Thursday, 9 August 2007

Capturing Dance, Recording History

Published: August 1, 2007

When filmmakers make movies about dance on stage — be it ballet or modern — the results are usually a bit of a let down: The backstage drama winds up with more (and better) stage time than the performances.

But when it comes to social dance, Hollywood deserves a fair measure of praise. Movies that incorporate or revolve around social dance are distinctly of their own time. And without movies to show how people danced at a given moment in history, the style of that era would exist only in photography and memory.

Imagine the extreme frustration that would befall today's grandparents if they could only show their grandchildren photographs of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. A still image of those two slim figures tapping out a duet or waltzing together across the room would show the style of the day and the surroundings, but none of the quality of the movement.

Of course, the average couple going out for a spin on a Friday night in 1949, the year that "The Barkleys of Broadway" opened, couldn't possibly dance as well as this professional pair. But Fred and Ginger represented a standard of elegance and — given the cornball plots to fill the time between the dancing — enough romance to send the audience into flights of fancy.

In the modern era, perhaps the greatest film to capture social dance is "Saturday Night Fever" (1977). The scenes in the Brooklyn nightclub give us glimpses of lively group dances, some of which are interrupted by the flashy stylings of the local hotshot, Tony Manero, played by the exceptionally gifted John Travolta. Though his home-grown style looks spontaneous on the dance floor, the rehearsal scenes let the viewer in on the trick: Tony and his partners practice quite a lot. What he creates in the studio pushes the form forward when he takes it public.

But "Saturday Night Fever" is also brutally realistic about life, love, and sex. These young women and men don't know where they're going, and only the boy who can dance — the artist — can see a way out of the borough. The film uses the vehicle of dance to show how modern society was changing and expectations were expanding, which makes it much more than a film about dance.

The plot of "Flashdance" (1983) brings high and low dance into a culture clash. Exotic dancer Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals) wants to get into the local ballet company. Lacking ballet technique and a rule-abiding temperament, she breaks in by way of attitude. The dance that is captured here is more about strip dancing than fox trotting, but her workouts and the culminating audition scene are examples of a jazzbased style that was popular at the time. And whereas in "Striptease" (1996), Demi Moore also had some creative, moody stripper acts set to popular Annie Lennox songs, nothing beats "Flashdance" for that infamous gush of water.

By contrast, social dance is at the center of the plot of "Footloose" (1984). A sleepy small town, in which the most important church pastor has forbidden dance, is disrupted when the sexy, daring Ren McCormack (Kevin Bacon) arrives from the big city. He leads the high school students in a reasoned protest in favor of a prom with dancing.

Ren gets the girl and the prom, but the fun part is watching his buddy Willard (Chris Penn) learn how to dance. The teaching starts from the need to understand rhythm and then to have the confidence to create something personal. At the prom, the exuberant dance moves suggest that the rest of the teens — who have previously not been allowed to dance — have been secretly practicing, too. There is partnering, individual showing off, and even a littlebreak-dancing, which considering that the Midwestern town depicted was almost lily-white, was probably not entirely accurate.

But the '80s were the era of breakdancing — and any film about dance needed it. The film "Breakin'" (1984) brought jazz and breakdancing together. "Beat Street" (1984) emphasized the role of the DJ. Neither film may live large in the annals of cinema, but their purpose was to capitalize on the interest in a new urban dance form. By putting breakdancing at the center of the action, the filmmakers gave a national audience to something that was only emerging in cities. And they gave modern films about street dance, such as "You Got Served" (2004), a jumping off point to incorporate the explosion of gang culture.

Though films such as "Grease" (1978) and "Dirty Dancing" (1987) became hits within the musicalfilm genre, both look back to other eras rather than explore the contemporary. "Grease" opened only one year after "Saturday Night Fever," but how different the happy version of the '50s looks in comparison to the grittiness and reality of Brooklyn in the late 1970s. "Dirty Dancing" took a retrospective look at 1963 in the Catskills, but launched the new (and supremely annoying) song "(I've Had) the Time of My Life" onto the radio.

As different as all these films are, the one element connecting films about social dancing — be they retrospective or of their time — is the idealistic message that dancing is a sort of healing activity. It can bring families together, elevate one's social standing, and open minds. And if that's true, we could use a little more of it — in film and in real life, too.

Source: NY Sun

Leaps to Freedom

Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
Published: Aug 07

Jaap Van Manen - My class is all about opening up the self with movementFor Jaap Van Manen, dance is not only a way of life, but also something that helps you break free from hangups

Jaap Van Manen from Netherlands, turns on the music and tells the five dancers to move. Move, they do, with each one following not the music but their own body rhythm. Neither is conscious of the other, and all moves are independent and at their own pace.

Jaap is watching; his face cradled in his palms. He watches every move intensely. The music stops, he calls the dancers and tells them: “You stayed in your own space till now, but now if you make eye contact with the others around you, what will happen?”

