Africa / Dance / Music / Politics / Religion

A Note on Dance

In many parts of Germany, dancing in discotheques is not allowed on good friday. I think this law is an anachronism. Christians are a minority in Germany. I don’t stop them from celebrating this day if they want but they should not force it on otheres who don’t share their believes.

Moreover, the idea behind this law is not only wrong because here one culture is trying to force their laws on everybody else although the society of this country is secular and multicultural. It is also stupid because it is based on a lack of understanding of what dance is. It is based on the idea that dance is something that does not fit such a day. In the christian tradition, dance is seen as sinful. Anything connected to the body is viewd as sinful and bad. This thinking is based in a tradition found in protestant churches but going further back to gnostic beliefs and manichaeism.

The proponents of the prohibition of dance on this day refer to Article 140 of the German constitution that defines the purpose of the “quiet holidays”. They should be days of rest from work and uplifting for the soul. Bu the people baning dance on this day simply don’t know what they are talking about.

How can this paragraph of the constution be used to justify a ban of dance? The people behind this probably have no experience with dance themselves. They do not understan that dance is a form of art just like painting or music. Laws that ban certain forms of art for religious reasons are normaly found in taliban states, not in modern multicultural democracies.

What is dance? While painting is an form of art for the eyes and music is a form of art for the ears, dancing is a form of art for the proprioceptive sense, that is the sensors in our muscles that give us information about our bodie’s posture and movements. By dancing, ordered patterns percievable by these sense organs are created, patterns that are ordered in space and time and combined with the music we hear. They provide an aesthetic experience of their own kind, akin to music and closely coupled with emotions.

I am not particularly interested in the christian good fryday. But even if I concede that this should be a day consecrated to the uplifting of the soul or a day of mourning or grief, what could be more appropriate for it than dance. If you have ever seen a West African funeral dance like, for example, Adowa, you would understand this. On funerals there you would see mourning people, crying with tears, moving with dignified, elegant and noble movements. Such a dance is the best expression for grief and the best way to deal with it. I learned this dance from my late dancing teacher, Isaac Amissah, and it just feels elegant, beautiful and absolutely appropriate for a day of reflection and commemoration.

In many cultures, dance is a normal part of funerals. Because of the christian tradition of hostility aganist the body, the art form of dance has become very underdeveloped in western culture (I am tempted to use the word “primitive” here) when compared to some other, especially African, cultures. We better make elaborate dance part of our own culture as well, including our culture of funerals or mourning. On my own funeral, whenever that will be, people should dance!

9 thoughts on “A Note on Dance

    • Very odd indeed. Generally, Germany is a secular state. I have seen results of polls where only about half of the people asked said they believed in any god and of those, only about half described themselves as christian. There are many people who are officially a member of one of the big churches (catholic or lutheranian) but that does not really reflect what they believe. There are some oddities in the relation of these big churches to the state. The membership fees of the churches are collected by the state as “church tax” and when you want to leave the church, you don’t do that at the church but in a state authority. There is still confessional religious instruction in government schools (although you can opt out) and state sponsored universities have theology departments. There are special laws for workers emplyoyed by churches and there are church holidays as oficial legal holidays. This list, I think, is not complete. However, I think these things will go bit by bit because christians are no longer the majority of the population. Among the young people their share in the population is even smaller.
      Personally I think that these oficial church holidays are also an anachronism. They should be replaced by some extra holidays for everybody, maybe a special kind that people can put wherever they want without their employer having a say in it.
      When the constitution was written, the christians where still a very strong group. The constitution guaranties freedom of religion and belief, so maybe they saw the danger of losing some of their institutions, like these holidays, to secularism. The constitution can only be changed with a 2/3 majority of the pairlament, so that will be more difficult to change. However, the constitution does not say explicitly that dance must be forbidden on such days, that is just an interpretation (followed by some courts). I just wnated to point out that the idea that dance is inappropriate for such a purpose is anachronistic and bizarre.

    • There is an old tradition of some connection between churches and state in Germany, going back to the end of the 30-years war. These laws are relics, but they are still there. However, they don’t play a large role in everyday life. An advantage of it (from our perspective at least) is that other denominations or sects where driven away by this so that the society has become largely secular while the evangelicals etc. have left during the 19th century (mostly to the USA) and some are still leaving. For example, proponents of creationism leave Germany because here home schooling is not allowed and the schools teach evolution. Creationism is a view of small minorities here.

      • I don’t find the old connections surprising with germany. It has some history to connect it to its more religious past.

        On the other hand, america, an infant of a nation, seems to be leaning more toward christian fundamentalism every day. I guess that makes sense since we are probably closer in time to the remnants of the puritanism that was brought to the colonies from england. We haven’t had so much time for the grip of theism to naturally weaken and fade.

        I wasn’t aware that home schooling was not permitted there. That’s an interesting bit of information.

        In a perfect world, at least one I might envision, that would probably be the normal state of affairs. It would seem the most logical and pragmatic means of providing everyone equal access to all knowledge.

        However, since our world is slightly less than perfect, the utility of such a regulation is open to debate, although the final sentence in your comment does speak volumes for its positive attributes.

  1. An odd addition to your constitution.
    Funeral dirges even in East Africa and specifically in Kenya among certain tribes is an expressive and elaborate art form.

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