Go With the Flow

Florida-born National Water Dance Day connects dancers to the life source

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Water Dance Day participants in Miami, FL.

Earth is mostly water, a chemical compound that covers about 71% of the surface of our extraordinary, life-rich planet. The infant human body, by comparison, starts at about 75% water (so, very similar), though we drop in wetness as we age. The human fruit, we see every day, starts quite grape-like and ends quite raisin-like.

Water, a simple molecule of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom (H20), serves a complex, vital, fascinating function in the creation and perpetuation of life on earth. We drink it in liquid form, eat it in solid form, use it to cool down, use it to heat up. Water feeds our food and cooks our food, cleans us and supplies a lifetime of happiness in the forms of swimming, fishing, diving, paddling, snorkeling, boating . . . the list goes on.

Most importantly, water keeps us alive.

Water inspires every single artistic discipline: painting, sculpting, pottery, textiles, music, theater, filmmaking, photography.

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Inspired by travels and deep water dives, Shayna Leib, a Madison, Wisconsin-based artist, created a stunning glass artwork series, Wind and Water.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), The Wave, 1879.

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Alberta Ferretti presented an ocean-inspired FW16 collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, 2016. (Getty Images/Francois Durand)

Water, in particular, inspires dance. Most ancient and indigenous cultures celebrated the deities of water or bodies of water themselves in specific dances. America’s wild woman modern dance matron, Isadora Duncan, gained acclaim performing to Strauss’s The Blue Danube and rose to fame with her meditation on water, Water Study, in the early 1900s. Her style of dance became synonymous with the free-spirit of modern dance and dance’s obvious connection to nature—a “body” of water, a “body” of dance work, so to speak.

Florida, a former coral reef with some of the greatest biodiversity in its water systems in North America, has its own peculiar history with water. With most of the state covered in swampland when America hustled and bustled into the mid-20th century as a major industrialized nation, the biggest obstacle to growth and development was the pesky problem of how to literally drain the Florida swamp. In his comprehensive Everglades history, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise, historian Michael Grunwald recounts the Army Corps of Engineers’ steps to tame by force Florida’s mighty waterways. The Army Corps issued Waters of Destiny, a propaganda film pitting humankind against its worst nightmare, water, a “villain” that was “the scourge of mankind, burying life and land under its relentless and merciless depths.” This attitude was rather well-received at the time and ushered in several decades of the worst environmental degradation on human record. Clean water in Florida a generation later, like water in an alarming number of states and countries, inched towards crisis. From then ‘til now, news reports flow in detailing pollution, droughts, falling water tables, the collapse of the natural springs and the yearly algae blooms from the Lake Okechobee discharges, the need for citizens to respond to Florida’s predicament pushed Miami choreographer and dancer Dale Andree to create National Water Dance.

“National Water Dance is a catalyst for empowering and informing students, dance artists and the community. For us, it is an ongoing question of what are we achieving and what do we hope to achieve? Our goal is action through inspiration,” Andree says. The organization exchanges research, articles, and video clips of other dancers and choreographers who have a water ethic and are creating outdoor works.

National Water Dance, a non-profit dedicated to fostering this new water ethic of personal responsibility, organizes members on the internet. Every two years, members create a “movement choir” around the country and live stream the event. Participants spend the months prior to Water Dance Day collaborating on shared movements and phrases and choosing their site-specific locations. Some dancers perform in parks or near public city fountains, some dance in rivers or on beaches. All participants are guided through the process of securing permits if necessary and for using the shared movements in their choreography.

“Connecting to the environment through performance has a visceral effect on the performers as well as those witnessing,” says Andree. “It creates an opportunity for the participants to use their physical voice to bring attention to these water issues and to do it in community with concerned dancers all across the state and the country. Our hope is that the energy, beauty and commitment of these student and professional dancers offers another lens by which the audience can be touched and moved to action.”

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Dancers from Grinnell College in Iowa participate in Water Dance Day.

Although access to water, especially as the environmental toll on clean water spikes, has come under scrutiny as a modern-day battleground, Andree remains hopeful that each person’s efforts—each drop in the bucket—will eventually add up to a solution that works, especially for Florida and the United States.

“In creating National Water Dance, I wanted to focus on the United States because I felt we so often see the problems outside of ourselves and miss the ones facing us,” she says. “As I developed the project, I realized what a bridge it presented for our communities in such a divided time. One of the most satisfying experiences for me is the sense of belonging and of creating a movement that addresses real issues in every community. We are building that movement and belonging with dance. We share the knowledge of our bodies and the expression that results to address the issues around the most basic need of survival, water, by connecting to our diverse environments. Our internet community has formed bridges of understanding and experience beyond politics.”

The next National Water Dance Day will be April 14, 2018. Here is the video of Water Dance Day 2016:

For more details about National Water Dance, visit here.