In the modern age, communities are not necessarily things we are born into. Communities are invented through our own efforts and our own imaginations. In that sense, communities are always under construction and are always maintained by our own efforts. When we stop attending to our community we endanger its very existence.
The need to live in social groups is hardwired. We really and actually are dependent upon one another for our physical safety and our spiritual well-being. In order to live together, humans have collectively adapted social skills. We are hardwired to communicate through speech and through abstractions like metaphors and humor. We are hardwired to respond with nurturing instincts to the face of a baby. Recently scientists have even discovered that laughing is a hardwired feature that makes socializing with strangers possible. In fact, we seem to be hardwired for experiencing pleasure around all the things we have to do to survive: we need to procreate and propagate, we need to eat and sleep, and we need to live in society, that is, in communal arrangements. Every culture has invented its own expression, its own ways in which those needs are met.
As we allow more varieties of social behavior into our general pool of options, we must then make choices about how we are going to cooperate. Every generation or so we revise the ways we create and define community. We retain fantasies about the nature of past community formations often idealizing them. At least as early as the Industrial Revolution in England, formerly rural peoples moved into the cities seeking work and immediately began to feel nostalgic about the comforts of small-scale, interdependent rural lives they left behind. But community is in the present, not in the past.
The morphology of our various modes of communion responds always to the needs of individuals and their historical world. At our historical moment, we have many options available to us. As our social mores loosen up, as globalization expands, we invent or choose new ways of living cooperatively. Our social needs in this 21st Century historical moment, in this rapidly changing cultural moment requires flexibility. Individuals may hold membership in a number of communities organized around common interests or activities. The communal form that I am currently interested in is organized around a common activity: dance.
Watch for the third chapter in this series: A Community of Dancers: How to invent a community