2020 has stopped us in our tracks in many ways, but we don’t have to give up on creative movement.
When we began writing our book, Dancing through the dissonance: Creative movement and peacebuilding, we never imagined it would be released during a global pandemic. In recent years dance has taken on increasingly visible roles in politics around the world, including being used for activism challenging violence, promoting peace, and encouraging connections across difference. In efforts to contain Covid-19, social distancing efforts mean we’ve been physically separated.
Yet dance continues to connect people, in local communities and across vast distances as we move together even from a distance. This sustained presence of dance resonates with us, since we see dance as an important non-verbal means of expression that provides an avenue for political dialogue and an embodied way to understand social and political change. We believe these are crucial aspects of creating the world we want to see going forward.
In our book, Dancing through the dissonance, we consider how a youth led NGO and its participants deployed dance for peacebuilding across three contexts—Colombia, the Philippines, and the United States. We explore how dance, as an aesthetic, embodied medium, can embrace emotions and supplement and sustain other forms of dialogue. In working with youth seeking peaceful social and political change, we learned about many ways dance can facilitate empathy and support relationships and understanding across difference. The young peacebuilders we talked to in the research emphasised the need for creativity, finding new ways of expression, and paying close attention to local contexts and differences amongst and between them. All of these insights remain critical today as we grapple with a changing environment.
In one chapter of our book, we focus on group dance exchange activities, which we learned could serve as vehicles for cross-cultural moments of connection, and provide opportunities for (re)creating identities in ways that can support peacebuilding. While our understandings of this potential are evolving as we adapt to shifting circumstances, the good thing is, we don’t have to start from scratch. Around the world, people of all ages, cultures, and social positions are doing the important work of helping us imagine ways we can connect with our bodies and navigate the world with approaches that also account for the health and wellbeing of others.
Consider, for example, how Indigenous and First Nations dancers have shared Social Distance Powwows and Jingle dances as a an act of healing. Meanwhile, citizens of democracies are also using dance to engage in action for change, such as in Belgium, where medical workers used dance as a means to protest the government’s handling of coronavirus. Even high powered decision-makers have been joining in the public dancing—politicians in Norway, performed a physically distant dance to celebrate their national day, May 17, while politicians in the United States have been holding digital dance parties. All these examples show us that dance is politically powerful and thus an important area to examine in seeking peaceful and just ways of reorienting our bodies, our lives, and our societies in these fast-moving times.
As the pandemic continues we are all becoming choreographers, navigating our way through changes we couldn’t have imagined only months ago. Concepts such as personal space and the idea of a ‘bubble’, often used in a dance and peace education programs, are now measured in meters and indicated by markers on the floor in shops. A walk to the park now requires assessing our space in relation to others, and determining the optimal path for traversing that space safely. Embodiment is central throughout our research on peacebuilding, and we believe that this enhanced awareness of bodies holds potential for adding to our shared understandings of peacebuilding.
Now is an important time to refocus on our bodies in space and how we build connections through movement, even when physically separated. Around the world, people have turned to dance to connect, create meaning, and pass time.
For example, many have joined TikTok, a dance-based app, which has exploded in popularity, especially amongst young people. The World Health Organisation, has even drawn on the app’s popularity, using it to share ad campaigns and amplify public health messages for young people. But perhaps the most interesting features of TikTok are not videos depicting perfect performances, but rather those showing people making mistakes and trying again until they ‘get it’.
In this way, dance reminds of us a crucial lesson for these times: even when we make a misstep, we can take a breath, reorganise our bodies, our spaces, and have a go at something new. In this unknown place where we find ourselves, may we find some comfort and creativity in movement as we continue to dance through this dissonance, standing together even when far apart.
By Lesley Pruitt and Erica Rose Jeffrey
Lesley Pruitt is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia
Erica Rose Jeffrey is a Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute, Australia
Dancing through the dissonance: Creative movement and peacebuilding by Lesley Pruitt and Erica Rose Jeffrey is available to buy now.