Inside Dance

It may be my favorite piece of dance:  Turning Tides, created and choreographed by Randy Duncan, with music by Sam Harris, Gavin Dillard, and Bruce Roberts.  It’s in two parts, beginning with “Adrift,” a solo dance, and then “The Storm,” danced by the whole company to Harris’ powerful song “Suffer the Innocents.”  I first saw it on my birthday (January 14th) in 1992, performed by Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre as part of a finale dance concert capping a two-day North Central College conference called “Inside Dance: A Choreographer’s Showcase.”  It was suggested by my friend Don McVicker of the anthropology department, and shepherded by him and by me, as chair of the Visiting Lecturer/Cultural Events Committee.  Below is the flyer I created for the event.  “We need some neat graphic,” said the head of the college’s Print Shop, so I quickly free-handed the figure you see below.  It was neat enough, I guess, though all Becky said was, “Let’s do it in red.”

Below is a 5-minute VIDEO of excerpts from Turning Tides, the first two parts of it from an open rehearsal of The River North Dance Company.  The third part is from a formal concert done by an all-female dance company.  I’m afraid I don’t know its name, but I found it on the YouTube channel of Gina Wrolstad, who might be one of the dancers.  This version, staged by Mari Jo Irbe, was presented at Artifacts of Self, Loyola Chicago’s Annual Dance Concert in 2018. Mari Jo Irbe was in the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre and danced in the ensemble the night I saw it the first time more than 25 years earlier.

Linda and I enjoy going to see dance more than going to see just about anything else.  It’s total immersion: a feast for the eyes and ears and your sense of self in time and space.  It’s a perfect hybrid of improvisation and strict form—spontaneous fluidity and the strict disciplines of the dancer’s art.  The creativity of ideas and music and bodies in motion is dazzling.  The ideas behind “Suffer the Innocents” and “Save the Children” breathe hard and live with more passion here than anywhere else l know, except maybe in the world beyond the concert hall where people actually save children and embrace—or suffer—innocents.  Turning Tides can inspire and nourish this suffering, this saving.

I’m thinking, too, of Robert Greenleaf.  His pamphlet The Servant as Leader started the field of Servant Leadership studies, and in it he writes, “The prudent man is he who constantly thinks of  ‘now’ as the moving concept in which past, present moment, and future are one organic unity.  And this requires living by a sort of rhythm that encourages a high level of intuitive insight….”  In “Art, Rhythm, Intuition, and Social Change” I focus on how art can teach us and sensitize us to rhythm and patterns of rhythm that can build in leaders a deeper intuition about the directions we could be going, the opportunities we could be seizing, the places we could be taking a stand.  For me, dance does this more intensely than any other art.

After watching the VIDEO below:

  Go to the Lead Post in a series on Greenleaf’s important Servant Leader pamphlet.
  Go to Cultural Events at North Central College: a Personal History, for links to articles about conferences and speakers, such as Maya Angelou, Dick Gregory, and Eyes on the Prize: Reclaiming Our Civil Rights Heritage.

  Go to the ARTS main page.

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How Good of a Democracy Are We Anyway?

This post presents highlights from The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EUI) Democracy Index 2020, its 13th annual index which began in 2006 and surveys the health of democracy around world.

The Index classifies countries into four categories: Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes, and Authoritarian Regimes, and ranks them from #1 (the first country in the Full Democracy category) to #167 (the last country in the Authoritarian category).

Before diving in for more background and detail, I’ll cut to the chase and say the U.S. isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to healthy democracies.  It isn’t even in the Full Democracy category.  It’s the second country in the Flawed Democracy category and comes in at #25 overall.  You can see the whole Index 2020 HERE, including the rankings chart on pages 8 to 13.  By the way, Norway ranks #1 with an overall Democracy Score of 9.81 out of 10.  North Korean, at #167, is dead last with a 1.08 score.  The U.S. score is 7.92.

