Image by Wiborg (CreativeCommons)
It seems like magic when one observes a school of fish changing direction. The change happens in an instant.
When participating in an aerobics class, sometimes the instructor verbally instructs the the class to go to one direction while she by mistake moves to the opposite direction, and still everybody gets it right. At that moment, one can sense the magic of participating in joint movement.
In an ice hockey match or when singing in a group one can feel the magic of shared emotions.
All these are observable natural phenomena, accessible to all of us, nothing super-natural. I don’t know if the Swarm theories cover all the aspects of these various phenomena.
In any case, in his Crowds and Power, Elias Cannetti writes:
“As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there: no distinctions count, not even that of sex. That man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly, it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.”
Contrasting a crowd with a single body — a single animal — is a recurring theme in crowd psychology. The swarm in the video below certainly looks like a single animal from a distance.
For me, tango sometimes also really feels like that. I feel like being part of an animal that has one head and four legs. While I am supposedly the leader, it does not feel like I am leading the movement. One could say that “the music is the leader”. It does not feel like “my” movement. It is happening, and I am participating in it.
It probably sounds really strange unless one has experienced it. But it is quite natural when one is participating in it.
Of course, this is not the only way to dance. There is “active following”, where leader and follower do keep their individuality. Most of my dancing feels like this. In Cannetti’s terminology, “packs” are groups where participants do keep their individuality, and do not “surrender” to the crowd. Some people dance only that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. Dance can look stylish and impressive either way.
In any case, the four legs experiences seem quite delicate and rare. I cannot force them to happen, but it seems easy to block them from happening. Contrary to what one might believe, it seems “not knowing the right steps” or “making mistakes” does not block them. What could block the experiences might be the attitude behind these: wanting to know what is the right step, or being anxious about making mistakes. Both of these seem to arise from wanting to control the situation.
I may dance with a fresh beginner, with no background in dancing, who dances beautifully. We may have a connection instantly and we are moving as a four-legged animal right from the start. Maybe we all humans have this built-in capacity for joint movement hidden inside us?
But then I dance again with the same person months later, when she has taken classes, and learned steps, and magic of the connection may be gone.
So, what happened during these months? I don’t know, exactly. But for me, it feels like such a person is dancing from their mind, trying to control the situation. She seems anxious not to fail, which makes her tense. I feel we are connected only occasionally, sometimes not even when we are still.
So, how to return to the way one danced before one learned the steps?
Perhaps one can say that each time I affirm the freedom of my own movement, I am at same time restricting the freedom of the movement of that “four-legged animal”. And that “four-legged animal” can lead us to very interesting experiences.