Why We Dance

A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming

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Kimerer L. LaMothe
  • New York, NY: 
    Columbia University Press
    , April
     304 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Historically, art in all of its forms has contributed to social construction and development, exploring societal boundaries, and imagining new relational possibilities. Dance, in particular, functions as a valuable component of social and cultural expression globally. As part of its social capacity, dance has long been an outlet for spiritual and emotional expression; and an important avenue for ritual, since it has a metaphorical way of re-envisioning spiritual connections and possibilities. Kimerer LaMothe’s Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming is the first work to explore these aspects of dance along with the immense ontological possibilities enacted through dance.

LaMothe uses the first half of the text to deconstruct the materialist conceptions of the human person, countering it with a movement paradigm—as she refers to it—which allows for richer possibilities of becoming and social connection. LaMothe challenges the traditional mind-body dichotomy wherein the mind is seen as that which is primarily constitutive of the self; however, the mind seems to reign over, or maintain, the “impulsive” and “impetuous” body in this model. LaMothe subverts these notions of the body, centering movement, and thereby the body itself. For example, she asserts that “movement…is the medium of which all is made,” illustrating to readers that movement constitutes matter itself (23).

The first three chapters of Why We Dance focus on primary ideas connected to the materialist model, such as what constitutes the self and evolution, and demonstrate the ways in which the materialist model is in many ways contradictory. In contrast, LaMothe’s movement paradigm acknowledges that “we are bodily selves whose movements are making us”; which means that “we are rhythms of bodily becoming” (83). LaMothe finds that embodiment—especially pointedly embodied movement—is what actually constitutes the self. This move from the materialist model to the movement paradigm makes clear the importance of dance as an art form grounded in ontological development. With such a move, LaMothe creates a new philosophical paradigm that makes space for dance as a highly valued art form, while reconceiving possibilities of social connection.

LaMothe claims that dance is not simply movement, but movement that requires sensory awareness and sensory response. This claim makes relationality an organic point of connection between movement and constitution of the self. LaMothe uses this discourse on connection, and possibilities of right—or balanced—connection, to express the ways in which dance functions as an ethical necessity. In addition, she addresses dance as having spiritual necessity since it is in direct correlation with ritual—that is, construction of community—and because dance calls us to participate in the creating and making which dance allows. For LaMothe, then, religion functions as a space in which we actively participate in dancing, engaging and creating through our bodily selves. It is through dance that we understand our bodily selves most fully as we are intrinsically drawn toward other human beings and drawn to connect and join in community. LaMothe builds on a notion of love as the driving force, tying it directly to movement, since “love is movement” (200). However, insofar as dance requires sensory awareness and response, thereby calling for an attentiveness to the other as central to our very being and becoming, love underlies dance even on a basic level.

LaMothe’s work launches an important exploration that centers embodiment, thereby freeing ontological discourse to explore identity politics. While LaMothe herself does not branch out into this particular discourse, she does acknowledge the temporal elements of bodily becoming. LaMothe notes that human beings are made from the movements of their ancestors in addition to their own, allowing for discourse about how we are tied to the world temporally and culturally as well as creating it spatially. LaMothe also regards the idea of bodily pleasure as important. For her, it is a proper aim towards which we ought to move. This detail brings forth a profound exploration and valuation of the body that allows ethical discourse to speak more fully about the possibilities and pertinence of bodily pleasure and sexuality.

While LaMothe’s text reads as an ontological exploration mixed with phenomenological methodology, she offers a valuation of dance as an important art form, which is a necessary intervention in philosophical discourse. At times, her definitions of dance could be circumscribed for greater clarity. For example, she boldly names dance as “the concrete activity by which humans emerge able to act as distinctively human bodily selves,” and goes on to call it “a biological fact of human life” (91). Given this reality, LaMothe then implores us, saying that “we can learn to do what we are always already born doing” (101). Such claims demonstrate that dance is central to human life but somewhat obfuscates the exact definition of dance, as well as the distinction between it in everyday life and as an art form. Nevertheless, LaMothe encourages us all to dance, supporting ontological growth in each one of us and highlighting the ethical and religious importance of dance in a way that forces us all to question the seemingly irresponsible simplification of the materialist model over the movement paradigm.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Benae Beamon is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy, Ethics, and Society at Boston University.

Date of Review: 
December 12, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kimerer L. LaMothe is a dancer, philosopher, and scholar of religion who lives in upstate New York. She is the award-winning author of five books, including Nietzsche's Dancers and Between Dancing and Writing: The Practice of Religious Studies.



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