Dancing As a Form of Expression

My new hobby is drawing mandalas for practicing mindfulness. Currently, I am using ancient dances as inspiration to draw them. I started using dances to base my mandala work for two reasons:

  1. The choreography resembles the structure of traditional mandalas. I see the dances as living mandalas.
  2. I always see movement in a mandala.

I find the dances very inspiring and the reason may be that both are forms of visual art based on repeatable patterns using movement or figures as building blocks to make more complex arrays. 

Ruth Finnegan in her book Communicating, The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection, explains that humans interact among themselves and with nature through the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. She emphasizes the senses as active channels for interpretation, communication, and constructive world-making. People can communicate verbally and non-verbally. Dancing is a form of non-verbal communication.[7]

The same author draws a classification for non-verbal communication resources from Burgoon and Guerrero (1994). These authors define seven non-verbal communication resources, used effectively in dancing:[7]

  1. Proxemics or the use of space
  2. Haptics or the use of touching
  3. Chronemics or the use of time
  4. Kinesics or the use of body movements
  5. Physical appearance or the use of carrying messages to others
  6. Vocalics as use of voice in different ways opposed to speech
  7. Artifacts as codes and vehicles of communication

When a person or a group of people dance, they do so in a structured space. The choreographies resemble often an imaginary circle where the act is played. Dancers will touch, get closer or further in rhythmic and repetitive manners, using haptics to create a direct connection with the other people or artifacts.

The beat, the number of steps before the next move, or a change in the music tone are all mechanisms for chronemics. The duration of the dance and of each stage are also examples of this form of non-verbal communication. 

The kinesics or body movements are key to tell the story or imagination behind the dance, for example in the Hula Dance, the performers will make specific movements to match the words of the poem recited by the men participating in the play[1]. The physical appearance also speaks about the setting and thematic of the dance. Using special make-up, costumes, hairstyles, strong or soft movements etc help the dancers to express the story in the correct framework. Vocalics and artifacts could be chants, drums, non-verbal mantras etc.

On the other hand, mandalas are also a visual artwork. They are usually defined by a circle, where repetitive patterns and symmetry give form and beauty to it. The elements of dance can be represented by associations between colors and feelings, shapes and energy. The elements in the dance are discrete and easily identifiable. Its movements can also be captured by repeating the element inside the circle[6]. Mandalas are a perfect instrument to capture movement, cycles, harmony and objects of experience. So, in my case, I am not drawing hunters after a herd in a wall of a cave as some of our ancestors did, but I am painting the dancers and the dance inside a mandala. These two mandalas were inspired by the dragon dance from China and the Hula dance from the Polynesian Islands.

The Mandalas

Credit: Maria Dorland @ 2017

The Dragon Dance from China

The Dragon Dance from China was an ancient ritual that which origins are traced to the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Its performance had several aims, from rituals to pray for rain to entertainment in festivals and honour royal guests[4]. On the other hand, Kelli [5]mentions on her website that Dragons are a symbol of honour, nobility, power, and luck for Chinese people. They are related to water, from rain to rivers, lakes and the ocean and they do not breathe fire as associated with the representation of dragons as evil in the Western countries. She describes the dance as follows: " The dragon dance is performed at many celebrations, e.g. Chinese New Year. Generally, there is a long dragon, spanning up to 70 meters, constructed using hoops made of bamboo covered with glistening fabric, and held by dancers." The Wikipedia page goes deeper and explains that the dancers' coordination requires skills that although not difficult, need them to adopt them at an intuitive level. The Dragon is made of bamboo sticks (or plastic, aluminium, etc), paper, a long cloth and has three important sections: the head, the middle and the tail. The head and the tail need to be coördinated in time with the head, and the middle section needs to be alert to changing patterns in the movement.[4]

9, 11, or 13 men hold the structure with long sticks. The head and the tail need to be coördinated with the head, and the middle section needs to be alert to changing patterns in the movement.

The modern China sees the Dragon Dance as a cultural symbol and it is not performed for religious purposes.

I Chose This Performance to Draw My Mandala

The Hula Dance

The Hula dance has mythical roots. It is said that the first Hula dance was performed by the goddess of fire, who was running away from her sister the goddess of the oceans, as a sign of victory when she found a safe place in a volcano[2]. As other, traditional rituals the Hula was performed as an offering to their gods, a sign for blessings and forms of prayer[3]. The Hula dance is not performed in its original form, but it is still used to bless parties and can even be danced in Christians churches as a pray to God. The original Hula, had several men singing a poem for the Goddess Laka and several women were expressing their words with movements and gestures[1]. This dance is very soft, flowy and harmonious, reminding the dancer and the observer of the seascapes of the Polynesian Islands, with waves, palm trees, winds, and flowers.

I Used the Hula Dance Shown in This Video as Inspiration