Societa' di Danza
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''Società di Danza''
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Società di Danza

The idea
Società di Danza is a Cultural Association and a School of Dance, but primarily, it is an Idea. It is the thought that, through combining the social and artistic aspects of dancing, we can create a new life experience. Società di Danza has developed a dance system based on the 19th century social dancing tradition. That system encourages the development of social and artistic practices through dance.
The social aspect involves bringing together a group of people who share similar goals and ways of achieving them. They create a common dance culture. The artistic side is promoted through a continuous study of the dancing technique. From the initial preparatory exercises the dancers proceed to the first basic steps, then they continue to learn the figures and the choreography of the dance. The acquisition of the correct dancing technique is a lengthy, and in fact never-ending process. Once a dancer learns all the steps and figures, and gets familiar with all the dances, once he becomes a "bravo", he can then focus his attention on thousand small shades of style that would allow to express his or her personality in the dance. The social and artistic aspects are indivisible. They cannot be separated. Società di Danza is the place where the dance lives as a social and cultural project and its goals are achieved through the effort of all those people who participate in it and subscribe to the Idea.

Association and School
Società di Danza is both a dancing school and a cultural association. In the school we have the teacher and the pupils. The lessons and the workshops are time dedicated to study. The teacher is an expert leader who guides the students through the dancing technique, the execution of the dances, and familiarises them with the Società di Danza's complete system. The teacher is the sole guiding figure in the class. The relationship teacher-student is a vertical one. The teacher should be a clear mirror in which the pupil can see the reflection of his own development. The pupil extends his own ability and broadens his own potential in relation to the teacher. The teacher should communicate to each single pupil, and to the whole group, not just the knowledge of the individual dances, but also the richness of his own experience and his own personality. Without that, his teaching would be cold and impersonal.
The Association is the organisational framework to enable those who subscribe to the Società di Danza's project to achieve their social and artistic aims. It is the home base for the members where they can join in their efforts to develop and promote the Idea. The School and the Association are not the same thing, but they are not apart. They are two different entities, operating in different ways to achieve the identical aim: to promote social dancing. They are both fundamental to enable the idea and the practice of Società di Danza to be incorporated into the social life of the local place.

Group dances and Couple dances
Our dancing system comprises two types of dances: group dances and couple dances. The first type includes quadrilles and country dances, the second waltz, polka, mazurka, gallop and other dances derived from these. The two types cannot be rigorously separated, They often overlap and form the choreographic universe of the social dancing system in the European tradition. The terms "group dance" and "couple dance" are not strict definitions. For example, both quadrilles and country dances are group dances, but the basic unit in them is a couple. Equally, waltzes, polkas and mazurkas are couple dances, but at a ball individual couples continually inter-relate with each other. None of the couples is isolated from the other dancers. Nevertheless, there is a formal difference. Group dances require the presence of at least two couples, usually four couples, to be performed. Couple dances can be danced by even a single couple without losing the formal choreographic shape. Of course, this is a theoretical distinction because at a 19th century ball the couple dances are always arranged to form a choreographic unity. At such ball, every dancer and every couple continuously interact with all the other dancers.

Dance as a project
In our system, we consider each dance as a small social and artistic project. These projects involve all the participants who develop them into a collective effort. In order to perform a dance we need to learn the steps, the shape of the figures and the relationship between the dancers; we need to acquaint ourselves with our position in the carré or the set, and appreciate the whole set-up of the formation. In the weekly classes the dancers learn how to harmonise their enjoyment of dancing with the others in the group. The appreciation of all the elements, from learning the steps to the overall orientation in the hall, is a long process. It develops through a steady progression in learning. In our system, we progress as a group, not as an individual. Our stipulation is that only through a social interaction the aims of a dance can be achieved. The pleasure of dancing together should create a joyful and agreeable experience. A performance of one simple dance or, equally, organisation of a complete ball, represents a small social and artistic project which creates awareness that the results can be achieved through co-operating and aiming towards the same goals.

