At first glance, a dance class for people with Parkinson’s disease seems like a contradiction in terms. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system whose most obvious symptoms are movement related. Yet Olie Westheimer, who was facilitating a Parkinson’s support group in Brooklyn, had a hunch that rigorous dance training with world-class dancers and live music was exactly what her members needed.
As performers, we all hope to communicate something through our art, to our audience. I find, that sometimes we get so engrossed in the actual technicality of a song or dance, that we forget about this communication with the audience. The philosophy of Duende, a word and idea conceptualiser in Spain and tied closely to Flamenco, places this communication of intense emotion over any other aspect of performance. Although one could easily spend years studying what Duende is, what it means and how to capture it, my cliff notes understanding is this: Duende is the emotion that a performer makes the audience feel – which is so new, intense and deep for both, that it moves the audience to a place of discomfort. Duende is a dark force of the Earth that borders on death and evil, and overtakes the performer involved.
Although I had never seen the dance form of Duende before, I find the philosophy fascinating and important for all artists to ponder. After all, if we don’t leave our audience moved to a new place, what have we really given them? Federico García Lorca wrote an essay about Duende called “A Poet in New York and Theory of Duende.” Lorca! Duende, by Carolina Fonseca is a physical manifestation of Lorca’s explanation of Duende. Find the essay here.