How Can The Arts Create Cultural Cohesion In Our Community?June 22, 2021
Rhythm is Life: Bringing dance back to the people
Growing up in Mozambique, dancing and music everywhere and very much a part of social life. There was no such thing as a party without dancing. In fact, it was only when I moved to Portugal at 18 that I came across the idea of a party without dancing - and sometimes without music!
In my mind it was simple: in order for a party to start, dancing needed to happen first!
Instead, I’d go to these social gatherings called ‘parties’ and wait all night for them to begin - only to realise that the ‘party’ was over and all we did was talk, talk, talk.
I also found this same culture of parties without dancing when I came to Australia - except that it was slightly worse! The culture of binge-drinking meant that people typically only got up to dance when drunk - if they were to dance at all. Here, dancing is mostly seen as something that belongs exclusively to the stage or to dance studios rather than an integral part of social events and occasions.
As a dance therapist, I often wonder what we might be missing out on as a society as a result?
Since early human history, people have used dance as a way to express their innermost desires and struggles. Dance was often part of rituals and ceremonies to restore harmony within and between communities - and with the natural world. Dance rituals offered a way for people to come together and access their inner and collective power. This is still the case for many First Nations people and people connected to their ancestral cultures and traditions today. However, many of us live in societies that are largely disconnected from traditional ways of life and honouring ancestral arts practices. In the absence of such rituals and ceremonies, I would argue that we are living in a spiritual vacuum that is crying out to be filled.
In mainstream Australian society, we are told that we are a multicultural country. Yes, we are a country of people from many different places and cultures. And yes, we have kept some rituals that mark important events in our lives, such as weddings, anniversaries and funerals. However, we are fractured by differences and many of our communities are isolated from one another, as organised by subcultures.
As a society, we lack social rituals that bring people together and bridge the distance between us. Dance is a very powerful vehicle for this.
Based on non-verbal exchange, dance has the ability to enhance emotional understanding and empathy for others. When moving together, we connect and communicate across our differences bypassing discussion and argument. There's a shared energy that cultivates a reciprocal acknowledgement and acceptance of our self-worth and personal struggles. This reciprocity is supported by the body-mind connection. Movements are linked to a complex set of neural pathways in our brains. When moving our bodies in new ways, we can rewire our brains, breaking free from old ways of feeling, perceiving, thinking, and being.
In a culture where dance typically belongs to the stage or dance studios, it’s time to demystify dance and bring it back to the people. This is the inspiration behind our Rhythm is Life program. We wanted to bring people together and heal social divisions using the power of dance.
In Rhythm is Life sessions, people from different cultures, races, and socio-economic backgrounds connect with each other, share positive experiences and build relationships based on genuine trust. Our sessions are facilitated by artists of First Nations, Refugee, Asylum Seeker and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds who are empowered to share their cultural traditions and knowledge. No dance experience is needed to participate and the focus is on reframing what dance is. It’s not about looking good, doing it right, or performing - it’s about what it feels inside when we move in sync with each other. Sessions are designed to offer a safe and inclusive space for confident and authentic self-expression, social interaction, and cultural exchange, fostering a feeling of mutual support where people feel seen, heard and valued.
Our goal is to facilitate experiences that will help people to develop new ways of perceiving, thinking, feeling and being in the world that are more compassionate and reciprocal. In the current context of COVID-19 and social isolation, we believe this work is needed more than ever. Thanks to our amazing team at Heartdancers, we have adapted our program to work online and we would love for you to join us for a dance, wherever you are!
Written by Janina Murta, Rhythm is Life Program Director
Testimonial: This is a wonderful class in terms of building community, with all different cultures coming to this class, and we get to know each other...I have a lot of fun...I think it adds immense value to our community and to each person individually.” ()
Andrew Urbanski, Rhythm is Life participant
For more about Janina and her dance therapy work, click here.