Historical Dance and Dance of Society
Società di Danza practises what we would call Social Dancing. Social Dances are entirely different from what people call Historical Dances. Those dances are the result of research by a "reconstructor" of old dances. The researcher employs various methods of comparative analysis to reconstruct individual dances belonging to specific historical periods. The greater his ability and skill to resurrect in the smallest detail the dances now lost for centuries, the greater his satisfaction. He is not interested in homogeneity, neither he defines standards of behaviour. On the contrary, he highlights all the possible variations of each dance. He searches for details from different sources: literature, painting, architecture, music. The historical dance teacher, in the class, always starts by saying: "The following dance ....... has been reconstructed from these documents ....... it was taught in this way by maestro So-and-so ....... in the year ...... in such-and-such place". There is a completely different approach to Social Dancing, the system we have been developing. We combine the experience of hundreds of 19th century western dancing masters. From the variety we proceed towards homogeneity. From the many variations we produce a synthesis, a single dance. From the large variety in the description of steps and figures, we extract the main elements and use them as the basis to create a singular dance instructions. In this way we can develop a unified dancing system. We believe that by producing a set of shared, precise and clear rules we can revive the old dances for contemporary, and future, enjoyment.

Dance as a group culture
One of the basic elements of the Società di Danza system is the development of a group culture. Our groups are not a casual assembly of single individuals. Our dancing system makes each individual an organic part of shared feelings, emotions and inter-acting abilities, building it into - what we call - a dancing culture. The collective endeavour to learn and practise dancing, and mastering complex choreographic designs, leads gradually to development of not only technical capabilities but also, and first of all, to ability to inter-relate with the others in the group. Over the years, we have been able to improve our ability to master more refined and complex dances, but we also enabled to make the dancing a place to meet. The people have been coming together and transformed into a group. That group shares the same aims and follows the same dancing methods, without ever sacrificing the development of each individual. That is the group culture generated by our idea of dance. It is the culture of social dancing not encumbered by class divisions of the past, but projecting our own ideas of society.

Sociality and performance
In our idea of dancing, the social and performing aspects are blended together. The purpose of Social Dancing is the social intercourse among the dancers through a specific technique and with precise relationship models. One such model considers every single dance as a moment of expression of one's own identity and, at the same time, a moment of acceptance of the identity of the others. During the lesson we learn to express our own way to present the dance and communicate this to our partner while, reciprocally, we learn to appreciate our partner's approach to the dance. This is important, because during the performance of the dance we must not correct our dancing partners. During the performance of the dance we must be in a completely different frame of mind from that we find ourselves during the learning practice. The pleasure we get from performing a dance must derive from the precision of our own movements in harmony with our partners. Our satisfaction is achieved through the fact that we can imprint our own identity within a community that accepts us and does not limit us. It is a stimulus to development of an individual within a group culture. We do not care for triumphs of hedonism. We prefer to experience the dancing as a moment of affirmation of our own identity within a community.

Tradition is a cultural baggage that each of us freely chooses. It is the sum total of knowledge, behaviour, and ways of thinking that are deeply rooted in our past, and which we choose to carry on cultivating. Tradition is not identical with the past generally. It is a particular section of the past that we consider valuable enough to keep it alive. They are observations and wisdom of past generations, which we appreciate so much that we wish them to continue. In truth, we do not very much care about these things in our daily life. Searching for the historical links and connections with our past is little valued by present-day society bent on consumption of material, as well as cultural, goods. For us, the dancing tradition is a great repository of values left to us by our ancestors, and we are obliged to keep them alive for future generations. They are the values that enrich our lives and strengthen our optimism about the future.

The Technique
The technique is the aggregate of steps and figures that we need for dancing and that compose our dance system. The acquisition of good technique is important because it allows the dancers to talk through their bodies. We are used to communicate with each other verbally and non-verbally - by gesticulating and miming. In dance, there is no verbal communication and it is the body alone that has to converse with our partner. This is why technique is so important: it is the language of communication in dance. If we lack the technical competence and are not confident in our dancing, we feel frustrated and unable to "talk" to our dancing partner. The acquisition of correct dancing technique is necessary to establish comfortable rapport with the partner. Deepening the control of the technique, improving, means wishing a higher level of communication with the partners in the dance.

