Can You Compare Cultures Somatically?

If you learn an art or a skill in one culture and then study it, or something similar, in another culture you might not notice how different it is. Comparing somatic (felt/kinesthetic) experiences across multiple cultures can give big insights into what is different or, on the other hand, what might be Universal. 

Let’s look at rhythm and its relationship to Dance-Martial-Arts. 

I first learned Modern Dance in the Western tradition and then Classical Ballet. Of course I grew up in multi-ethnic San Francisco and  already knew how to dance to popular music and a few Western folk dances. 

In Modern dance you are taught to count, the early modern dancers used hand-drums and beat out 3s, 4s, 5s, and 7s with various accents. The Dances followed the precision of the drum. 

A ballet pianist is told what to play by the teacher, the music is set. Sometimes the teacher will tell the pianist to accent the music in a particular way so that the dancers will match it. 

In African music the dancer is one among several poly-rhythms that fit together in a particular composition. When it works, you cannot tell who is leading, all the rhythms pull against each other to create a dynamic whole that fits perfectly together. It is a definite feeling. One drummer usually plays the dance accents and syncopations, and also the “calls” to change dance patterns. If the dancer is not fitting correctly into the rhythm, the drummer won’t play the accents. It is a weird feeling, an absence or a separation.

The subtext of what I am talking about here is authenticity. It can be faked. And in the era of Youtube it often is. …..
The rest of this post is available on Patreon for $10 a month, I am currently experimenting with making a living.