Dance Is Life

Fred D'Aguiar - Blacksburg, Virginia
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, March 30, 2012
Fred D'Aguiar

Although he makes his living with words, poet Fred D'Aguiar is enthralled by dance: from the physicality of the art, to its powers to inspire and heal. D’Aguiar believes dance can be a source for peace, if we all join in and move to the global groove.

Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in dance. Dance as magic, dance as cure and dance as a metaphor for life. All types of dances, all movement committed to an aesthetic of the body, of bone, flesh, blood moving in concert, infused with intuitive thought, positive vibes as Bob Marley dubbed it, thought buried in physical detail. Dancers, you magicians, Mr. Bojangles, Martha Graham, Baryshnikov — I call on you; help me with my argument.

End the mind-body dichotomy. The body speaks to the mind. You scratch my back and I will tickle your mind. Let our heads move to the groove of our spinal columns.

I grew up in 1960s Guyana and ’70s London on a staple diet of dance. In Guyana I danced to calypso or kaiso, reggae and dub, lots of hips twisting opposite matching twisting hips and laughter and sweat. My youth in England pulsed with that currency of the soul variously known as love vibes, passion fashion, boogie-woogie blues.

My body and mind unified behind a unique cocktail of socially aware lyrics and compelling rhythms. As I dipped and hopped and spun to songs that called for equality, food for all, world peace, planet love, singing as a moral project, a ministry through song to a dancing congregation.

Dance is magic. One time I threw a nightdress at my woman as we danced and all she had to do was hold up her arms for the silk dress to land a perfect fit on her perfect body, another time I danced opposite a woman and I knew from our movements of pure Euclidean geometry that she would be mine, yet another time I landed in New Zealand and Maori warriors approached me as if they would kill me where I stood, they foot-stomped, thrust spears and high-kicked, only to stop inches from my face to rub noses with me.

Dance is a cure. When I worked as a psychiatric nurse in London, a sick woman, anxious and hair-pulling and thin with worry, danced her way from neurosis to happiness in three weeks of aerobic bliss. And the nurses decompressed from the cares of their day by dancing the night away.

Dance is life, a moral project; if only nations could gather to dance, twist their territorial and trade disputes into the dust, and conjure peace. If only Coca-Coca taught the world to dance in perfect harmony. I see Neil Armstrong’s first step as the start of a moon-dance for mankind. Imagine the Constitution, “We the dancers,” or “I dance therefore it is self-evident that all bodies are created equal.”

Like a lot of people I think through difficult issues while dancing. “I dance therefore I am.” Dance could be the method for understanding the most arcane concepts like nanotechnology, quantum mechanics, or the poetry theory of Sprung Rhythm? To the politicians in this election year I say, if you must carry a big stick at least dance with it. And to the citizens, I invite you to dance for the greater good, one and all.

Fred D’Aguiar is a poet and novelist. His most recent book, his twelfth, is Continental Shelf, a collection of poems published in 2009 by Carcanet Press. D’Aguiar teaches at Virginia Tech where he is Gloria D. Smith Professor of English.

Homepage photo by Valencia Community College. Essay page photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt.