Among the performing arts, dancing requires a special discussion. Is there an abstract meaning in dancing? What does dancing express?
The dance is the silent partner of music and participates in a division of labor: music presents a stylized version of man’s consciousness in action—the dance presents a stylized version of man’s body in action. “Stylized” means condensed to essential characteristics, which are chosen according to an artist’s view of man.
Music presents an abstraction of man’s emotions in the context of his cognitive processes—the dance presents an abstraction of man’s emotions in the context of his physical movements. The task of the dance is not the projection of single, momentary emotions, not a pantomime version of joy or sorrow or fear, etc., but a more profound issue: the projection of metaphysical value-judgments, the stylization of man’s movements by the continuous power of a fundamental emotional state—and thus the use of man’s body to express his sense of life.
Every strong emotion has a kinesthetic element, experienced as an impulse to leap or cringe or stamp one’s foot, etc. Just as a man’s sense of life is part of all his emotions, so it is part of all his movements and determines his manner of using his body: his posture, his gestures, his way of walking, etc. We can observe a different sense of life in a man who characteristically stands straight, walks fast, gestures decisively—and in a man who characteristically slumps, shuffles heavily, gestures limply. This particular element—the overall manner of moving—constitutes the material, the special province of the dance. The dance stylizes it into a system of motion expressing a metaphysical view of man.
A system of motion is the essential element, the pre-condition of the dance as an art. An indulgence in random movements, such as those of children romping in a meadow, may be a pleasant game, but it is not art. The creation of a consistently stylized, metaphysically expressive system is so rare an achievement that there are very few distinctive forms of dancing to qualify as art. Most dance performances are conglomerations of elements from different systems and of random contortions, arbitrarily thrown together, signifying nothing. A male or a female skipping, jumping or rolling over a stage is no more artistic than the children in the meadow, only more pretentious.
Within each system, specific emotions may be projected or faintly suggested, but only as the basic style permits. Strong passions or negative emotions cannot be projected in ballet, regardless of its librettos; it cannot express tragedy or fear—or sexuality; it is a perfect medium for the expression of spiritual love. The Hindu dance can project passions, but not positive emotions; it cannot express joy or triumph, it is eloquent in expressing fear, doom—and a physicalistic kind of sexuality.
Music is an independent, primary art; the dance is not. In view of their division of labor, the dance is entirely dependent on music. With the emotional assistance of music, it expresses an abstract meaning; without music, it becomes meaningless gymnastics. It is music, the voice of man’s consciousness, that integrates the dance to man and to art. Music sets the terms; the task of the dance is to follow, as closely, obediently and expressively as possible. The tighter the integration of a given dance to its music—in rhythm, in mood, in style, in theme—the greater its esthetic value.
A clash between dance and music is worse than a clash between actor and play: it is an obliteration of the entire performance. It permits neither the music nor the dance to be integrated into an esthetic entity in the viewer’s mind—and it becomes a series of jumbled motions superimposed on a series of jumbled sounds.