Graphic by Chukwuyem Onyibe/The Gazelle
How does it feel when the spotlight shines down on you? When you stretch your arms, point your toes, hold your breath as the music flows into your body? You feel alive, strong and full of energy; you feel excitement and, perhaps, a bit of nervousness.
Dance is a form of language that transcends not only cultures but also species. We may not have the ability to comprehend the sounds that male birds make, but we can instinctively interpret their gestures as they compete for a mate by showing off their dance moves. Similarly, before our ancestors developed linguistic skills, they communicated with each other through body language. They expressed their anger, hope and love with movement. Today, we continue to do the same; dance is a part of us and has always been.
I may not immediately understand your language, culture or religious traditions, but you can tell me your story and I will listen; you can show me your story and I will watch.
Dancers are storytellers who share their stories with their bodies.
NYU Abu Dhabi brings us together from different corners of the world. Just as we come here to transcend national boundaries and develop a better understanding of other cultures, dance provides a powerful way for us to learn about and appreciate each other.
Hip-hop dance originated in New York City in the late 1960s, where the lives of black youth were constantly affected by the prevalence of drugs, sex and gang fights. It was hip-hop dance that gave those young people hope and a purpose in life. While figures like Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan have inspired youth around the globe in a very public manner, black hip-hoppers act as an underground force to promote African-American culture to the world. Now on the streets of New York, in the clubs of Tokyo and in the parks of Paris, we see black, white and Asian kids — youth of various ethnicities — making friends through dance.
Ballet began exclusively in the courts of the Italian Renaissance as a form of entertainment for the aristocracy but spread quickly, first to France, then across Europe and eventually beyond the continent. While ballet has yet to become prevalent across the world, everyone has the capacity both to learn and to appreciate the beauty of this dance form. Its gracefulness, precision and strength can be used to send meaningful messages in compelling ways, not only about the human condition but also about sociopolitical issues such as war and peace. Ballet, like other dance genres, expresses emotions that both the dancer and audience can relate to and understand.
Regardless of which languages we speak, regardless of where we call home, we can all find common ground through dance. Dance fosters collaboration and trust by breaking down barriers in a magical way, which is difficult to describe but can certainly be felt by all. Dancing will not cure diseases, will not end famines nor will it fight to bring peace. But as a universal language, dance speaks of joy and a hope that can never be taken away.