Book Review

Jane Alexandre

Making Dances That Matter: Resources for Community Creativity

Anna Halprin with Rachel Kaplan
Middletown, Connecticut:  Wesleyan University Press, 2019

Anna Halprin has long been engaged in community-based, socially conscious dance making.  Writing here with Kaplan, a psychotherapist working in somatic healing, she provides detailed instruction first on conducting community workshops aimed at creative development and healing of ills, and second on staging her large-scale peace work, “Planetary Dance”.  The overarching goal is to provide ways for communities of every ilk to be formed, made stronger, and developed through the act of addressing their own pressing needs:  “Part of the challenge I have faced in my work is to take our practice of mostly ornamental or performative dance to a place where it can serve multiple community, social, and survival needs.  This is a book about creating dances that matter to people in their real lives, repurposing dance as a vehicle for social change and community resilience…”

Halprin believes in the existence of universal human responses—across differences of culture, location, and tradition—and that they can be best expressed through the body.  Her hope is that by engaging in creative exercises together (for which she lays out detailed instruction and template) we can “learn to re-weave our personal experiences into the fabric of the larger human experience, [turning] a story into a ‘myth’ and a dance into a ‘ritual’ ” that helps individual communities find new ways forward.

Drawings, notations, and photographs detail the processes of the workshop “Circle the Earth:  Dancing with Life on the Line”; and the “Planetary Dance”; readers can take the material and develop it within their own communities.  Halprin’s driving principle is that “as life experiences deepen, art expression expands”—and vice versa.  The creative exercises follow six intentions:  to maximize participation, encourage diversity, search for commonality, generate creativity, encourage life change, growth and healing, and develop aesthetic standards.

Halprin is alert to– and careful about– drawing connections to traditional ritual:  “Although there are underlying principles governing the rituals of traditional cultures, we cannot borrow or imitate them.  We can bow to the enduring power of dance ritual that our ancestors knew in their bones, but we must return to the narratives that are really our own—living in our own bodies, speaking about our own experiences—to forge a new way of honoring our human dignity.”

Clearly, Halprin says, we need to alter our relationships with each other and the earth.  She offers for our considerations the possibilities inherent in “the creation of symbolic systems, stories, and rituals that support our need for connection, contact, and continuity” in the direction of healing.

-Jane Alexandre