But when it comes to the artistic side of life, and the effort to express through beautiful ways and means, we are woefully deficient. As a people we have given little, if any, encouragement to our own composers, musicians, painters, sculptors, and even architects, although perhaps within recent years the last-named have had better opportunities for expression than any of the others just mentioned. We have had, then, the fullest material expression up to the present, but the development of beauty and art in America has been largely repressed. We have cultivated to the extreme material power, and this, without doubt, has caused the repression of idealism, and everything in the nature of true rhythm, grace, and beauty. But we are waking up, we are coming to see that life consists of something more than material possessions, and we are beginning to express along rhythmic lines in one of the first ways that expression comes to man - through the dance. For after musical tone, dancing follows as the next necessary expression of rhythm. If we have lost all natural rhythm in the past, the inner impulse is to restore it, and if we are able to restore it in one way, later we shall be able to restore it in all ways; so no one should deplore the efforts that are being made to return to the natural rhythm of life through or by the dance; neither can it be expected that either grace or beauty will be found at their best in the first attempt that is being made to open up the inner spring of life.
"Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the milky way, They stretched in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay; Ten thousand saw I at a glance, Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
"The waves beside them danced; but they Outdid the sparkling waves in glee; A poet could not but be gay In such a jocund company: I gazed - and gazed - but little thought What wealth to me the show had brought."
Music, poetry, and dancing are the first three graces in human life, and they are so closely related that each one adds to the value of the others. We may think that we possess sufficient knowledge for the care of mind and body, as did the people of ancient times, but without doubt they knew, in those early days, much better about many things than we do at the present time. We are too self-sufficient. We have an idea that ours is the ideal democracy, that we know more of what constitutes the liberty, equality, and fraternity of life than has yet been known by any of the great democracies of the past. But we deceive ourselves. The ancient democracy of Greece was probably as much in advance of what we are as we are in advance of the coloured race in our own midst. This may not be at all flattering to our racial pride, but I cannot see how any reasoning, logical mind can reach any other conclusion. Notwithstanding, I believe that the tendency of the advanced thinkers among our people is turning in the right direction, and that at some time in the future our bigness will become greatness. We have reached the "know-it-all" period, and henceforward we may be able to draw lessons from the past and profit by the example of other people. There really can be no doubt whatever that, up to a comparatively recent time, for a so-called civilised people, we have been the most deadly, inartistic people that have ever encumbered the face of the earth. But it is never too late to mend. And when people are able to see their own faults and shortcomings, that is the beginning of the turn of the tide, for mistakes must be seen in order to be corrected. And if we have the liberty to commit errors, we have also the power to overcome them.
America has become the melting-pot for humanity, but when the dross is consumed we shall have the pure gold. Within the nation there are doubtless innate and potential powers and possibilities as great as the world has ever known, and they exist in order to be realised. But they neither can nor will be realised through the old ways and methods. The old bottles will not hold the new wine. We must leave the old things behind and press forward to those things which are before. The new life is always the result of inner feeling and new thought, and from the two there comes outer expression.
Among many people, the dance as well as song has been a part of religious ceremonial. Milton, in his "Paradise Lost," makes reference to the song and dance about the sacred hill.
"That day, as other solemn days they spent In song and dance about the Sacred hill Mystical dance which yonder starry sphere Of planets, and fix'd, in all her wheels, Resembles nearest, mazes intricate, Eccentric, intervolved yet regular, Then most, when most irregular they seem And in their motions divine So smooth her charming tones, That God's own ear listens delighted."
With very few exceptions the religious sects of the civilised world of the present, while retaining music as a part of their religious services, have done away with dancing; in fact, the dance is under a ban even in a purely secular way among many of the most prominent sects of the Christian Church. We have sufficient evidence in the Old Testament to show that the Jewish people used to dance in connection with religious ceremonial. Perhaps among none of the nations of the earth has it been used to the same degree in connection with religious rites as among the ancient Greeks. Dancing is not by any means the highest expression of life's rhythm, but it is surely as much a part of a natural expression of rhythm as music or poetry. In fact, dancing may be made a true expression of both. All over the civilised world to-day there exists almost a mania for dancing, and on every side you hear people arguing for or against the dance. Some say: if we are to have a revival of the dance, let us have the graceful dances of the past; others take the ground that it is necessary to inject something new and fresh into life, and that the modern dances give evidence that such newness and freshness are entering into life. Some there be who say that many of the dances are highly immoral, and that they should be prohibited altogether; but there are people so constructed that they see immorality in everything that does not accord with their particular conventional way of looking at life. Some people can write morality into everything they do, while there are others who, looking for evil, find it in everything and in everybody. I think that the originators of the new dances should see that true rhythm, grace, and beauty are absolutely necessary to the real and lasting success of dancing. Any dance that is ungraceful or lacking in beauty is not worthy of consideration. Of course, it may be said that some people are able to infuse grace and beauty into any dance, just as some people are able to see good in everything. But even so, if the majority of dancers are unable to make the dance beautiful as well as graceful, then there can be no real reason for its existence. In fact, the truth of this has been proved, for many dances that were popular only one short year ago have no place in the dancing of to-day. Let it then be understood, once and for all, that rhythm, grace, and beauty constitute the enduring features of any or all dances.