The Social And Political Power Of Dancing
At the start of Emma Warren’s book Dance Your Way Home comes a quote from DJ and producer Theo Parrish. “Escapism has always been an adjective used to describe the dance,” it reads. “That’s an outsider’s view. Solidarity is what it really offers.”
Warren says this quote (used with Parrish’s permission) is “semi out of context” because it came from a longer speech made during 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement and the racial reckoning that swept the world. “He was talking to the white European dance music community, saying, ‘How can you be involved in this music and not be standing up for things that are happening to people of colour in the US?’” she explains.
The wider meaning of Parrish’s words chimes with the themes of Warren’s book. “What he’s saying – and what I’m saying – is that the things we’re doing when we do them together are politically powerful,” she says. “The forces that wish to control you will often begin that control with the moving body [as it] tends to express itself on the dancefloor.”
Warren’s book, which explores everything from 1980s youth centres to legendary clubs including Plastic People in London and The Loft in New York, also functions as a memoir. It is one of a spate of new books celebrating the joy and power of dancing. There’s also Sacred Spaces, which contains love letters to dancefloors by club stalwarts including Róisín Murphy and Kevin Saunderson. McKenzie Wark’s Raving looks at how the dancefloor has been a space for trans people to form communities. Temporary Pleasure explores nightclub architecture, while Claire Marie Healy’s On The Dance Floor focuses on film portrayals, with a forward by none other than Cher.
While there is clearly a straight line from Covid lockdowns to 2023’s interest in dancing, it also goes beyond any recent events. “It’s something we do on a species level,” says Warren. “It’s like, ‘Why do birds fly?’ We dance because we’re human, and if we dance, we become more humane.”
Warren is a journalist and broadcaster who has also published Make Some Space – the story of the East London cult venue Total Refreshment Centre, which lost its live music license in 2019. As someone immersed in dance culture for decades, she has seen its power across generations and communities, and how that power transcends the clichés. “People are dismissive of the dancefloor because they think it’s just to do with hedonism or sex,” she says. “And while it’s not necessarily not about those things, it’s also about some very basic human things to do with bonding, and getting on with each other.”
This is evident from an early age, says Warren. “I’ve been doing these workshops in a primary school,” she explains. “Today, there were a couple of girls, maybe their relationship was a bit fractious… By the end of it, they’re all smiles and their relationship has been deepened. There’s very good evidence to show that when people dance together, they like each other more.”
Lauren Cochrane is a senior fashion writer at The Guardian and author of The Ten