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The importance of gravity in dance

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A dancing body is closely connected to the fundamental components of physics, and no matter how strongly a dancer may research anti-gravitational concepts about movement, he or she cannot bypass its laws. Before we begin discussing Humphrey-Limón technique, let's take a quick look back at the force of gravity.

The story goes that one day in 1666, English physicist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was resting under a tree when an apple fell on his head. Picking up the fruit, he wondered what strange physical mechanism caused all objects in the world, in the absence of support, to fall to the ground. He guessed that the force called gravity was responsible for an apple falling from the tree, and for the fact that humans and animals live on the surface of our planet in rotation without being thrown off it. He also discovered that every object with mass exerts this force on all other bodies, which also have mass, varying in intensity depending on the mass of the bodies. The story of the apple was told by Newton himself, close to death, in the garden of the family home called Woolsthorpe Manor, in England: the same place where the event happened and he first formulated his theories. He chose, however, not to share his findings immediately in 1666 and did not publish the Law of Universal Gravitation for 20 years. Thanks to his genius, it was discovered that gravity is a force of attraction that exists between two or more masses, bodies or particles. In fact, it is not only the Earth that attracts the apple, but it is also the apple that attracts the world to itself. It is an attraction that exists between all bodies in the universe. In everyday life we are not aware of the gravitational force of the Sun, but although it is imperceptible because of the enormous distance separating the Sun from the Earth, it allows the planets to stay in their respective orbits. We do not feel the effects of lunar gravity on our bodies either, but it is because of its existence that our planet's ocean tides occur. The enormous mass of the Earth, because of its proximity to our bodies, attracts us toward its center along with all other objects, even the smallest. For this reason, everything that is dropped heads downward, thus toward the center of the planet, with a velocity equal to what is called gravitational acceleration, an acceleration to which any body is subject when it is left free to fall.


Newton's theories seemed to be unquestionable, until Albert Einstein (1879-1955) came along and upset them. His discoveries revolutionized physics, particularly the theory of relativity, with which he also attempted to unravel how the universe works. During his own research he realized that there is no absolute space or absolute time, as Newton theorized, but that space and time are elastic and combine with each other in the entity of space-time. It was Hermann Minkowski, Einstein's professor of Mathematics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who hypothesized this important detail that his student could not identify: the unification of space and time. Moreover, the theory of relativity holds that the force of gravity is not like all other forces: it is an illusion, since it is caused by us accelerating without realizing it. Gravity is therefore indistinguishable from acceleration, and the reality is that we live in a curved space-time, which is, in fact, gravity. 

Among all his many writings, Einstein also leaves us a legacy of this poetic observation: 


Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust,

we all dance to a mysterious tune,

intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.


Indeed, the universe seems to move in time following a dance, repeating many events in a cyclic manner. The "invisible piper" who orchestrates it uses gravity as one of his favorite musical instruments, with which he makes matter dance. Gravity and time are connected more than we can imagine, and based on the force the former exerts on the latter, a natural element of great importance is generated: rhythm. If, as Einstein says, gravity is curved space-time, it follows that it not only plays with space - bending the paths of light beams - but also wreaks havoc on time. In fact, at a change in gravity, not only space and weight are warped but also time and the rhythm of moving bodies. Such a change happens on our own planet, but it is imperceptible. It is evident only in proximity of stars, planets or other celestial bodies, where the gravitational pull increases or decreases depending on their mass, changing considerably from that which the Earth exerts on us. Take the Moon as an example: a walk among the lunar craters would not have the same cadence as a walk to Mount Everest. Based on the force of gravity, then, each moving body beats out its own music, and its rhythm is defined by the set of falls, i.e. its cadence. Here we find one of the key points of Humphrey's technique: exploiting the existence of gravity, through a real awareness of how weight acts during movements, in order to reveal the natural rhythmic oscillation of a moving body. Because our displacements in space cannot be linear, due to gravity and other forces acting as friction, movement takes on a cadence, in which Doris recognizes two fundamental actions between which we oscillate daily: an abandonment to gravity and the desire to counter it. These are the actions around which the whole technique is structured, and they take the names of fall and recovery.


Having reached this point, we can already see that this technique is based on the human being's coexistence with gravity, a force that is part of nature. Therefore, to develop a dance technique that seeks a movement that is as natural as possible, this force should be the starting point. So it was for Humphrey, who starting with gravity expanded his research to include the other laws of nature and the natural processes of the human body.

Written by Matteo Mascolo.

Translations: Text translated into English by Alberto Rabachin and Bianca Pasquinelli, into Spanish by Matteo Mascolo.

Sources: The information is based on my personal learning about gravity and Limón technique, undertaken through the study of physics and the programs of the Limón Dance Company in which I took part.

La Tecnica di danza di Doris Humprhey: Chi siamo
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