“We start to interact with the others through movement,” comes the response, which pleases Jaap so much that he claps his hand and turns on the music again. Suddenly you notice that there is a smile on each dancers’ face as they make eye contact with the others and they seem to be aware of what the other is doing and try to choreograph their own body movement to blend with the other’s. Now they all move as one unit.

“You see dance is such a beautiful tool. You just have to open the window and let the person find his own way using it,” says this man who is a theologian, dance teacher and “life coach”.

For him, dance is not only a way of life, but also something that helps you “break free and overcome all your inhibitions. I do not dance with them but only act as a facilitator who gives them ideas and help them discover their own space. You have to become a child with your movement and not an inhibited adult ,” explains Jaap.

With a true blue Christian upbringing, he took to theology to discover spirituality and according to him “spirituality is broader than a religion. Religion specifies god and the ways to him. It is like breaking that one source into pieces. Spirituality is important for me as it is the source of any work. Dance is also a way to find that spirituality. It is more about the self. But when you go deep into that self you are bound to discover your connection to the supernatural because the self in you is connected to that large source of life,” he says.

Jaap started a dance company called Mobile in Netherlands in 1998 with the aim to “develop a person’s potential and dance with a flow. Our goal is for people (in companies) to move and develop themselves, so that they behave authentically and act naturally.” He uses themes as an impulse for movement. For instance, “I can use an element like water and ask the dancer to move smoothly like a river or like a roaring ocean. The dancer thereby moves with an image in her mind. This way you can express the theme water in its different moods”.

He feels bad about the current lifestyle that has taken people away from movement.

“Dance and movement are innate. Our body is designed for movement — walk, run, jump, but because of our education and the lifestyle we have restricted our movement.” So Jaap is very happy when he has a person with no dance background walking into his class.

“If it is a workshop for adults then I take them back to their childhood. My class is all about opening up the self with movement. If I find the person a bit too rigid only then will I dance along, yet as an example and not as a model for that person to imitate me. If he does copy me then how can he evolve from within?”

If this principle is applied then Indian classical dance is all about fixed movement and expressions and hand gestures. So does it mean that Indian dance is not evolved?

“If dance is used as a tool to make someone free and aware of themselves, then its duty is fulfilled. Coaching should not be like setting yourself some goals, like business or for success. But as a true teacher I will forget myself and the development of the other person becomes important,” explains Jaap, who has worked with children, adults and elderly people in “different settings” for more than 20 years. At Stichting de Santenkraam — a workshop for biblical spirituality and creativity, he combined theology and dance and worked as a choreographer.

Jaap now looks forward to work in India, and his focus is not just the dancers “but for anyone who has a passion for movement. Even people who want to learn it for therapeutic values or for those who want to discover themselves can walk into my class,” he says. Jaap can be contacted on or Jaap’s workshop in the city was organised by Rainbow Inc.

This column features those who choose to veer off the beaten track.

Source: The Hindu

Friday, 3 August 2007

The DNA of Dance

AVPR1a and SLC6A4 Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance (research article)
By: Rachel Bachner-Melman, Christian Dina, Ada H. Zohar, Naama Constantini, Elad Lerer, Sarah Hoch, Sarah Sella, Lubov Nemanov, Inga Gritsenko, Pesach Lichtenberg, Roni Granot, Richard P. Ebstein
Published: September 30, 2005
“With the creation of the universe, the dance too came into being, which signifies the union of the elements. The round dance of the stars, the constellation of planets in relation to the fixed stars, the beautiful order and harmony in all its movements, is a mirror of the original dance at the time of creation.” - Lucian of Samosata (~125 to 180 A.D.), On Dance (De Saltatione)

Dancing, integrally related to music, likely has its origins close to the birth of Homo sapiens. The authors hypothesized that there are differences in aptitude, propensity, and need for dancing that may be based on differences in common genetic polymorphisms. Identifying such differences may lead to an understanding of the neurobiological basis of dancing.

Variants of the serotonin transporter and the arginine vasopressin receptor 1a genes were examined in performing dancers, elite athletes, and nonathletes/nondancers. The serotonin transporter regulates the level of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience. The vasopressin receptor has been shown in many animal studies to modulate social communication and affiliative behaviors. Notably, dancers scored high on the Tellegen Absorption Scale, a correlate of spirituality, and the Reward Dependence factor in Cloninger's Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire, a measure of empathy, social communication, and need for social contact. Significant differences were observed in allele frequencies for both genes when dancers were compared to athletes as well as to nondancers/nonathletes. These two genes were also associated with scores on the Tellegen Absorption Scale and Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire Reward Dependence, suggesting that the association between these genes and dance is mediated by personality factors reflecting the social communication, courtship, and spiritual facets of the dancing phenotype.

