Kimerer LaMothe began her talk in an unconventional way, by singing a song. As she reached the refrain she repeated the words “everybody dances” and invited the audience to join her.
She then posed an intriguing question: How can dance be a response to the climate crisis? In the western world, dance is usually seen as a recreational activity and here LaMothe was asking how it could be used as a tool or even as the solution to one of the largest issues of our time. I was definitely a little skeptical.
The talk was a part of Duke’s Ruby Fridays organized by the staff of Duke Arts and the Rubenstein Arts Center. LaMothe was invited to contribute to the series which features casual art talks with the intention of connecting art across a multitude of disciplines.
Her response to the climate crisis began with a discussion about the body. LaMothe explained that for three and a half billion years after the planet was formed, there were no complex bodies on the planet, just microbes. She said they developed multicellular bodies because they needed to move.
“We build our knowledge of the world through the bodily movements we make,” she said.
The idea is that a body’s ability to move and interact with the world around it is a form of dance. This is especially demonstrated by how human babies interact with their caregivers. Human babies, unlike many other animals, are extremely reliant on their caregivers and must find a way to communicate with them. Thus, they use movement to garner attention. They have an impulse to connect and use patterns of movement like a smile or a snuggle to make sure they are taken care of. What results is something like a dance.
LaMothe described it as, “A vital human expression of kinectivity.”
Using movement and dance as a way to connect or interact, however, is important to human life past infancy. Many different cultures around the world use dance as the primary ritual of their community.
One example LaMothe gave was the healing dance practiced by the Bushmen of the African Kalahari. They use dance to “stir energy” and understand any pain. As the dancing intensifies the energy grows.
LaMothe explained that this allows them to “enter what they call first creation, a perception of reality where everything is changed and everything is changing.”
Through this, the healer can see the capacity of that pain to change and help the members release the pain. The idea is that to dance is to heal both themselves and the earth.
Still, the question remains: How does dance heal the earth? The earth that is facing ecosystem collapse, species extinction, and overexploitation. The past five hundred years have exponentially brought us to the brink of the climate crisis. These are the same centuries that Europeans traveled around the world colonializing and overtaking native lands. One of the main ways colonists tried to make native people civilized was by stopping them from dancing.
LaMothe stated, “Native communities were told to stop dancing and instead make “progress towards civilization.”
In many places, it actually became a crime to dance. In fact, until 1932 it was against the law for native people to engage in ceremonial dances in the United States. Furthermore, in efforts to “civilize” people, a focus was placed on learning through reading and forsaking movement as a way to gain knowledge. This “civilized” culture also abandoned the awareness and respect native communities showed towards the environment around them. Dance not only allowed them to connect with each other but with the earth. This connection was reflected in the other parts of their life resulting in sustainable living and caring for the earth.
In LaMothe’s words, “dance can catalyze a sensory awareness of our own movement making.”
She explained that through climate-conscious dance we can reconnect ourselves with the environment and help restore the earth.
One example she gave of how to do this is through events like Global Water Dances where people can participate in events all over the world to dance and raise consciousnesses about how to protect water.
In 2005 after teaching at both Brown and Harvard, LaMothe moved to a farm with her family so she could write and dance in an environment closer to nature. She has written six books, created several dance concerts and even a full-length musical titled “Happy If Happy When.” She spends her time writing, singing, dancing, and tending to the farm alongside her family.
Post by Anna Gotskind