Former Worldchanging intern Bryan Mitchner has recently returned from his study abroad adventure in Russia and China, and has brought home some exciting tales to share. What follows is his story about the power of shared experience, and his discovery of what he has decided to call Community Supported Dancing (CSD).
We often talk about Community Supported Agriculture here at Worldchanging -- in fact we've even talked about Community Supported Forests and Fisheries. And in line with the theme, I would now like to introduce Community Supported Dancing. With all the same benefits of these other community supported endeavors (mainly, simplifying an activity by using the power of a group), CSD really nails down community in terms of community building.
I experienced Community Supported Dancing (though I'm sure there was no such name for it) in the first city I visited in China: Suifenhe, on the border of Russia. Though it probably has something to do with my abundant love to dance, I was blown away by my experience here. As a couple of friends and I walked the crowded streets of Suifenhe at night, we began to hear music and followed our ears to a public square filled with people. The square was overflowing with rows of people in what resembled line dancing (forwards and backwards movement rather than side to side). Each song (and there were many) had its own routine. When I hear music, it's hard for me not to bust a move or two, so, we jumped in.
And the community was fully supportive. Noticing our interest, the Chinese were extremely encouraging and supported our effort. It got to the point that when we tried to leave, they were hollering for us to come back. After an encore performance, we left with handshakes and smiles.
We discovered that the cultural tradition of group dancing happens in city centers all across China. We learned that the dance is community oriented in all possible aspects, and everyone is encouraged to be involved: parents, children, grandparents, young couples and even foreigners.
Community Supported Dancing has many implications for the Chinese people that could have an astonishing effect on other people's lives and communities. In addition to bringing the entire community together, CSD also encourages physical activity. The Chinese Government calls it "sports dancing." I'll be honest, as I was working to keep up with the four-year-old on my left and the middle-aged fella in front of me, I definitely broke out a sweat. So something as simple and fun as dancing, in effect, maintains a healthy Chinese population.
While China's dancing tradition just speaks to the overall beauty of Chinese culture, it undoubtedly is something we could learn from in the United States. American culture seems, to me, to be too stratified in regards of generations. Sure Americans love to dance, but for the most part we do it as separate generations. The only similar experience I can draw from here at home is of a wedding. Everyone dances with everyone at weddings, and it's an all around good time. Imagine a weekly, public wedding dance party in your community bringing all people together to meet and enjoy each other. I can't imagine anything better.
If you know of any similar programs in the USA or around the world, we wold love to hear about them in the comments below.
I learned during an Americorps term that while you are in rhythm with someone, it is basically impossible to have negative feelings about that person. This applies to everything from throwing a ball back and forth to dancing. It seems to support your CSD idea.
There is a burgeoning contra dance movement in the U.S. Popular in the 1970s, especially in New England, contra dancing is based in English/Scottish and other European traditional folk dances. It sounds similar to what you describe (lines of people partner dancing together - sometimes combined with square dancing).
Some of the original groups in the Northeast have been on-going since the 1970s and 1980s and it also seems to be experiencing a renaissance with a younger generation. It is great fun, inexpensive, community-oriented, social, and good exercise.
We can certainly create these programs or simply go out on the streets and start dancing...well if you don't get arrested for being crazy. But seriously, this is an inspiration.
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