Hey, I’m just reporting.  And let’s can the “America, Love it of leave it” attitude.  It’s always good to take as objective a look at yourself as possible.  Americans are heavily inclined to think of themselves as the greatest, and this perspective is so strong it’s a doctrine with a name: American Exceptionalism.  And we are exceptional and the greatest in many positive respects, but not all.  Which is why, for example, we incarcerate more people than anyone in the world, why racism—a problem in many countries, of course—remains so stubbornly entrenched here, and why with less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has accounted for more than 20% of global deaths during this pandemic.  No one’s saying they don’t love America, just that we can do better.  Part of doing better is putting that exceptionalism attitude in its place.  When you think you’re pretty close to perfect, that lessens the drive to fix things that need fixing.  Looking seriously at the 2020 Index might be a good form of tough love.

The Economist is a weekly newspaper head-quartered in London and printed in magazine format.  It began in 1843 and styles itself as “a global thought leader but [not] part of the establishment.” It’s audience (in the millions) “is guided by our objectivity and insight on issues as wide-ranging as cryptocurrencies to gay marriage,” it says of itself.  And, indeed, most, if not all, organizations tracking media bias rate The Economist very high in unbiased, factual reporting.  The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), which produces the Democracy Index report, is the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, the sister company to The Economist. Created in 1946, it has over 70 years’ experience helping businesses, financial firms and governments understand how the world is changing and how that creates opportunities to be seized and risks to be managed.

The Democracy Index focuses on five categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. Based on its scores on a range of indicators within these categories, each country is then itself classified as one of four types mentioned above: Full, Flawed, Hybrid, or Authoritarian. A large, 18-page Appendix details the definitions, the resources, and the methodology the EIU uses to arrive at its rankings. The main focus of the 2020 report is the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on democracy and freedom around the world, as well as the state of U.S. democracy after a tumultuous year dominated by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a hotly contested presidential election deeply.

Among the report’s highlight findings are that:

  There’s been a shift eastward, towards Asia, in the global balance of power
  U.S. democracy continues to be under pressure from rising polarization and declining social cohesion
  The biggest democracy winner is Taiwan
  Mali and Togo are the biggest losers in a dire year for African democracy
  Western Europe loses two “full democracies” (France and Portugal)
  Democratic backsliding continues under the cover of Covid-19 in Eastern Europe and Latin America
   The Middle East and North Africa retain the lowest democracy index score, while North America (in large part because of Canada) retain the highest score.

On the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus of the 2020 Index, there was deep criticism of its handling and “big downgrades of Index scores for civil liberties and functioning of government.”  One key paragraph was this:  “Was there another way? There was no obvious alternative to the social distancing, quarantining and lockdown policies pursued by governments and, in itself, this did not signal a turn towards authoritarianism in the world’s democracies. However, governments’ approach to the management of the pandemic did reveal a dismissive attitude towards the idea of popular participation and engagement with the single most important issue of the day. Even though they were pressed for time while tackling an urgent public health catastrophe, governments could have treated the public like grown-ups and asked for their consent and involvement in combating the coronavirus epidemic.”

Of the U.S. in particular, though race and the Black Lives Matter movement gained early mention, there was little more devoted directly to these, a disappointing omission in my view. The focus, instead, was on our country’s tremendous polarization.  Has race, a perennial U.S. sore point, exacerbated our polarization, or is it bringing a strange and surprising kind of unity?  Certainly, the rise of white supremacists groups would indicate a further shredding of our social fabric, yet there is significant social backlash against such groups, especially after the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol, and more and more people seem to want to face racism, white privilege, and systemic racism in a more serious way than perhaps any other time in U.S. history.  Still, it’s understandable that our spectacular polarization should garner the Index’s most aggressive statements.  For example:  “Despite…positive developments, the US’s overall performance is held back by a number of weaknesses, including extremely low levels of trust in institutions and political parties; deep dysfunction in the functioning of government; increasing threats to freedom of expression; and a degree of societal polarisation that makes consensus on any issue almost impossible to achieve….While pluralism and competing alternatives are essential for a functioning democracy, differences of opinion in the US have hardened into political sectarianism and institutional gridlock. This trend has long compromised the functioning of government, and the US score for this category fell to a new low of 6.79 in 2020.

“More worrying, public trust in the democratic process was dealt a further blow in 2020 by the refusal of the outgoing president to accept the election result. Mr Trump and his allies continued to allege voter fraud long after the election was over, without producing reasonable evidence to substantiate their claims and in the face of court rulings finding against them. Through his unfounded allegations and intemperate language, Mr Trump called into question the reliability of the democratic process and further undermined public faith in democracy.”