Beginners Intermediate Advanced
The classes and seminars are organised to take account of the dancers' abilities. They take into consideration their knowledge of steps and figures, and their experience and command of the dancing repertoire. Everybody should be at ease with the level of teaching, without being pressurised to achieve and become "master". The relationship between dancers at different levels should be based on a single value: sharing the pleasure of dancing. Very often the advanced dancers act as teachers towards the less experienced dancers. This is wrong. It sometimes happens that beginners literally cling to the advanced dancers because they recognise their greater experience. This behaviour breaks the unity of the group as it transmits the wrong idea that the lesson is based on the individual teaching. Our lessons are always group lessons, based on the growth of the group in which individuality is submerged and amalgamated. The task of the advanced dancers, when dancing with beginners, is to be skilful and calm examples: precise and sure in execution of the steps and figures. They should be models, not teachers. The advanced dancers should communicate the pleasure and beauty of the dance, they should elevate the social spirit of dancing. They should never correct their partners, particularly during the dance. Correction is a task for the teacher. Nobody should break this rule.

The Lesson
The lesson is the place and time of our meeting. It has both physical and spiritual aspect: it is where the Association lives. The lesson is the place where we come to share in our creative pleasures. It is where we meet our dancing partners and enjoy their company. We should think of the lesson as a place where we divest ourselves of our everyday trials and tribulations. We leave our everyday clothes outside the dancing hall and put on our dancing dress - we consider this change a very important one. It is the task of the teacher to organise the lesson in such a way that periods of concentration are interchanged with spells of relaxation. The teacher should lead, the pupils should be prepared to learn, and together they will make the lesson a place of acquiring knowledge. During the lesson, the teacher not only teaches the steps, figures, and dances, but he also helps the pupils to understand the relationships that are the essential basis of our dancing system. A good teacher is the one who creates the right rhythm during the lesson. It is very important that the pupil respects this rhythm. The lesson is a moment of joyful social dancing, but we can get the proper results only by respecting the rhythm created by the teacher. During the lesson we sweat together, but we also become closer together and learn to please and help each other and recognise and respect one another's ways. The lesson is the heart of our organisation, which lives through our willingness to participate in it.

The Preliminary Exercises
The lessons start always with the warm-ups. They take the first ten minutes of the lesson and are essential for, at least, two reasons. The first is psychological. The warm-up exercises are done in a circle, in the centre of the hall; they are the moment of transition from the everyday life outside to a different world of dance in the hall. It prepares us to enjoy the pleasures of dancing during the lesson. This is the reason why everybody should join in the circle. By staying out we would demonstrate our unwillingness to be part of the social circle just at the moment when that circle comes together to start the lesson. The second reason is physical preparation for the dancing. During the preparatory exercises we should tackle all the elementary movements we shall need to learn and perfect the execution of the dancing steps, and improve the carriage of our body. We need to pay attention to the warm-ups: here we can pick up mistakes that may lead to lack of precision in the dynamism of the step, the open and close position of our feet, and improper body carriage. We need to warm up our insteps, knees, hips, shoulders and upper torso to prepare our body for dancing in style.

The Quadrille
The quadrille is danced by four couples disposed in a square set or carré. It It usually consists of five parts, each part having its own tune. The Quadrille is a small, close Universe. Within the limits of the carré the dancers continually inter-relate with each other. The quadrille's attractiveness is in its continuous exchange of glances and gestures, and precise and measured movements that flow without stopping from the opening to the final bow and curtsey. In the quadrille we always keep eye contact with our dancing partners, never neglect their hands, and follow with sincere attention their dancing movements. Throughout all the five parts we should be conscious that every bar of music, every phrase, serves us to inter-relate with the others in the set. Even one single dancer can spoil the good-feel mood if he fails to inter-act with his fellow dancers. Quadrille is a dance with high artistic potential, but it becomes a small piece of social art only if - beside the technical perfection - we achieve a perfect harmony of feelings.

The Waltz
A couple dance par excellence, the waltz contains the characteristics that have made it, throughout the centuries, the pre-eminent favourite. In waltz, both dancers have to master the basic technique. In quadrilles and country dances we can "walk" through the figures, more or less led by our partner. In waltz we need to coordinate our steps with the music and our partner. Until we achieve that, the waltz has no life. The couple, in its embrace, spinning along the line of dance, projects the elements that make waltz such an exalting dance. Finding a perfect harmony with partner is one of the aims and the main satisfaction of dancing waltz. But it is not the only one. In the Societˆ di Danza dance system, waltz is not just a couple dance. It exists within the framework of constant relationship among all the dancers - we have the "progression". Dancing the waltz with progression means to multiply the attempt to build "perfect harmony" among the dancers on the ballroom floor. The progression prevents the couple to shut itself in its own particular universe, and encourages the search for harmony - within a precise choreographic sequence - with large number of partners.

