Tight Places


The phrase tight place is used throughout the book I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance As a Practice Of Freedom by the author Danielle Goldman who borrowed the phrase from Houston Baker, a scholar writing on African Americans’ struggles. According to Baker, tight places are defined to be “the always ambivalent cultural compromises of occupancy and vacancy, differently affected by contexts of situations” (5). As this definition could be difficult to grasp, fortunately, we are presented with Goldman’s explanation of her usage of the phrase. She uses the word tight places to refer to various kinds of constraints – social, historical and material conditions in which dancing occurs (3).

In the book’s Introduction, the author focuses on constraints that involve mainly race, but also class, gender and artistic conventions (3). Through examples, Goldman discusses how tight places can evoke different kinds of improvisations in order to confront their situation. What I thought was a great example is the one of “slave dancing” (7)  in the US, where the slaves would dance in a semi-structured and improvisational way in order to differentiate themselves from the plantation owners. For different people, different aspects of dancing would emerge as prevailing, which depends on the constraints and other cultural backgrounds including social and stylistic norms (7). Improvisation that stems from tight places can carry a “political power”(8), as it can give “space for resistance to the regime”(8), which in the case of Iran and the prohibition of dancing after the revolution in 1979, dance improvisation would be an important form of rebellion. Goldman recognizes the relationship between improvisation and tight places to be very complex and different to determine, as the significance of tight places is difficult to asses.

I already knew that a person’s dance reflects one’s cultural background with all its tight places, but the notion of improvisation in relation to freedom and rebellion is something I haven’t thought of before.  I find the link between improvisation and tight places very appealing, however I wonder if improvisational dance can sometimes just exist – without any tight places to frame it? Can we ever detach ourselves from our circumstances or is the improvisation always going to be a consequence of something that influences us? Even dancing expertise is a form of tight places, which truly makes it difficult to imagine improvisation outside of any context. Here is where I think of my personal tight place – my disability. My constraint is a physical one, which Goldman did not specifically address in her book, however, it would be interesting to look into how physically impaired would approach dance improvisation. My uneducated guess would be, that there would be a lot of hesitation and insecurity in the dance as social norms and expectations do not include a disabled body in a general image of dancing.  The tight place surrounding disability is not only physical but also perceptual and I believe that the later is the “disabling” one. However, a physical disability can be a “tight place” that can offer a unique path into improvised dancing, which can challenge many preconceptions that make it difficult to dance in the first place.

Works Cited

Goldman, Danielle. "Introduction" I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom. 1-27. USA: The University of Michigan Press, 2010.