Alcohol and the Dance

By Michael Kuharski,
Artistic Director, Ensemble Narodno!

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Alcohol bottles One reason given for drinking before or during dancing is that it is said to reduce inhibition. We've all heard anecdotal reports of its therapeutic powers in this regard, such as the swift and miraculous remission of chronic virginity. A large proportion of humans in all cultures are by nature shy persons, and mainstream American culture carries a prejudice against dance (with the implicit disapproval especially strong for males), so reduced inhibition is a precondition of dance participation for a lot of folks in our culture. A measured drop of the poteen might be a proper prescription here. But the notion that alcohol is a substitute for expertise and physical capacity is, of course, a shopworn joke. It won't fill in for anything that you are lacking, and generally reduces functionality. The most effective inhibition-reducers, in my experience, are a supportive and tolerant community atmosphere and positive feedback to individual dancers at every level of experience. Empowering teaching doesn't hurt either.

The role of alcohol in native Balkan dance cultures is a topic that intrigues me. In my experience of the central Balkans, drinking is a social activity and so is responsibly paced and monitored by the group. It's done as part of extended cycles of dining, continuous snacking, conversation, joking, storytelling, singing, and dancing. Thus a mild aura of alcohol is associated with all these activities — it is an intrinsic part of the context, the set of conditions under which it is natural to do something. Since a lot of those hard-working village people suffer from arthritis and such conditions, I have sometimes wondered whether alcohol serves as a pain-reliever which makes the physical demands of dancing tolerable. We dance mostly for recreation, but participation in dance is sometimes a social expectation in Balkan communities.

The international folk dance culture in which I developed and in which I most frequently dance runs on adrenaline and natural endorphins, so alcohol is not part of the context that I need in order to dance comfortably — but I do need to get physically warmed up!


Used with permission of the author.