Eva Yaa Asantewaa: Soothing Our Nerves

[ed. note: This funny, beautiful post is the first in a series that poet and longtime dance critic Eva Yaa Asantewaa will present under the rubric “InfiniteBody.” Here, she riffs off Foot in Mouth’s opening question, If nearly everybody likes to move and watch others move, why are dance audiences so small?]
Are you old enough to remember the days when we would fortify ourselves first and then head off to a dance concert, or perhaps see dance and then replenish ourselves afterwards? Now many dance venues provide refreshments, encouraging audience members to belly up to the bar or chow down to their hearts’ content–or ultimate discontent.
You can buy a bottle of beer at The Chocolate Factory, but for a chocoholic fix, you’ll need to check out Dance Theater Workshop. At poet Carl Hancock Rux’s recent BAM Next Wave multidisciplinary show, “Mycenaean,” I watched a large group of college kids get tickets and then, en masse, head straight to the cafĂ© counter where popcorn is a major draw. These youngsters had gone from my neighborhood in the East Village–a.k.a. NYU’s Food Court, and Theme Park to the World–to another borough where they could exercise their inalienable right to consume.
But dancer-choreographer Sarah Michelson’s BAM Next Wave production, “Dogs”–her purported swan song–took this sort of thing to new heights with a set that included a heaping platter of roast chicken. Since the presence of this pile of poultry was barely addressed amidst the over-the-top dance spectacle and frequently crescendoing ballet music, perhaps Michelson intended the chicken to have a largely subliminal effect. Lo and behold, come intermission, tables set up with picnicware and mounds of roast chicken–free for the plucking–greeted audience members in the lobby. Of course, as a vegetarian, I did not indulge.
Some time ago, I read an article (unfortunately, I’ve long since forgotten where this piece appeared) that contained a quote from a dance presenter (name forgotten, too–sorry!–but trust me, I did not make this up) who argued that selling food at dance venues is a great way to bring in new audiences, especially younger ones. After all, this presenter reasoned, dance is hard to understand and makes people anxious. Food calms people down and makes them more receptive to what they are about to see.
It never occurred to me that, for more than three decades now, I’ve been sitting among extremely nervous people, audiences so fearful of what they were about to see that they’d need to soothe their nerves with booze, Valium, or maybe just a really juicy Big Mac. Dance dangerous? Oh, my god! Should I have buckled my seat belt? Donned my helmet? Slipped on elbow pads? Will my local precinct sell me a bullet-proof vest?
Now that I think about it, this news gives me a good little jolt in the self-confidence. Why, if it’s true that most people dread an imminent close encounter with dance, then I’m practically a daredevil–facing up to big, bad dance on a regular basis without benefit of training wheels, a chaperone, an agent from Homeland Security, a martini, or a sloppy joe burrito. The way I figure it, I’m as tough as anything Movement Research can throw at me! PS 122? Bring it on! I will feed on The Kitchen and not in it!
I can be strong for all of us. Scared of dance? Come sit by me. And if you don’t have anything good to say about a dance concert, come sit by me.
[Ed. note: See the contributor’s column, to the right, for Eva’s bio.]

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