Why do we dance? Why are we drawn to watch? What is it that elevates flesh and bone into displays of heartstopping beauty?
Two days ago, when it was May but the weather wailed JULY!, I sat under the wisteria-covered trellis on the airy patio of my beloved Seven Stars Bakery with a cold drink (iced green tea, splash of lemonade) and The Emma Press Anthology of Dance. Much like its internal observations of the waltzing world around us, the book itself seems to rattle and shake, pages exploding with figures (by the book’s editor herself, Ms. Emma Wright) whose loosely sketched limbs flutter from one line to the next.
We are introduced first, and again throughout, to the universality of dance through the eyes of animals, the flailing bodies of the uncoordinated, the intoxicated, the lush from love who swagger in kitchens and on side streets. Clare Dyer’s On The Sand describes the dancing of a buzzing beach, and suddenly I am noticing the gentle whirling of the wisteria above me and the erratic foxtrot of the tiny finches underfoot.
The tone shifts now from chirpy humor to one I know a bit more intimately. With Hilary Gilmore’s Ballerina of The Night Pool, we meet the mysteriously elegant “statue drowned mid-pirouette”, constantly evading the authors shy advances to “dance pas de deux with her reflections”, as minxy stone ballerinas often do. Rachel Piercey’s The corps is a musing even more familiar, singing the secret successes of the corps de ballet, “parabola arms exactly / chalked onto the air”, “half known and half felt: / the precise, unfurling / geometry of cells.” The flawless harmony of a well-oiled corps, despite each dancer’s yearning for spotlight, our final stanza puts it perfectly: “the acute longing / to be set apart, / the charm of belonging.” A double-edged sword that every ballet dancer will wield in the onset of their careers.
As the anthology progresses, so too does the strangely relatable introspectivity of each poem. From finding your own footing in Rosie Sandler’s Breathing Underwater, to escaping by means of dancing down the page of a notebook in Catherine Smith’s My Dancers, to the impossible stashing of a step like “the stapling of motion on a sheet” (what a great line!) found in Richard O’Brien’s Dansmuseet, the apex of this anthology is an explorative one. We discover the fleeting nature of dance, the joy in hearing dance when it is not able to be seen, and perhaps the most poignant point of all:
“We dance to learn about a part of ourselves books can’t teach.”
The Emma Press Anthology of Dance C/O The Emma Press.