A Moveable Feast

Dancing around Bozeman.

At its most basic level, dancing is entertainment; hence the insane popularity of Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and similar shows. For most of us, dancing is just plain fun, whether we’re doing it ourselves or watching others. It’s a physical expression of our most elemental joy and exuberance, which explains its regular appearance in weekend revelry and at parties, weddings, and other celebratory events.

But dancing is also art, and to watch good dancing is to witness artistic expression in one of its most unique, diverse, and multifaceted forms. Unlike most other arts, dancing does not play itself out on a single sensory plane. It cannot be merely watched, separate from its accompanying auditory rhythms. Rather, dancing blends the visual and the aural into a single, inseparable stream of dynamic artistic expression: a fusion of music and motion. It is the human body as instrument, amplifier, and sheet music all in one.

Dancing is communication as well, a nonverbal conveyance of emotion, thought, and abstract ideas. Dancers use body language to channel and interpret musical rhythms, giving corporeal expression to an otherwise intangible medium. Like spoken languages, there exist almost an infinite number of dance styles. And guess what? Literally dozens of them can be found right here in li’l ol’ Bozeman.

Solo/Performance Dancing
From the stage of a Tchaikovsky ballet to a nightclub dance floor, there’s something indescribably cool about watching really good dancers. The way their bodies seem to be extensions of the music, both mirroring and augmenting the melodic structure—if that’s not art, I don’t know what is. I’ll never forget sitting in a daze as the Lotus Fire belly dancers swirled around the Emerson theater stage. The fluid movement of their limbs, their diaphanous garments swaying in time to the music—it was utterly hypnotic. At one point I broke the spell and looked around to see everyone, kids included, frozen in the same trance-like state.

Belly dancing appeals to certain types of people, but it is merely one style among many. Hip-hop dancing is extremely popular these days, and for good reason: it reflects the prevailing musical energy of the current generation. At the same belly-dancing show, local hip-hop instructor Eric Sterkel performed a duet with a Lotus Fire girl—and rendered the entire audience speechless. It was as if he had somehow combined his own energy with that of the music to create a parallel physical dimension. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Half a dozen studios around southwest Montana teach ballet, one of the oldest—and arguably, most urbane—dance styles. Modern and jazz, two more contemporary dances, focus more on individuality and freedom of expression. A relative newcomer to the Bozeman scene is African dancing, which is taught at weekly classes and in occasional workshops at the Emerson Cultural Center.

Partner/Social Dancing
Several years ago Boodles had outdoor speakers by the front door, and one summer night a lively jazz song was playing. Three couples walked by, stopped, and started dancing right there on the sidewalk. The entire bar turned and stared as they spun, twirled, and twisted each other around before continuing on their way, arm-in-arm and laughing. Floored by this impromptu display, the next morning I rang Della Cole, a local dance instructor, and described what I’d seen. “Sounds like they were swing dancing,” she said. “Can you teach me to do that?” I queried, nervously. I’d never danced a step in my life. “Oh honey, of course I can teach you,” she replied. “Come on over.” Over I went, and teach me she did. I’ve been hooked on dancing ever since.

Partner dancing has that kind of effect on you. Like Bozeman itself, once it grabs hold, it never quite lets go. Not only is it fun, but partner dancing is a great way for people who’ve never been quite at ease solo-dancing to finally feel comfortable moving their bodies to music. That’s not to suggest the two forms are mutually exclusive, or that one is superior to another; just that partner dancing holds its own distinct appeal. Plus it’s something enjoyable that you and your sweetie can do together, instead of just the humdrum dinner-and-a-movie routine.

Besides, partner dancing provides a unique form of human connection in a relaxed, comfortable environment. Life is all about connections, and once you hold a partner in your arms and move together to the music, in perfect unison, two bodies melding together and flying through the musical ether as one, you’ll never quite forget it. A good dance is no different than a stimulating conversation or a shared moment of intense outdoor activity—you both realize that something very cool just passed between you.

Both open dancing and informal, drop-in classes exist around Bozeman for an astonishing array of dance styles, given our relatively runt-like urban population. There’s the sensual, intimate Argentine tango on Tuesdays and Sundays at the Beall Park Arts Center and the Emerson Cultural Center, respectively; the playful, sexy salsa every other Thursday at Mixers; and the lively lindy hop at MSU’s Romney Gym on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Bozeman Formal Dance Club practices ballroom (foxtrot, waltz, nightclub two-step) and Latin dances (merengue, cha-cha, and rumba, the dance of love) every Monday at the Emerson, while Mixers hosts all types of country dancing (two-step, triple-step/polka, country waltz, and jitterbug) on Wednesday nights. MSU’s SOB Barn welcomes swing dancers of all disciplines—country, lindy hop, East and West Coast—on Monday and Friday nights. For the more folksy types there’s Contra dancing, which, as far as I can tell, is kinda like square dancing in the middle of an auction. Other dance styles appear around town from time to time as well. Occasional, organized dance parties and balls allow you to cut the rug for an entire evening.

Get Out and Dance
Whether you’re a seasoned dancer or a nervous neophyte, the Bozeman area’s got you covered. The important thing for newbies to remember is that dancing is an accessible art: anyone can do it, and everyone can experience it. Like anything in life, training enhances ability; but you gotta start somewhere. So think about the kind of music that floats your boat—which particular rhythms make you tap your feet, snap your fingers, and shake your hips and shoulders—and then learn how to dance to it. As a wise old dance instructor once said, “Music is the road, dancing the vehicle. Now get in the car and drive.”

Area Dance Schools
Have Fun Dancing – All Partner/Social Style – shavefundancing.com
Main Street Dance  – Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop – mainstreetdancetheatre.com
Various Other Studios Ballet, Jazz, Modern, More(check the phone book)

Local Clubs/Organizations
Tango MontanaArgentine Tangotangomontana.com
Bozeman Formal Dance Club – Ballroom, Latin – formaldanceclub.com
MSU Swing Cats – Lindy Hop, East and West Coast – Swingmsuswingcats.com
Bozeman Folklore Society – Contra Dancing – bozemanfolklore.org
Lotus Fire – Belly Dancing – lotusfirebellydance.org
Sizzling Salsa – Salsa, Merengue, Cha-Cha – [email protected]