Within the closely claustrophobic non secular setting of The Dance Tree, dancing additionally goes in opposition to the grain. It’s, as Paracelsus so helpfully reminds us, a lot too pleasurable to be something apart from suspect. “Dance has such an enormous position in so many cultures outdoors our personal, significantly in Indian tradition,” Millwood-Hargrave explains. “By way of religion and motion… they’re simply completely good bedfellows, as a result of the purest expression of devotion is in physique.” However inside non secular establishments that demand quiet piety, such gestures develop into harmful. “It is a actually attention-grabbing factor to me that these ladies won’t ever have been inspired to maneuver….” continues Millwood-Hargrave. “In each different means church is so theatrical within the place and time of the ebook: these lovely buildings, scent, incense, the beeswax, the garments, it is all so camp and so theatre. However when you’re in there, you are still and also you’re silent… It is theatre, with out the warmth, with out the precise bodily connection between folks.”
A dance plague for each age
Occasions of mass dysfunction have all the time captivated artists. There’s something basically fascinating in a second the place the social material breaks, conference changed with a lot weirder and extra inexplicable happenings. Within the case of choreomania, what emerges just isn’t solely a way of entrancement or self-destruction (one other fashionable inventive theme), however bodily protest. At present, the concept of a dance plague registers not solely as an oddity, however one thing extra liberatory. As scary as an unstoppable dance may be, there’s an attract to it too. What would possibly occur if we allowed ourselves to be correctly carried away? What may very well be achieved with that feeling if it was replicated within the our bodies of a whole lot of different folks shifting round us?
This was not all the time the case. As Gotman explores in her ebook, as soon as upon a time a dancing plague – nonetheless it was conceived – was one thing to be seen with suspicion. In her analysis on Nineteenth-Century approaches to choreomania, she found an alarmed angle wrapped up in colonial thought and concern of otherness. “There was an actual articulation of a model of modernity, as being in distinction to what was understood as extra female, extra animal, extra wild, and untamed,” she tells me of the medical and historic writings she found within the Victorian period. “There was a racist and extremely gendered discourse that was taking form.”
At that time, when contextualising new perceived situations of choreomania, the medieval interval was a handy body for understanding it. “The medieval… was in comparison with the African, largely as this sort of backward, non-European, pre-modern [period],” she explains. The very idea of “dance mania” was a helpful political device, permitting cross-comparison with – and dismissal of – protests and practises involving any aspect of bodily motion. Gotman provides the instance of puppet ruler King Radama II, who took management of Madagascar in 1861. When his folks confirmed their displeasure, “exercising their proper to protest in opposition to these kingdoms [that] bought off their lands to the Europeans,” with the king finally deposed, it was simple for colonial missionaries to dismiss these actions as simply one other instance of choreomania, transmuting a political protest right into a mere occasion of insanity.
Now the prevailing temper has shifted. It’s exactly the femininity and otherness of a dancing plague that makes it attention-grabbing. For at present’s artist or thinker, it’s each historic curio and image. On the centre is an easy thought. A bunch of individuals begin to dance and might’t cease. However why they dance, and to what ends, stays an open-ended query: one that may be requested repeatedly, with totally different solutions relying on what’s being sought. Insanity. Starvation. Protest. Freedom. Pleasure. Ecstasy. Within the creativeness, nonetheless, the dancers’ ft stay endlessly in movement, shifting to their very own, inscrutable rhythm.
Dance Fever by Florence + the Machine and The Dance Tree by Kiran Millwood Hargrave are out now.
And in case you favored this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, referred to as The Important Listing. A handpicked number of tales from BBC Future, Tradition, Worklife and Journey, delivered to your inbox each Friday.