What we discuss once we discuss dance

Phrases by Elspeth Wilson. Elspeth took half in our Visitor Writers improvement programme, supported by Arts Council England.

There’s a degree of exhaustion that my physique experiences the place I do know that the one motion I can do is dance. It’s a tiredness that appears like that furry feeling you get in your enamel once they’re too sugary, that comes from not leaving my flat usually sufficient, from the ache of being inside on a sunny day, from having stayed up too late taking part in the Sims, from imagining what my life might be like in one other universe. These tirednesses can solely be fastened by dance. 

And so they can solely be fastened by a dance that it’s accessible in the best right here, proper now means. This want – which feels as pressing as the necessity to bathe once you really feel gross – is how I got here to find YouTube dance train movies usually and MadFit specifically. MadFit (a channel run by Canadian Maddie Lymburner which posts a spread of various sorts of train movies) has nearly 8 million subscribers. Throughout lockdown, following these movies turned a approach to without delay escape and situate myself in my physique. Nonetheless now, if I’m having a nasty day and know I gained’t have the ability to do one other type of motion, sweating in my pyjamas as I try to comply with ‘One Route dance occasion exercise’ is how I come again to myself. This sort of on a regular basis, home dance is how I make my physique a house.


Within the first lockdown, after I was flinging myself about my room to the sounds of 80s hits, my buddy began filming dances along with her household on TikTok. She posted one or two on her non-public Instagram account and I discovered them gentle and enjoyable throughout a troublesome time and gave them an informal like. It wasn’t till a number of years later that I spoke to her extra about her TikTok dances and realised simply how into it she was. She advised me that she’d tried to study numerous routines that had been widespread on the time when she’d been isolating along with her mother and father. I might inform from her face that the dances had purchased her happiness and motion when she was in any other case restricted, but in addition that she was uncomfortable speaking about it. 

“It’s probably the most embarrassing factor I’ve carried out in my life,” she advised me. “Nobody can see them.” I protested and reassured, telling her about my crap dancing in a birthday video that was as soon as posted on Fb for a buddy. Ultimately, she agreed to inform me the title of her account if I didn’t inform anybody else. I promised. Later at residence, I watched my buddy dance with vitality and confidence and the occasional misstep, wanting lovely, joyous and glad. 

Just a few months later, I see some 13 year-olds filming their TikTok video on the entrance seats of the bus. My first intuition is to cough till I catch myself. The giggles and hilarity ensuing from their dance are infectious and blow away my snobbishness.


MadFit, Taylor Swift – MIDNIGHTS DANCE PARTY (10 min, full physique exercise), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWHz91l5bos

Once I was youthful, I danced on a regular basis, each in exhibits I placed on myself for my long-suffering mother and father and in addition on stage by native youth theatre and dance corporations. As I turned a young person, self-consciousness set in as I realised I didn’t have the type of physique deemed ‘proper’ for dance – I used to be too huge, too tall, too booby. Later, when the ache got here, it felt like I used to be additional away from dance than I had ever been. I didn’t even dance on nights out anymore and I ached for these pure moments of abandon.

The (return) path to bop is meandering, usually stunning and all too widespread after earlier misdirection. 


For most individuals, the type of dance that we consider as being part of ‘tradition’ is a separable, subtle factor that performs little to no half of their day by day lives. Most individuals don’t do or watch ballet, most individuals don’t go and see dance in prescribed places at prescribed occasions, or attend any type of formalised dance class. However lots of people do have interaction in train movies. And lots of people do watch Tiktok. And other people do dance – they transfer their our bodies, they’ve enjoyable, whether or not it’s for digital camera or whether or not it’s at an previous buddy’s marriage ceremony or whether or not it’s after sugary alcopops in a darkish membership at 3am.

What does it imply once we don’t discuss this? What does it imply when billions of our bodies are mendacity within the clean areas on the web page once we discuss dance? 


Dance is one thing I do badly however I take pleasure in it. As knowledgeable author, I’ve discovered it essential to have creativity in my life that isn’t in service of particular person betterment or monetary acquire. If something, pursuing (a type of) artwork in knowledgeable capability has made me really feel extra strongly about the necessity to promote and protect entry to artwork as one thing enjoyable, foolish, and playful.

