Tuesday 27 February 2018

Britain is still a country for and says "Happy Birthday" to an old dancing Philosopher called Roger Scruton

Roger, who teaches aesthetics to graduate students at Oxford and has written more than 40 books, is 74 years old today. He  still likes to dance, however, in his collection of essays entitled 'Confessions of a Heretic,' he took issue with the dancing witnessed in the nation’s clubs and pubs, in which participants “jerk on to the floor in obedience to the puppet master at the desk.”

In his essay, 'Dancing Properly', he commented that dancers today 'are dancing at each other. The difference between ‘at’ and ‘with’ is one of the deepest psychological differences we know. It is exemplified in all our encounters with other people – notably in conversation and in sexual gambits … The decay of manners that we have seen in recent times is to a large extent a result of the loss of withness and the rise of atness in its stead. Rudeness, obscenity, the ‘in your face’ manners of the new TV presenter – all these are ways of being ‘at’ other people. Courtesy, manners, negotiation and deference are, by contrast, ways of being with.'

It is hard to fault this analysis and those old Brits born before, or just after, the middle of the last century, would recognise the 'withness' society into which they were born has diminished over the years, to the extent they find themselves at odds with young people across the whole spectrum of social interchange in 'atness' Britain.

Although he confessed that he was “no good at it,” Roger still loves dancing and he looks back nostalgically to the tactile dances of his youth in the early 1960s where "physical contact was permitted in a way that it wasn’t in everyday life. The electricity of physical contact has gone therefore from young people’s lives. For us ageds, I can remember the tingle in your fingertips when you touched a girl’s body anywhere. That’s part of it, but also that touching as a courtesy has gone." It has been replaced by the solitary nature of much modern dancing.

A little conservative in his dancing tastes : "I love Viennese waltzes and polkas, and especially cèilidhs and old-fashioned formation dancing,” Roger also admitted that : “I like rock’n’roll too." In the early days of rock, he claims, dance steps required a partner and this allowed couples to “touch, swing around each other, move together in an attempt to recapture withness.” 
All this was confirmed by British Pathé in 1961.

Roger believes a good example of music to dance “properly” to, would be Elvis Presley's 'Heartbreak Hotel', in which the rhythm is generated by the melodic line and the voice: “There is no violent drumming, no amplified bass, none of the devices which – I am tempted to say – substitute for rhythm in so much contemporary pop. This withness is felt by the listener as an urge to dance, an urge to look around for the person whose hand could be taken and who could be led on to the floor.”

Roger also believes that this was so 'with the pop music in the days immediately following rock ’n’ roll – music like that of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and a hundred others, which is now widely listened to, but rarely danced to, precisely because it contains a memory of real dancing. Its very melodiousness ensures that it will be banished from the disk jockey’s computer table, and replaced by a grotesque caricature of music in which rhythm is replaced by beat and melody by senseless repetition.'

Roger has kindly given us the philosophical arguments underpinning his thesis about dancing in his essay, 'The Lost Love of Dancing.'

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