So, here I REALLY went out on a limb. I'm very nearly embarrassed to put this up here. But it's good to be able to laugh at yourself, right? Good thing I took this class pass/not pass. This paper is from my very first semester as a Freshman!

Please be aware that my perceptions of ballroom dancing have changed somewhat. I now intuit lead and follow at a much more intrinsic level. But you can read about my reckless, newfound enthusiasm from way-back-when below.

PS --- Can't you tell I'm a die-hard Ricky fan?


Discovering the Dionysian Experience in Ballroom Dancing

Fall 1999
Dramatic Art 24.2
Dionysus and Ancient Greek Drama
professor Mark Griffith

Dionysus, his chorus, and his worship can be regarded as an archetype for the modern "la vida loca." In modern times, unhealthy forms of stress approaches elevated limits for nearly everybody who needs to eat and sleep and think to survive. This stress incites an person's drive for temporary freedom, for relief. The need to get away, or pretend to get away, surges and ebbs, but in the end, escalates to a breaking point. In our lives, there's no available release like Dionysian orgies; there's no wonderful enchantment by a deity that can rid frustration and agitation; there's no religion that does the job the way Dionysus supported his worshipers. Instead, there are constructive releases, such as modern ballroom dancing, that give energy and passion and relief similar to Dionysian rituals; through exploring how the Dionysian experience applies to ballroom dancing, we can see how the emotion and self- deliverance in Dionysian rituals possibly emerged.

While Dionysus's followers -- his female chorus -- didn't live lives that accumulate stress the way modern civilization accumulates stress, they did feel boundaries from their culture as women citizens. They embraced Dionysus for his appreciation of the female role, for the recovery of their primal nature, for the opportunity to be indulged as a female host. While I think Dionysus entranced his followers in order to unfetter inhibitions and create mass delusions, such as in The Bacchae, I also think he released them afterward to act as they would without fear of shame. Without eyes watching, the natural self acts in civilly shameful ways. Ballroom dancing entrances the dancers and releases them from watching civil eyes by depositing the man and the woman in the role of being a complementary pair; the opening step is always in unison, and however one partner moves rationalizes the moves made by the other in beautiful succession. They must continue as a complementary pair and so cannot be disgraced.

Ballroom dancing -- whether salsa, tango, rumba, foxtrot, waltz, hustle, or swing -- is a singular communal activity. Ballroom dancers move in pairs and maneuver around one another on the dance floor, but all the pairs are held captive by the same beat, make movement to the same rhythm, and are vitalized by the same energy. In this way, the Dionysian experience applies to ballroom dancing. After achieving a certain level of experience, the dancing actions become instinctive and passionate, yet gain fluidity and precision.

Similar to ancient Greek demarcations between divine and human, master and slave, culture and nature, adult and child, or Greece and Asia, ballroom dancing entails a demarcation between the pair: the "leader," man, and the "follower," woman. Ballroom dancing instructors sometimes say it's the woman's job to look good and the man's job to make the woman look good. It's hard to distinguish which has the more difficult role - the roles which each fulfill are tough to understand unless you have experience as a ballroom dancing leader or follower. Both roles require fleeting thought and not-strong thoughts -- thoughts much as I imagine fleet though the minds of chorus members during their Dionysus-guided encounters. Movements are instinctual - as the follower completes a move, the leader shifts a hand, and the follower complements the leader again.

When the dancing moves become complex and there's less time to prepare, the passion detonates and creates a new level of perception. The moves become more acute and alert on the parts of both the leader and the follower even though there's less conscious involvement; there's a paradox to both the Dionysian experience and ballroom dancing. There's the realization that there's so much to do, so much available, not enough opportunity to get it all done, and so the players break into another level of perception: agitation. This would be the frenzy that leads to inhuman acts such as the chorus vanquishing the king's guard or the dismemberment of Pentheus in The Bacchae. This would be the fervor and feeling of intoxication of professional dancers in performance. The unbridled Dionysian feeling flares forth.

Modern ballroom dancing becomes significantly more arresting and provocative when analyzed by the Dionysian experience. Moreover, it reveals an explanation as to what its revelers experienced when they transform from civil citizens to exposed, natural creatures. The heat of the passion, the energy, and the release of social and personal inhibitions that is produced with dance - namely, modern ballroom dance - parallels that of an ecstatic, celebrating chorus. . . and all of both literally ceases with the song's end.

Let's return to Pieces of Work!

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