I was sent to dancing lessons from early on in life. I’ve always thought of dance as being about the music, especially once I got to the point of being able to improvise. I’ve danced as a performer, but more usually I’ve danced amongst people with no audience.
This weekend I had the experience of watching dance – some I realised I’d not done in a long time. I’ve watched morris dancers in the last few years, but it’s not the same as sitting down quietly in a room to watch something that isn’t about repeating patterns. The dance I watched – Without Measure – had no music. Some of the pieces were performed in silence, some had spoken work soundtracks. In the absence of music, it had me thinking about sound and bodies in some unexpected ways.
When you dance in silence, it is the sound of the movement, and the sound of the audience, that occupies the space. Small sounds that would normally disappear under the music become intense and important. The breath of the dancer becomes part of what you experience. Watching anything in silence is normal, but when there is so little constructed soundscape, you become really aware of the smallest sounds you accidently make. This is not a performance in which it is easy to cough.
We normally dance to music. We normally have the speed, rhythm and mood of the dance shaped by the music playing. We’re used to the sense of dance coming from this relationship with sound. Take the music away, and a whole host of questions arise about the nature and purpose of dance.