Re: Fascinatin' Rhythm [Debate]

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 09:15:29 +0900

Dear Colleagues,

I have been watching the on-going debate on dance vs. drill and
would like to offer the suggestion that at least two analytically
separable dimensions are being muddled together here: (a) the
degree of formality in behavior and (b) the subjective response to
whatever discipline (or lack thereof) the dance imposes.

The former is, perhaps, explainable in terms of what Basil
Bernstein and Mary Douglas call restricted vs. elaborated codes.
The initial hypothesis would be that you would expect to find
more rigidly structured dances in a group where boundaries and
lines of authority are clearly defined. Examples would include
both Hopi and courtiers dancing to Strauss waltz's at the court of
Ferdinand I (?) in Vienna. Conversely improvisational dancing
would be found in egalitarian settings where boundaries and
lines of authority are weak. The application of this hypothesis to
"modern" groups and settings is that most of us here live
complicated lives in which many different groups and settings
intersect. At a club to which Ruth, my wife, and I belong you can
on one night see fiftiesh business people and their spouses
rocking the night away to the sounds we remember from the '60s
and '70s. The same people, the previous night, may have been
practicing the more restricted forms of Scottish Country Dancing
for the Scots' annual Burns Night celebration. On both occasions,
however, the clubby ethos ("We're all equals here") and liberal
consumption of alcohol tend to produce high hilarity much
enjoyed by all. The Burns Night itself is a classic ritual process
that begins with the high formality of Piping in the Haggis and
ends with a lot of aged drunks lurching around the floor.

If formality is one dimension, then subjective response is clearly
another. For the unitiated, "drill" conjurs images of harsh
military discipline (the association with warfare is in itself
damning). For those of us like Mike Salovesh, the Quaker Pacifist
who remembers how much fun a well-turned "To the four
winds" can be, drill can be an experience that combined a high
degree of physicial exhiliration with something very close to
what Victor Turner called "communitas." I, like Bill Clinton,
Dan Quayle and New Gingrich, evaded the draft through student
deferments. I do have fond memories, however, of many long
hours spent in my high-school's marching band, and if half-time
shows aren't dance, I don't know what is. Conversely, I also
remember being a painfully shy wallflower for whom the
"freedom and spontaneity" of high school dances were a painful
test of courage and manhood.

Shall we analyze?

On the beat now, one... two.... three.

John McCreery

P.S. To Matt Hill. Don't forget the Greek Phalanx that clobbered the Persians
at Marathon. Alexander the Great added wings of light infantry and cavalry but
kept the basic pattern, a solid, highly disciplined mass of heavy infantry
armed with long spears. Its flaw was lack of maneuverability. The Roman legion
with its flexible organization in centuries and use of the javelin and short
sword instead of the Greeks' long spears was to the phalanx what the Blitzkrieg
would later be to the Maginot line. There's a long and interesting history
behind those marching maneuvers Mike Salovesh describes. :-)