Can You Dance with White Man’s Clapping Syndrome?

This post is about rhythm and dance as innate natural abilities and how they get lost in “civilized” societies.  Before I say anything else, I have to credit Jon Carroll for naming the syndrome in one of his columns.  I love the name, even though I’ve met women as well as people of other races who were so afflicted.

I believe that everyone is born with a sense of rhythm.  We spend our time in the womb listening to the pulsing sound of a beating heart.  Babies are soothed by the sound of a heartbeat.  In cultures that embrace dance as cultural identity, very young children respond naturally to music and begin to dance as soon as they can move.

So what happens to the victims of WMCS?  Well, as you might have guessed, I have a theory.  In cultures that are not founded on allowing people to do what comes naturally, we respond to the process of learning to adapt by shutting down various natural instincts.  We so it because at the time we experienced the trauma, it made sense to a very young mind to feel safer without that particular instinct than with it.  If the instinct was rhythm, it may have been a response that is obvious to an adult mind, like a religious upbringing in which music, dance, or a sense of rhythm were considered sinful.  Or it could have been something that the adult mind can’t remember or access.

So what to do?  If you are motivated enough, you can learn to regain this natural ability.  If you can’t find a dance teacher in your area who works with rhythm impaired people, you might be able to find a music teacher who can.  Ask around.  Be very specific about what you are looking for.  A drumming circle might be a good first step in unleashing this primal sense.

Everyone is different in the way they learn and the way they relate to rhythm.  Some people can hear the beat but lose it when they try to apply it to their feet.  Some people can feel the beat but don’t believe it.  Others don’t have an internal sense of rhythm and can’t count evenly.  If you can’t identify your particular issue, clarify what happens when you try to move to music.  When interviewing your prospective teacher, ask them how they work with people like you.  Don’t give up!  There are people out there who can help you if you if you make an intelligent search and keep at it until you find the right resource.  Good luck and I’d love to hear your stories as you take on this challenging endeavor!

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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