazing thing, though, is how powerfully and how completely she controls every move between blinding speed and perfect stillness without ever letting the intensity of her performance waver or fade. She is above all an absolute master of rhythm, and she is always driving, always moving the dance and the music to greater speed, greater power, and greater intensity. Again, this is sensuality as challenging or daring rather than inviting or luring — it calls on the one who responds to it to keep up, to go further, to rise (as it were) to the occasion and ever higher.

I think it must be a great and overwhelming joy to dance like that.

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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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2 Responses to Dance, Power, and the Body, Part I: First Thoughts

  1. Jane says:

    And notice how she gets to cross-dress! I don't know the traditions in flamenco–whether it was initially mostly a male art or whether it's always been both men and women.

    My ballet teacher (yes I take ballet at age 52 . . . I am not the oldest in my class!) was trained in ballet, Hindu, and Spanish dance! She said those castenets are tricky!

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  2. I think it's also worth noting that Amaya's not just cross-dressing — she's appropriating masculine dance itself (and note that her cantaor and guitar player and other musicians are always male) and riffing on it even as she mixes it (occasionally) with more traditionally feminine gestures (the hand movements and the degree of motion in the upper body mark the difference).

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