  A link to the Democracy Index 2019 is in my article “Voter Suppression 21st Century Style.”

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Ray Charles Radio on Pandora

Now that I have somehow been given both a Google Nest and a Facebook Portal, I regularly say, “Hey, Google” or “Hey Portal, Play Ray Charles Radio.”  “Playing Ray Charles Radio on Pandora,” Google or Portal responds, and away we go.  It’s generally soul music of the 60’s and 70’s, though every now and then the choices are puzzling, like why Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s ukulele-heavy version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” keeps showing up.  The white guy most often played is Van Morrison, which seems just right, not only given his Charles-inspired singing, but this one particular verse in his song “These Dreams of You:”

And Ray Charles was shot down
But he got up and did his very best
A crowd of people gathered round
And to the question he answered “yes”

These are typically enigmatic Van Morrison lyrics, the kind Ray Charles never wrote and hardly ever sang.  Van’s lyrics almost seem to make sense, but their mystery invite you to come up with your own answers and make your own sense.  Why was Ray Charles shot down? And what question did he answer Yes to?  To me, at least for this moment, Ray Charles was shot down because his music seems the most old fashioned of all the music played on the Pandora station Ray Charles Radio.  The question was, You belong somewhere else, don’t you?  Paradoxically, Ray Charles is the most out of place musician on Ray Charles Radio, even more out of place than Hawaii’s Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

When a Ray Charles song comes on, you’re immediately thrown back to the straight out blues, and to Gospel music, and to jazz—trio, small band, big band—which almost no one was still doing at the time.  There’s not much sweet soul, either, a la Sam Cooke or Smokey Robinson and all those Motown stars.  This in no way implies a criticism of them—I love those men and women of Motown and Stax, perhaps especially the Supreme’s Mary Wilson, an early idol of mine, whom we lost just a few days ago.  And who can resist Smokey’s cleverness in songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do”:

The way you stole my heart,
You know you could have been a cool crook
And baby you’re so smart,
You know you could have been a school book.

Ray’s more likely to be singing lines like in his classic “Hard Times”:

My mother told me, before she passed away
Son, when I’m gone, don’t forget to pray
Cause there’ll be hard time, hard times
And who knows better than I.

His rhythms are chunkier and his voice—almost always grittier than anyone else’s—often feels like despair, conveying a dread sometimes matched only by The Four Tops.  Levi Stubbs, the Tops’ lead singer, was once described as having a voice that sounded like he was picking his way through a mine field.  Still, no one on Ray Charles Radio shouts and growls like Ray, not even James Brown, who seemed to shout or cry for different reasons.  And when Charles does turn gentler, he’s almost always singing Country music.  Country!  “Together Again,” “Worried Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”  Or his marvelous, surprising version of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” the song from the hit Broadway show Oklahoma.  Oklahoma!

Ray Charles was in the very first class of artists inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s partly for making blues and Gospel so integral to rock.  And when he moved on, so to speak, he re-made Country music by infusing more blues and Gospel into it than it ever had.  Country music is usually considered white music, though its roots were considerably blacker than we think, as evidenced by Jimmie Rodgers, for example, another artist in that first class of Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductees.  When Ray Charles started doing Country music, he not only pointed to that past, he also said, Here’s what whiteness integrated into blackness sounds like.  Usually it’s color having to assimilate, to lose its darker tones to become acceptable enough to white society.  James Baldwin called this loss “The price of the ticket,” the price of being accepted.  Historically, whites made money by taking black music and dumbing it down.  That’s the meaning of the final scenes of the 2020 movie Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, where we see a white band doing the music of the central character Levee, played by Chadwick Boseman in his final role.  (He deserves a posthumous Oscar for it.)  Levee’s been paid a pittance for his songs.  They’ve virtually been stolen.  Ray Charles reverses the flow.  He’s so different from anyone else on Ray Charles Radio not only because he stays closer to blues and Gospel and jazz, but also because he’s assimilated white Country music into those roots as well.

  Go to All Things Ray for an index of all Ray Charles material on this site.  All Things Baldwin functions similarly for James Baldwin, and in my sermon “Pentecost Means No Supremacies” I use Baldwin’s “Price of the ticket” idea.
  Go to a list of Reviews.

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