I trained as a dancer for 15 years, but I never knew why dance was so important to me – until now_remove freckles under eyes

I trained as a dancer for 15 years, but I never knew why dance was so important to me – until nowMaking the documentary Why We Dance taught me that humans have to dance: it’s vital to our existence

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Making the documentary Why We Dance taught me that humans have to dance: it’s vital to our existence

Nathalie Bibeau(CBC / Why We Dance)

I was charmed by neuroscientist Erich Jarvis and his dance partner and research associate Sadye Paez. We dove deep into convergent evolution; I learned why we have more in common with a cockatoo than with a chimpanzee when it comes to dance. And it certainly didn't hurt to dance along with Erich and Sadye behind the camera as they performed their salsa routine on the rooftop of The Rockefeller University in New York City! 

Closer to home,Laura Cirelli's work at the Tempo Lab at the University of Toronto Scarborough gave me new insight into how nearly all of us learn to move to a beat at an early point in our lives. We don't react to the beat — we predict it. And we start trying to do this even before we can walk. 

In fact, all the elements of dance are learned while we are still tiny beings. As Lamothe observes in the documentary, we imitate patterns of movement and synchronize our movements with our caregivers from infancy. We play with and practice those movements as we grow, and we become the movements we are making.

This suite of skills that finds expression in dance makes us who we are. We don't dance because we're human. We are human because we dance.

To dance is to exist and to thrive

In the end, one of the last scenes we filmed brought home my understanding of what dance truly is.  

We gathered on a beach in Toronto very early in the morning. As the sun rose, dancers from Red Sky Performance performed a stunning, moving dance on the sand. I was in awe of them.

'Our dances here in Canada were outlawed, illegal, banned. We could not dance.' | Why We Dance

2 months agoDuration 1:39In 1921, the head of the Department of Indian Affairs wrote a letter describing why Indigenous people should not be allowed to dance. Sandra Laronde, artistic and executive director at Red Sky Performance, says dance never went away. It just went underground.1:39

Red Sky is a contemporary Indigenous performance group. Sandra Laronde, the executive and artistic director, was there with us that morning. 

She said, "We dance for people who cannot."

I was left speechless by the power of that moment.

As part of the systemic oppression of Indigenous people by the colonial powers in this country, Indigenous dances were outlawed completely between 1925 and 1951, with some ceremonies banned as early as 1884. For generations, Indigenous dance went underground until it was safe for it to resurface.

To dance is to exist and to thrive. If you take away dance, you take away an essential element of culture and the means of expression that defines that culture. 

As the dancers clawed their way out of the sand that foggy morning, all I had lived while making this film was transcended. Conscious of my rhythmic breath, as I watched the camera dance with them, I was captured by the moment and the generations of survival it took to get there. I was connecting to them, the sand, the water and the air, and to myself in a new way, as parts of a singular, fluid moment in the grand dance of evolution.

I set out to make a film where science, art, performance and culture were intertwined, a film in which my own daughter dances. But the experience went much deeper than that for me, in ways that can't quite be expressed in words — perhaps only in dance. 

Watch Why We Danceon The Nature of Things.


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