Dance, an art form closely allied to music, has been little studied from the neuroscience or genetic perspective, despite its significance in all cultures throughout the ages. Dance, like music, is an activity dating to prehistoric times that is sometimes a sacred ritual, sometimes a form of communication, and sometimes an important social and courtship activity; finally, dance is an art form that exists in every culture and manifests diverse paths [1]. Dance, as an expressive art form, is often considered inherently creative, especially when compared with a “nonartistic” domain. It is also a cultural form that results from creative processes that manipulate human bodies in space and time (“embodiment”). In many ways, dance is also a part of music, to which it is integrally related. Finally, professional dancers possess an exceptional talent, and as noted by Kalbfleisch [2], “Exceptional talent is the result of interactions between goal-directed behavior and nonvolitional perceptual processes in the brain that have yet to be fully characterized and understood by the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Dance may appear to be an unusual phenotype for human molecular genetics studies, but it is no more so than two closely related phenotypes, music [3] and athletic performance [4−6], that have both become subjects of molecular research. There is accumulating contemporary interest in the neuroscience of music [3,7−11] providing “proof of principle” that a widespread pursuit historically considered as part the human art and cultural heritage also has a solid basis in neuroscience, evolution, and genetics. Both music and athletic performance are complex phenotypes, the presentation of which is molded by environment and genes (and their interaction), especially in elite performers. A good example is absolute pitch, a relatively “clean” musical phenotype, of which the occurrence in approximately 20% of professional musicians is dependent not only on intrinsic ability but also on age of onset and intensity of musical training [11]. Similarly for athletic performance, evidence has accumulated over the past three decades for a strong genetic influence on human physical performance, with an emphasis on two sets of physical traits, cardiorespiratory and skeletal muscle function, that are particularly important for performance in a variety of sports [4]. A number of individual genetic variants associated with elite athletes have been provisionally identified, but there is little argument that elite athletes as well as elite musicians likely possess other characteristics related to personality and emotion that also contribute to their performance.

We suggest the notion that the “dance” phenotype is no more difficult to define than other complex human behavioral phenotypes (schizophrenia, attention deficit, personality, violence, and others) that have been shown to be both heritable and amenable to genetic analysis. Dancers fulfill a set of criteria with considerable face validity (similar in principle to the usual Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–style “symptom checklist” [12]) that both identifies and distinguishes one disorder from another. For example, the US Department of Labor suggests that the following qualities, inter alia, are required to be a professional dancer: flexibility, agility, coordination, grace, a sense of rhythm, a feeling for music, and a creative ability to express oneself through movement [13].

In our ongoing studies of the genetic basis of human personality [14−16], we have recruited currently performing dancers (n = 85) who train for at least 10 h per week, because we thought that a study of this group would help us understand why some individuals are endowed with creative and artistic abilities or inclinations. Toward this end, dancers were characterized using both psychosocial instruments and common genetic polymorphisms. Of particular interest are the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ) [17] and the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS) [18], which, respectively, measure aspects of social communication (TPQ Reward Dependence) and spirituality (TAS), personality facets important in the dance phenotype.

We investigated two polymorphic genes that we hypothesized to add to artistic creativity: the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor (AVPR1a) and the serotonin transporter (SLC6A4). The SLC6A4 long promoter allele is more efficient at the level of transcript, producing more transporter protein that presumably more effectively removes serotonin from the synapse [19]. Both common intron 2 VNTR repeats (10 and 12) enhance transcription [20], although individual repeat elements differ in their activity in embryonic stem cell models [21]. In lower vertebrates, the promoter region repeat elements of the AVPR1a receptor determine brain-specific expression patterns and are responsible for differences in patterns of social communication across species [22]. In humans, the functional significance of the promoter repeats remains to be elucidated, although association between these repeats and social communication in humans was recently suggested [14,23,24].

We considered that AVPR1a might contribute to the dance phenotype, reflecting this gene's role in affiliative, social, and courtship behaviors [25], activities that are vital in many kinds of human dancing. Dancing also taps into human spiritual resources as evidenced by the role of dancing in sacred rituals [1]; it has been shown that serotonin plays a role in human spiritual experiences [26]. Additionally, use of ecstasy, a serotonergic neurotoxin, at rave dances and dance clubs [27] further links serotonin to both dancing and states of altered consciousness, two phenomena also linked in the absence of drugs. Finally, many studies show that serotonin enhances the release of vasopressin in the brain [28], suggesting the notion that these two genes, AVPR1a and SLC6A4, are also likely to exhibit epistasis, or gene−gene interactions, in association studies that reflect their interaction at the level of individual neurons as well as on the plane of neurotransmitter pathways. Interestingly, serotonin and vasopressin interact in the hypothalamus to control communicative behavior [29].

NB: Please follow the link below to read the whole paper.

Source: Public Library of Science (Genetics)