Trance Dance


The word trance, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, is a ‘half conscious state that is characterized by an absence of response to external stimuli’. Trance dance traditionally comes from the African San community who regard it as a ‘healing dance for individual and the community’. This dance is performed in many ways but the most common feature that this dance involves is fire. Women sit by the fire, sing songs and clap with a rhythm while a healer, particularly a man, dances around this fire with rattles tied to his ankles until they enter the state of trance. During this state of trance, the performer experiences a change in themselves which, he feels, can give him enough energy to heal someone by channeling this energy into them.

Katherine Profeta introduces the trance dance in her book ‘Dramaturgy in Motion’ when she shares an example from her life to put forward the implication of research in drama and movement. She discusses a project called Geography which she worked on along with the choreographer, Ralph Lemon. Ralph had witnessed trance dance previously and was greatly inspired by its manifestation and he wanted the West African collaborators who were working with him on this project to perform something similar. Due to the dangers and complications involved in this dance form, the dancers refused to perform it. Profeta takes this example to put forward the idea of research inside the rehearsal room as compared to the research coming from outside and how every new information coming from outside the rehearsal room cannot be implied on a certain group because of their limitations.

The reason I chose this word is because I never formally knew of this form of dance before, but I can relate to it through a dance form that I have witnessed in several shrines in Pakistan. This kind of dance is performed on a religious chant which might lead a strong believer or follower of the shrine into a trance that is regarded as a phase of exalted rank from a religious point of view. After watching a few performances of trance dance, I was able to make connections between this kind of dance, Sufi dance—which is very popular in Turkey— and the dance at the shrines. These forms of dance revolve around the idea of trance and repeated motion and oscillation at a certain rhythm and it is interesting to see how all of them are closely related to religion. I was particularly surprised to see this connection between two distinct communities: one that is situation somewhere in Africa and has different religious values from the Muslim community in Turkey and Pakistan.

Works Cited

English Oxford Living Dictionaries "Trance." Accessed 6 Jan 2018. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trance. Profeta, Katherine. 2015. Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, ThoughtCo. "Trance Dance of the San." Accessed 6 Jan 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-trance-dance-44077.