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Dancing in Gym Class

Havelock Ellis, in an essay titled “Dance and Society," said: “The participants in a dance ... exhibit a wonderful unison; they are, as it were, fused into a single being stirred by a single impulse.  Social unification is thus accomplished.”

Every once in a while I take a far out position, a position I truly believe in, but a position that will meet such strenuous opposition, a position so far out of the spectrum of what people consider normal, that I know my position will not be accepted.

Gym classes should not be devoted to competitive team sports.  Gym classes should be devoted to social dancing.

If you think about it for a second, you will realize that competitive sports, team sports, are a waste of time for 80 percent of the pupils at any school, at any level -- kindergarten to college.  What percentage of the people in any given classroom will be playing baseball, football, volleyball, when they are 25? 35? 60?  What good does expertise, easy ability, in football or baseball do?

I know there is something to be said for fostering the competitive spirit, for creating team spirit, a spirit that wishes to form a unit that will defeat the other unit, a unit that wishes to excel.

But so much is lost by teaching team sports.  I was good at sports -- neither of my boys is particularly good at sports -- and between us, none of us benefited from school sports programs.  I wasn’t quite good enough to make any of the teams.  I loved sports, but my participation was limited to pick-up games on my own spare time outside of school.  My kids were made to go through the motions, motions they never really mastered and motions that gave them some moments of embarrassment.

I could go on and on with my case against team sports.  Personally, I love to play sports.  On my own time, after school, and in summer camps, I learned to play tennis.  I’ve played tennis all of my life, for many hours on many days.  There should be room for sports in school, but it should not be a required class; one could elect to take sports in gym class.

Personally, I would make dance a required part of gym classes.

Dance emphasizes cooperation, not competition.  Dance emphasizes personal grace, not punishing power.  Dance involves absolutely every person in the class, and you are never inactive, waiting for the ball to be pitched or snapped.  Dance is egalitarian; size and weight do not matter.

The Greeks considered dance a necessary part of education.  Plato wrote that “To sing well and dance well is to be well educated.”  Stanley Hall said, “Dancing is imperatively needed to give poise to the nerves, schooling to the emotions, strength to the will, and to harmonize the feelings and the intellect with the body that supports them.”

And yet as I write this I realize that a great many of you out there are cringing.  What, me dance?  What, me “embrace” a member of the opposite sex?  What, me make a fool of myself?

The very reaction experienced by so many of you is the biggest part of my case.  How awkward we are with members of the opposite sex.  We don’t know how to approach them.  We are desperately afraid of touching them.  We can sometimes barely talk comfortably with them.  As someone once said, dance reduces a person’s level of shyness.

In dance you touch them; you look at them; you walk around with them -- and you are never required to say a word.  Nor do you need to wonder if and when you are supposed to touch them.  Dance breaks the Ice.  Dance socializes and in our diverse society, a society of mixed races, far-flung homes, sprawling suburbia, we need a way to socialize.

Dance, to me, is the most wonderful way to get any group of people to interact.  If it were up to me (and it isn’t totally), I would begin every one of my classes by asking students to get up and dance two dances that would take about five to six minutes in total.  It would pump up their blood.  It would make them get to know each other.  It would....

Do I sound like a raving lunatic?  Don’t pray before class; dance before class.  According to Curt Sachs: “It is the dance itself ... which in the opinion of many today, has had a decisive influence in socializing, that is to say in moralizing, the human species.”

This was one of my columns while I was a Record-Eagle columnist.

Copyright 2001   Henry Morgenstein

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