Study Guide

The Dance Themes

  • Art and Culture

    "The Dance" is one big celebration of the arts—for real. We've got a poem inspired by a painting of a bunch of people dancing, and that's at least three different branches of art all rolled up into one. What's interesting, however, is that even though this is a famous poem by a famous poet inspired by a famous painting by a famous painter, more than anything else this is a celebration of the raw artistic expression and culture of everyday, ordinary folks.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. What different branches of the arts are represented in the poem?
    2. In what ways does the poem highlight folk culture?
    3. Does the poem seem to favor folk art over fine art, or does it seem to treat them with equal value? Which parts of the poem support your answer?

    Chew on This

    Party hardy, dudes. By brilliantly evoking the rough and rowdy atmosphere of the peasant festival, the poem is celebrating the vibrant liveliness of these kinds of events.

    This poem shows that the power of art lies in its ability to transport us to other worlds—like sixteenth-century Flanders.

  • Happiness

    Sheer joy—how often do you get to read a poem about that? (Okay, we're not counting something written in a greeting card.) "The Dance" is one of those rare pieces that celebrates the reality of human happiness without being sappy or cliché. Sometimes, it's great to be alive, and it's super-extra-great when a master poet captures those moments with such skill.

    Questions About Happiness

    1. What exactly is making these peasants so happy? How do you know? 
    2. What specific parts of the poem highlight the happiness of the dancers?
    3. In what ways might the joy of the peasants in this poem represent the possibility of happiness for all humanity?

    Chew on This

    "The Dance" is a refreshingly un-cynical celebration of the real possibility of human happiness. Woo-hoo!

    By not including any references to darker emotions, "The Dance" presents a one dimensional view of life. Ho-hum.

  • Society and Class

    Both "The Dance" and the painting it's inspired by are a celebration of common people. And what a celebration it is, what with the beer flowin' and the butts wigglin'. We peek into a particularly happy moment for some Flemish peasants and we're shown that, just because some people may not be fabulously wealthy, that doesn't mean they can't ever have a good time.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. What clues does the poem give that the people in the poem are working class?
    2. Does the poem make any comments about which class of people is better than the other? Why, or why not?
    3. Does the poem paint a realistic picture of peasant life, do you think? Why, or why not?

    Chew on This

    The poem celebrates the lives of common people by focusing in on the joy present in their lives. Good times, gang.

    "The Dance" and the painting it's inspired by, romanticizes the lives of common people, glossing over the hardships of everyday life. It's not all beer glasses and squeezeboxes.