LivingArts: Love and Happiness... and Dance

Love and Happiness by Al Green is one of the greatest love songs ever. Yes, it totally is. Hear me out.

First off, let me state my favourite Al Green song is Let’s Stay Together, which is considered among the top 20 love songs of all time. I will also add that Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is my sing-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-in-two-different-voices JAM! However, those love songs, like many others on said lists, portray the everything-is-wonderful love or the Boyz II Men, classic Country heartache type love. Whereas Love and Happiness is pretty much every love story in ONE song: positive but serious, covering the full scope and experience of love. In both its sound and lyrics, the song evokes the beautiful highs, the all so common lows, and the struggle to find balance in relationships. There’s this heaviness that the bass and the drums lend to the track while the addition of the horns inject it with energy and positivity, especially toward the end, as they increase in intensity and frequency. Then, there is the organ that gives it this subtle, uplifting, gospel-esque feeling through its five-minute duration.

For me, Love & Happiness seems kind of like my relationship with Dance. Ohh, yes. Dance, you bewitching entity you!

As I’m sure many dancers and artists out there can attest, the process of creating just one (dance) piece is like the entirety of emotions in this song. In the first verse, Al sings softly: “Something’s going wrong/Someone’s on the phone/3 o’clock in the morning’/Yeah/Talkin’ bout how she can make it right.” I can’t tell you how many times this year alone I’ve accidently stayed up past 3am because something wasn’t clicking and I’ve decided to change the cut of a song. This, of course, results in changing a whole section of choreography, formations, transitions, etc. It is at about this time that I rethink this whole thing because it is much too late and I should stop now, only to have Dance say to me; “Its cool, we GOT this Josh. Staying up will be completely worth it, I promise.” A day or two later when I’m dancing this new section or teaching it out to my students, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Maybe a little tired, but happier.                                                                                                                                                     

I find with dance, I have to trust it and my relationship with it. Trust the process of creating, training and teaching. Remind myself every now and again to trust my gut. What did I want to say through the piece in the first place? If I’ve got to tweak, scrap and shuffle things around sometimes to get back there, that’s okay. A lot of the time, its better for it.  

“Love is/wait a minute/Love is/Walkin' together/Talkin' together…Say it together.” That’s when we work best, Dance and me. There are the days or moments where I find myself feeling a little defeated because I’m not getting the result I want right now. It doesn’t look the way I want it to look right now. But, love, the kind of love these songs are always singing on about, flows from that initial feeling, look or kiss.

In dance, that piece comes from that initial idea, song or bassline. Not overthinking it but being present in it. It’s not about being perfect, at least not right away, but being true to it and to yourself first. That is when it clicks. That is when the piece connects with the performer and becomes real for the audience. You are asked to present it again or expand upon it. That is when it gives back. That is where you can find the balance. “You be good to me/I’ll be good to you/We’ll be together/Yeah/We’ll see each other/Walk away with victory/Yeahh/Heyyy, oh baaaby/Love and Happiness!”

So, as we say bye to a very full 2016, let me share with you, what I will keep in mind for the year ahead from the soulful teachings of the Reverend Al Green: This love for (insert art discipline here) is made up of the guitar, the bass, the drums, the horns and that lovely, sometimes haunting, organ. It is trust, it is sacrifice, it is giving, it is receiving and it is learning. It is ALL of that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Well, maybe with a bit more sleep.

Now you go and listen to Love and Happiness and tell me that isn’t one heck of a love song.