The Country Dances
We dance country dances from the Scottish tradition. The Country dance culture has been developing in Scotland for more than two centuries. In the 20th century, researchers, musicians and dance teachers followed the work and ideas of Miss Milligan and Mrs. Stewart, and uplifted the social art of country dancing to its highest technical and artistic levels. Scotland is the nation that more than any other kept alive the country dancing in the 19th century. The spirit and the technique of the Scottish country dances reveal one of the small secrets of the charm of social dancing: to allow everybody to express themselves in dance within the ambit of shared and precise technique. It is the kind of expression showing how we can search for joy through dancing together. Sharing in common aims, not in a haphazard way, but by building an orderly structure.

Dance parties and Balls
The dance party is the moment when the dance system we have studied in the classes comes into its own. It is the opportunity to put into practice the dances we have learnt. The dance party is even more than that: apart from the pleasure of dancing we can also enjoy all the organisational details. The dances are the most important element, but we also have to take care of the preparation of the hall, the carnet de ball and the buffet. The dancing party comes alive when all its participants join in the desire to share the joy of dancing. In order to put life into the party it is necessary to arrange the dances within the right structure. The Grand Balls are special events. They are big occasions that we dedicate to ourselves. They take place in old palaces or historical town squares, we wear 19th century costumes, and create a unique atmosphere. The Balls are sometimes dedicated to peculiar occasions in the town's history, or to celebration of important events in the national history. At the Grand Balls all the elements of our dance system come together: the social and historical aspects, the seeking of beauty and the pleasure of dance.

Easter and Summer Schools
Easter and Summer Schools have a very important role to play in the Società di Danza's life, ever since its foundation. At the School we introduce and learn new dances that will enter the repertoire in the coming years. It is a laboratory that allows, at different levels, to enjoy the charm of new choreographies. It entails intensive learning, when we immerse ourselves totally in dancing. The dancing fills up the whole day, allowing for a technical improvement, which is impossible to achieve during the weekly classes. At the Schools we dedicate ourselves to intensive learning, but above all we create a special atmosphere. Being in the company of our partners from breakfast till evening seminars leads to creation of a joyful communal feeling. It is the way to build relationships in dancing environment: through sweating together during the long dancing sessions and enjoying the conviviality of our partners' company around the communal table at meal times. One of the main elements of our dance system involves search for particular ways of meeting dancing partners. The Schools are the places that enhance the social intercourse, and suppress isolation. The days of intensive study of dances within the framework of collective living satisfy the desire to meet other people and thus to enrich one's own intellectual and emotional universe. Cementing relationships among the School participants is done not by small talk, but through sharing in the learning and rehearsing and experimenting on the dance floor. Additional benefit of the School is presence of several teachers. This gives the pupils an opportunity to encounter different ways of teaching and meet different personalities.

Good Dancer and 'Bravo' Dancer
The difference between Good Dancer and 'Bravo' Dancer is not a simple play on words, neither it is an intellectual exercise. The difference is very often seen in the class. In order to learn dancing, we study steps and figures, learn to keep in time with music, get used to relate to our partners, and widen our dancing repertoire. The learning process may wary in length, depending on individuality and the amount of time we dedicate to learning - and eventually we may reach the level of a Bravo Dancer. Bravo Dancer must be able to perform every dance with care and lightness, approach new dances with insight and promptitude, and resolve instantaneously any "hitches" occurring during the dance. To reach such a level is a good result, but it is not the arrival point, because the technique is not everything. We become Good Dancers when we are able to communicate the pleasure of dancing to our partner. And our partner must feel the joy we are communicating to him or her. It would be absolutely wrong to send to our partner the message: "look at me, what a master I am, try to imitate me, if you can". The only message that a Good Dancer should transmit to his/her partner: "I am happy to dance with you, and the perfection I have achieved is a clear manifestation of my joy to dance with you". The Bravo Dancer looks only at himself, the Good Dancer knows how to look at the partner.
(Translation revised by Dalibor Sudwell)
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