Put on those dancing shoes

Ratna Raman

ACTION verbs are usually dynamic and describe all that is done by persons, animals and things. Eat, walk, cry, talk, run, think, bake, play or dream are instances of action verbs pertaining to physical and mental activity. Two action verbs ‘singing’ and ‘dancing,’ central to self-expression, form part of activity carried out by humans, animals, birds animate and and inanimate subjects.

Birds flutter their wings in courtship and break into birdsong, animals produce a series of rhythmic sounds and graceful movements, and branches of large trees sway in the wind, rustling their leaves. Brooks babble as they trip along mountainsides and waves dash against seashores, producing their own music, while flickering flames and moving shadows set up their own shows, assisted by the noisy breeze.

Dance and song have existed as part of tribal societies and religious ritual. Humans routinely break into ritual song and dance or express spontaneous joy or grief. Such responses form part of cultural practice the world over.

‘Chanting’ refers to repetitive rhythmic phrases sung, enunciated or shouted by a group and is part of mystical singing practices from antiquity. ‘Dithyrambs’ are the wild choral songs of ancient Greece, Vedic Chants and Sama Veda songs belong to Ancient India while the ‘Gregorian Chant’, constitute the monophonic, sacred song of the Roman Catholic Church in Western and Central Europe.

‘Choir singers’ form part of the chorale that sings in the church. ‘Choir’ also refers to the section of the church wherein the singers perform.

‘Chanson’ is how the French speak of song. The word ‘chorus’ refers not only to the song’s ‘refrain’ (repetitive line) , but also indicates the group of singers who perform with an orchestra or an opera in traditions of Western Classical Music.

The female protagonist in the O Henry’s well-known short story, The Gift of the Magi, sells off her long hair in order to buy a special Christmas gift for her husband. Anxious about how she looks with short hair, she wonders if her hairstyle echoes that sported by a “Coney Island chorus girl,” (woman performing for a living on Coney Island in New York).

When revered sacred and traditions of music and dance became ordinary and every day, the range of associations and connections also changed. Today, classical and folk traditions in music and dance chronicle a whole range of human activity from the sacred to the profane, from the stylised to the impromptu and from the sublime to the banal.

The phrase ‘making a song and dance about something’ has negative connotations indicating exaggerationor blowing things out of proportion.

The word ‘nautch girl’ (from nritya in Sanskrit and naach in Prakrit and Hindi) in use in the English language from the 18th century, refers to professional dancing women in Asia.

Both men and women perform, entertain and earn a living through dance and song. Yet the expression nachne gaane waali (women who dance-sing) is in use in contemporary India deriding women who choose to participate in politics. After the dancing and singing that accompanied the revelry of Holi and the celebration of Women’s Day on March 8, iconic actress Jaya Bahaduri was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, joining the long list of women to be reviled thus. All of us need to ‘make an extended song and dance about’ misogynistic (prejudice against women) behaviour.

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