Humanos en sociedad (Loïe, Edicion 06)

The Buenos Aires based screendance magazine Loïe has recently published it’s 6th issue, with a variety of reflective journalistic articles and an editorial by Susana Temperley and Magdalena Casanova, in which they ponder on the impact of the pandemic on dance. As the editorial is published in Spanish I copy a few lines and paraphrase, as I very much like the sentiment of Susana and Magdalena’s words.

They begin by stating that this issue could have been blank and that the virus could have silenced us. Instead, our bodies – which are not only our way of being in the world but also our tool and means to work – double a sense of urgency. They continue “Pero, así como, a pesar de todo, el cuerpo y la danza encontraron caminos para seguir moviendo, callarnos no era una opción -no hubiera podido ser- y debimos, nosotros también, encontrar maneras de decir ese movimiento.”

The editorial team writes that despite everything, the bodies and the dance have found ways to continue moving, and that going quiet was not an option. Later they refer to the Danses Macabres, the Medieval Dance of Death, which speaks so much of our vulnerability but also asserts the body as the basis of our terrestrial existence and reminds us that dance rituals identify us as social beings, as humans that are part of a society.

“[…] las Danses Macabres aparecen como emblema de la centralidad del cuerpo, único soporte de nuestra existencia terrenal. ¿Por qué la danza? La danza, como parte constitutiva del ritual, es un instrumento que nos identifica como humanos en sociedad.”

Humanos en socieded; In the UK there have been many references recently to Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 statement, that “There is no such thing as society“. While Thatcher said this at the time to argue against the tendency to blame society for all of children’s problems, instead of people taking responsibility themselves, the categorical nature of the statement shocked many and the sentence continues to circulate and resonate today. David Cameron tried to make amends and change direction in 2010, when he launched the ‘Big Society’, but few were convinced of his new version of society, which looked mainly like a a cover up for public spending cuts.

While Covid-19 appeared to temporarily show a different side of what a conservative government could be, the most recent row over the refusal to cover school meals for the poorest of the poorest kids suggests that that was a blip by a government, that was perhaps caught of guard and out of its depth when the pandemic hit Britain. The current row over school meals has been compared to Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, a revealing portrait of London’s poverty in the 1830s and the systemic degradation, exclusion and confinement of the poor by the political leadership. By contrast, the systemic pampering of the wealthy continues to this day, see for example the subsidies for and provision of free meals for the members of parliament, who earn between 77K and 150K! [see petition to end subsidies]

In the UK many will have taken part in the pandemic’s weekly ritual of clapping the NHS and care workers, until it transpired that they get paid a pittance for their exhausting work and that care workers sometimes have no access to sickness benefits, meaning that they have to go to work even when they fall ill (read: when they have possibly contracted Covid-19….). Covid-19 is a disease of poverty. In Start of the Week (BBC Radio 4, 25/10/200) John Micklethwait, economist and author of The Wake Up Call (2020) says that “In the American tax code, there is $1.6 trillion exemptions and virtually all of which goes to the well off.” Might there be a similar situation in the UK, and many other Western democracies? Under the veneer of a modern – compassionate? – conservative State with its super wealthy political elite there appears to be brutality and a disregard or disdain for what society could be that is relatively unchallenged, and that has possibly not changed much since the 1830s.

I am coming back to Susana and Magdalena’s words, that the dance is an “instrumento que nos identifica como humanos en sociedad”; it looks like there is still a lot of dancing to be done.

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