The philosophy of House music and dance aims to create unifying and meaningful life experiences for its practitioners through the idea of being one with each other and the universe.
To learn more about House dance culture, history, and philosophy of self-transcendence, I had the honor of interviewing the distinguished House dancer and event organizer, Brandon Dorsey, also known as Bran1. He has been part of the Chicago dance community for more than fifteen years, organized several events, traveled across the globe to perform, teach, and compete, and has won multiple prestigious competitions. Brandon is the organizer of the event series Provide The Vibe, and is also a successful businessman in the logistics industry.
“House” music emerged from the Chicago club scene in the early 1980s. Its origins can be traced to the Chicago nightclub The Warehouse (1977-1983), where legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles—often named the Father of House music—was experimenting by blending disco and other genres with music technologies such as drum machines and synthesizers. By taking the intensity and pulsing base rhythm from disco, and mixing it with new electronic sounds, Frankie Knuckles along with other Chicago artists created a sensation. Soon people would travel from the other side of the town, and eventually from the other side of the country just to hear “Warehouse music”. Eventually this became just House Music.
House dancing as a self-aware culture and art form emerged in the late 80’s early 90’s after House music had gained its rapid international success. House was branching out to all corners of the world. Dancers in NYC, Chicago, and other cities began to come together to develop a specific foundation of steps to be the foundation of the dance that accompanied House music. These steps predominately came from Salsa, samba, tap dance, Breakdancing, and Chicago Footwork, but had other influences as well.
“It sounds like such a cliché at first, but House is a feeling.” Brandon elaborates that House dance as a community and a philosophy is centered around a specific mindset, namely that House is a feeling. Philosophers might call it a form of transcendence; House dancers call it “Blacking Out”. The phenomenon of Blacking Out has many similarities to meditation or the mind state of Zen.
When in this state of mind the dancer forgets about themselves, forgets about their problems, and simply becomes one with the music. It is dancing without boundaries, determined less by steps, forms, and conventions, and fully by intuitive on-the-spot interactions between dancers and their music. Brandon describes the ideal House moment as one in which everyone is in tune with each other’s movements, creating a collective freestyle partner dance. When one person moves, everyone moves with them. Such an experience can only be achieved when dancers are fully engaged in the music and with one another. The dancers must forget about their own needs and desires, and become one with the moment.
Brandon explains that such moments are prized by the House dance community on both a practical and philosophical level. House dancers will get together not only to achieve “the House feeling”, but also to discuss what it means to have such experiences, how to better achieve them, and what they mean for their community at large. Hence the feeling of House becomes the centerpiece around which an elaborate philosophy is constructed.
The principle of unity is shared and articulated by practitioners not only through philosophical conversation outside the dance floor, but also on the floor when people will yell “This is church, this is church!” The chant “This is church” and other similar phrases are meant to reinforce the understanding of the philosophy but also to show that moments of intense unification are sacred to House dancers. Brandon explains that he has no qualms in using the word sacred, since it is the closest thing he can find to explain the strong spiritual aspect of the dance.
Chosen Few 2016 House Music Festival. Photos by Marc Monaghan.
In fact, Brandon articulates that he and many others do not see a difference between practicing a religion and practicing House dance. Like many organized religions, House dancing or “Housing” consists of a community coming to worship, confirming a set of beliefs, practicing rituals, and tapping into the sacred and the spiritual. For Brandon and many of the practitioners in the international community, House dancing fulfills all of these functions and more.
House competitions exist, but they are not at the center of the culture. In fact, while in Breaking it is seen as odd not to want to compete, house dancers find it inauthentic to practice the dance in order to compete. House is a feeling first, a community second, a technique third, and a competition last. This concept is explicitly part of the virtues that house dancers are told to develop. If Breakdancing is the Art of War, House dancing is Taoism.
It is understood by House dancers that they must develop the virtues of intuitiveness, sensitivity, universal love, and respect for the sacred. In turn, the community and the “feeling of House” will provide a meaningful life to the dancers, letting them know that they are part of something much bigger, part of everyone and everything. The philosophy of House speaks of a universal love for people, beings and things. Through the feeling of House, practitioners become unified with each other, their community, society, and the universe at large. The feeling of House is an entry way into a form of epistemology that will ultimate reveal that everyone and everything is connected. So by loving others we love ourselves, and by loving ourselves we love others.
Brandon explains that although House started as a predominately Black and Latino form of music, House dance culture’s focus on community makes it a virtue to eliminate the isolated particularity of race, class, gender, and sexuality. In fact, because of the strong emphasis on unity, house dance celebrates those who can obtain the universal feeling of House, where all other aspects of a person’s background recede. Taking part in the dance and helping achieve the feeling of House in the moment is all that matters. Transcending the self in order to become part of something bigger and more important is at the core of House dance philosophy and is part of what makes House dance a meaningful experience.
Christian Kronsted is a graduate student assistant with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.