Gillie Kleiman, who wrote a rating referred to as buddy, which is particularly for non-professional dancers, discusses what may be misplaced within the technique of professionalising one’s ardour when she talks about her love for dance as a young person; “Up till this level I had in all probability seen not more than 10 skilled performances (and plenty of youth and neighborhood performances), so I didn’t know to what I used to be relating, and it didn’t happen to me to care. I simply wished to do it. It was enjoyable.” In the identical blogpost which displays on the delight of creating artwork exterior your skilled artform, Kleiman goes on to say “Making artwork is incredible. However ‘being an artist’ has so many drawbacks.”

In fact, there must be far better accessibility for skilled dancers however one thing is misplaced once we don’t widen our thought of accessibility to additionally take into consideration the non-professional. The division between ‘excessive’ and ‘low’ tradition itself is inaccessible – it says that the type of dance that I do, the type of dance that thousands and thousands of individuals watch every single day is someway worse. The subtext is that this sort of accessibility shouldn’t be one thing to be celebrated – that just some our bodies ought to dance and for these our bodies which are deemed worthy, they need to solely dance in sure methods at sure occasions. 

Maybe the worst half about TikTok is that concurrently making dance enjoyable, public and (broadly) watchable, it additionally doubtlessly professionalises dance for all of us. In giving everyone the power to go viral, there’s at all times the possibility – nonetheless slim – that one might grow to be a TikTok star and thus monetise one’s dancing. While there must be far better rights and higher cost for arts staff, in addition to extra clear routes for working in dance for individuals who wish to, there must also be extra routes to bop usually for anybody and everybody. I really feel like we don’t discuss that sufficient – the enjoyment of doing issues badly, the irreverence and sheer enjoyable of dancing for and together with your physique, it doesn’t matter what it seems like.


My physique – with its ache, its clumsiness, its lack of coordination, and its sporadic mobility issues – appears like one that’s destined to be designated as ‘viewers’ within the dance world. It appears like its job is to react within the applicable trend, to look at, to gasp, to snort (however solely in the best locations), to watch. This was the function I carried out, obediently and nicely, for thus a few years. YouTube jogged my memory that I may be each that and one thing else, and even each on the similar time. Audiences don’t must be static or versus. They don’t even must exist in any respect.


My our bodies dances with capitalism. It dances with capitalism after I watch MadFit and I’ve to pause when the advert breaks come on as a result of YouTube consistently finds methods to dodge my adblocker. Your physique dances with capitalism too, whether or not you simply transfer it a sure approach to swerve spherical closing practice doorways or whether or not you’re knowledgeable dancer who dances for a corporation that’s sponsored by different (business) corporations or in any other case has to have interaction in capitalist fashions of funding and income. 

TikTok and YouTube is likely to be apparent of their capitalism and the way in which they exist to mine your consideration and information. Evidently, we have to critique the large issues inherent in these information giants and the way in which they try to make having time with associates right into a efficiency of conviviality for an viewers. However this doesn’t imply that we should always low cost types of dance that may be viral of their sense of camaraderie and enjoyable, in addition to algorithmically. 

On social media, I’ve seen extra sorts of our bodies dance than I’ve ever seen earlier than, and irreverence and playfulness that I haven’t skilled since I used to be a toddler. We simply have to dream larger. I wish to reside in a world the place we will dance on the bus or at residence or wherever, for ourselves or for associates or whoever, with no matter physique and vary of motion is obtainable to us on the time. The place my buddy might be pleased with her TikTok dance movies and never have to cover behind a deluge of ‘it was just for enjoyable’s. I need all that and never only for an app or for likes. However maybe we now have to just accept that the proliferation of social media has confirmed us the very beginnings of what a extra liberated (dance) world might appear like. 

There must be so many possibilities to bop in life. My physique will in search of them when nothing else will do. I’ll be dancing to Taylor Swift alone late at evening in my room. I’ll be doing MadFit movies and whirling spherical and spherical when the advertisements are taking part in in order that the frenzy of my very own blood in my ears blocks out the sounds of somebody attempting to promote me one thing. I’ll know that after I want an opportunity to flee in a means that appears to totally different attainable futures, I’ll at all times have the ability to return to the highs of ‘90s throwback dance occasion’.