June 13, 2012
Yes, we're still by and large a culture that pays to enjoy the experience of passively watching "real" artists at work.
But the growth of DIY culture and the gradual buy-in of major arts institutions into the idea that people today want more than a passive experience is slowly beginning to take hold.
There are, of course, corners of our culture that have always thrived on participation. Take the world of social dance for example.
Over the past week, I've had two social dance experiences: The first involved two-stepping at The Saddlerack, a cowboy bar in Fremont (in the East Bay, about an hour from San Francisco by car.) The second centered on swing dancing at Le Colonial, a restaurant and bar which harks back to French Vietnam.
I've never swung before and my only experience of two-stepping was at a friend's house party for 10 minutes. My inexperience hardly mattered though. Thanks to my partners (who were hardly dance champions but could still carve out a line on the floor without wiping out) and the lively music provided by the two live bands -- Diablo Road at the Saddlerack and Le Jazz Hot at Le Colonial -- I was able to hold my own as a complete novice without embarrassing myself entirely.
And that's just the point: While there were certainly some very impressive movers on the dance floor in both nightspots whom I occasionally paused to watch in awe, I felt that there was plenty of room for people of all standards. Rather than feeling like a spectator or a participant who's being judged, it was possible for me to be part of a group of people simply moving in their own way and having fun.
I want more of our culture to be like that.