Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Foundation of Pleasure

The why of the embrace, the music, the movement: Dance survival

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” 
Viktor E. Frankl,  Auschwitz survivor and psychotherapist

Dance and pleasure.  The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think of dance is pure pleasure.  

However the foundation of pleasure in dance is Meaning. This thesis is highly influenced by Viktor Frankl. He was an medical doctor, neurologist and psychiatrist. As an MD for his fellow Auschwitz prisoners, he later went on to continue the great traditions of two other Viennese psychotherapy thinkers right before him, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Other important thinkers who have laid the basis of modern psychological theory still remain in their theories far more accepted.  (And that is why many dancers will immediately, say "bullshit!" to the idea that meaning is the foundation of dance passion and pleasure, of self-actualization and empowerment.)  But Victor Frankl's view was tested in the death camps on what survival is all about, including the survival of pleasure and happiness.  We ought to listen to his insights!

More than most might believe, modern thinkers accept different models of psychoanalytic theory to understand each other.  Frankl's model may not be dark enough? Is there too much light coming out of his discoveries of the human psyche during the Holocaust?  Freud and others still overshadow what your neighbors (and maybe you) think about human psyche.  Freud and others may have some validity, but do they hold up to Frankl's insights about resiliency of the human spirit?  Psychoanalytic theory may be inadvertently haunting your assumptions of what dance is for you:
  • Sigmund Freud:  The desire for pleasure (Lustprinzip in German.)  "I am here to dance and care of my own pleasure.  I am not obligated to anyone else but myself."  
  • Alfred Alder:  The desire for self-actualization. "I am enjoying myself the most by getting better and better as a dancer. Competition and showmanship allows me to stay on this path."
  • Nietzsche: The desire for power (der Wille zur Macht).  "Mostly I want to be empowered as a dancer! My biggest fear is to be powerless with no one wanting to dance or interact with me."
All of these philosophies have limitations for helping you survive and flourish as a lifelong dancer. In order to "survive," one might think that once we take away a person's ability to have any pleasure, self-actualization or power, that people will shrivel up and die. But, as much as Frankel esteemed Freud, Alder and Nietzsche . . .

          Frankl observed that people died after giving up
                           on their purpose in life.

He observed that prisoners often died after only a few days after lamenting they had nothing to live for! To Frankl, dance--that is, any human activity--will not bring pleasure, self-actualization or empowerment if these desires do not come out of--or as he said "ensue"--from meaning. Think of it this way with dance:

  • Holding a loved one after a long separation brings pleasure to an embrace beyond what an embrace without meaning holds.  It is because of meaning.
  • Dancing to music that has an important history and understanding behind it because of many experiences and a growing love for that music brings pleasure.  It is because of meaning.
  • The pleasure of movement ensues from the ever-changing meaning of "graceful flow" to a dancer. The longer one dances the more one seeks an ever-refined desire for this graceful flow.  Having reliable dance partners will only happen when meaningful social relationship grow from the dance community.  Also, a willingness to give back to the community of dancers is important by helping new dancers reach this higher level of skill, musicality and gracefulness. Social connections without meaning are fragile and fleeting.

The pleasure of dance fades without meaning
All the elements of survival must be connected to meaning to bring pleasure, to bring self-actualization or bring a sense of empowerment. So how do you bring meaning to dance? You can passively wait for meaning to come or be actively seeking meaning.  And this is the solution then: Be the change you want in the milonga. If you are past the "honeymoon phase" in tango where pleasure is more elusive, it is time to be more active and define what dance is to you. Finding meaning is uniquely your job and no one can do it for you.  No leader can bring you to higher heights or divine follower can make your night.  You alone must be the one who does this.  The dancers magically will appear after you do.

Art credit:  Visit Fabian Perez's excellent collection of his original artwork on tango at his website.

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Links and further thought:

For curious dancers:  I highly suggest a must-read book--Man's Search for Meaning, a moving, heart-wrenching but surprisingly inspirational book.  In the United States, the book was considered one of the ten most influential books written when Frankl died in 1997.  An excerpt:  "If a prisoner felt that he could no longer endure the realities of camp life, he found a way out in his mental life– an invaluable opportunity to dwell in the spiritual domain, the one that the SS were unable to destroy. Spiritual life strengthened the prisoner, helped him adapt, and thereby improved his chances of survival."
Also see   Baumeister and Vohs (2002) and a related article: The Meaning of Life (in Under 300 Words), which attempts to succinctly describe the meaning of life in just a few hundred words.  I have used these ideas for the solution box above.  An example of this idea can be used in dance. For anyone stuck and feeling that tango is dying, here is my "solution box," to use ideas from Frankl's Logotherapy:

The Meaning of Dance:  The Foundation of Pleasure
Purpose / Meaning
My purpose is to dance throughout my life.
* As a social animal I feel sheltered in the community.
* I need touch and this is a community that embraces.
* I need to move, and dance unites my musical animal within to the moving animal.
* The meaning I get from dancing and the tango community is …  

Action plan:
I value the sense of 
tango culture in a world with questionable social values.  I find these in higher quantity and quality in the tango community: Kindness, gentleness, orderliness and human connection.  My highest value and what I can bring to the community and each dance is …

I want to make a difference in the world, and the milonga is a place to practise, where I have control to a degree of my little world.  I will strife to be more effective by …

I have enjoyed developing a skill to dance, learning how to fit into a community.  I will continue to build my self-worth with my dance and social skills by …

Cut-and-paste this table into a word processor and make it your own.