Dance has meant many things to many poets. Some, like Denise Levertov, see themselves in the role of the dancer:
to leap becomes, while it lasts,
heart pounding, breath hurting,
the deepest, the only joy.
Others, like William Meredith, place themselves in the audience:
/ am but one among your crowd of starers,
One of the blur of shirt-fronts and hands clapping.
There are those who admire the ballerina, as does Norma Farber:
Dancer, how do you rise?
The ground sends me.
Grace suspends me.
While Adrian Mitchell prefers an earthier genre:
....big dancers, they stamp and they stamp fast,
Trying to keep their balance on the globe.
Carl Sandburg wrote some lines for Gene Kelly to tap dance to:
Can you dance a couple of commas?
And bring it to a finish with a period?
Sacheverell Sitwell was enchanted by the Bayaderes:
They sway like young trees with wind upon their leaves
In an airy rapture........
And Thomas Hardy imagined Grandma Jenny swooping through:
The favourite Quick-step "Speed the Plough” –
(Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)
"The Triumph", "Sylph", "The Row-dow-dow",
Famed "Major Malley's Reel".......
The pleasures of dance and of poetry are manifold. Some dancers are happiest with the steps of classical ballet; others prefer jazz or jigs. Some poets choose to describe dancers in sonnets; others in free verse. The choices are numerous. The riches are here for the reader to enjoy.
Selma Jeanne Cohen
This anthology, as is often the case with anthologies, grew out of a personal collection — a few poems on dance encountered by chance and put aside to read again and again. Another collecting passion, postage stamps on dance, will have to wait much longer for publication. These two collections appear to me as complementary. One can find no better way of putting side by side pictures of dance from every country in the world than through postage stamps. And there is no better way of covering the immense spectrum of aspects of dance, than by turning to the poets of the world. Much more than critics, historians or other scholars of dance, poets capture dance as a total phenomenon. No wonder, since dance is at the same time local and universal, ephemeral and eternal.
One of the most intriguing things about dance is that this art form provokes so many different emotions and ideas, and is so rich and powerful to the body as well as to the eyes. Yet, seen in a inter-ethnic and diachronic context, the dominant dance forms of today, the ones usually seen performed in television and theatres, the ones danced in schools and discotheques, seem restricted. The conception of dance within modern Western civilization is, inevitably, very limited since, in other cultures and other time periods, people danced and thought of dance differently. If one's view of dance is to be enlarged, watching dances from other countries is necessary; furthermore, learning, practising and understanding their meaning.
So much has been written about dance being a universal language, a form of expression that readily crosses frontiers and is easily appreciated by foreign peoples. European Community planners have selected dance for priority support because among the arts dance is a non-verbal, hence convenient language for promoting understanding between nations. Most of the poerns in the following pages suggest that dance is not one language but very many, plus countless local dialects. Each indivual has his own unique dance/speech within his dance/ mother-tongue. Dance Esperantos like ballet or disco may become universal, or disappear like so many verbal and non-verbal languages throughout history.
A central preoccupation of dancers, teachers, choreographers and critics alike concerns quality: how to produce choreography with greater creativity as well as better trained dancers. This book argues, in its own way, for quantity: increased participation in dance. In a world where people gradually accustom themselves to being entertained by others, dance as a popular art faces a long-term threat. Entertainment is becoming synonymous with remaining seated, whether in the theatre, in a restaurant, or in front of the television, passively consuming a programme prepared by others. Sitting is the greatest enemy of dance. The future may bring fewer and fewer people dancing, leaving this experience to highly trained professionals. The ability to use song, music and dance in their simplest forms in order to entertain oneself is being lost.
Looking at the future, the evolution of dance is predictable. One has only to examine music - but also eating and working - to understand that they have undergone the same phases of transformation. Deritualized at first, then repressed as primary needs of the body, their practice is gradually specialized in terms of people, time and space. Next, they are sold as a spectacle and, as such, their consumption must be generalized. The final stage is stockpiling by large corporations through control of reproduction and distribution. In this process, inherent meanings are lost with mere commodities as a result. Dance is obviously becoming fetishized as merchandise, a fact dance ethnographers discover when confronted with cultures where dance remains a ritual. Given a similar perspective, poetry seems to offer a salutary refuge for the future because poetry will certainly be the last art to follow the above course.
Dance poetry is, first of all, poetry of enjoyment. Too much stress is put on creative freedom and technique when referring to theatrical dance, too much importance is given to recreation when speaking of social dance. We tend to forget that dance, as a means of "knowing" one's partner and one's self - in the spiritual as well as in the carnal sense - is or should be one of the most enjoyable activities known to humanity. Dance poetry celebrates that fact; and therefore is more often than not likely to arouse or titillate the reader's appetite for dancing.
Although the specimens presented in this book inevitably reflect the anthologist's taste, their selection was made with the reader's pleasure in mind. Poems were not included for their historical, literary or sociological interest. Other criteria used were the broadening of the spectrum as regards dance forms, time periods and approaches to dance. Translations already published were considered, which means that some extraordinary poems in foreign languages will be found in the respective language volume or will await a subsequent volume with new translations in English.
Presenting the poems has been a problem. Aligning chronologically is the most common way used in anthologies, but then relatively few anthologies are international and even fewer are thematic. Chronological order is suitable cnly when recording events within a given frame of reference; in this case a false impression of linear evolution would be created. Arranging geographically, by continent and country of poet, seemed appropriate for local dance forms but did injustice to poets inspired by scenes of imported idioms. Finally, thematic classification (by type of dance or event) proved impossible without imposing arbitrary limits between dance forms. Alphabetical order remained, as both neutral and convenient.
I take this opportunity to express sincere gratitude to so many friends around the world who contributed poems in English or in other languages. I would like to thank Mary Pat Balkus, Professor at Radford University, without whose encouragement and help this work would have remained a few more years in manuscript form.