Water dancing is an act that ties together many of the novel’s central themes: rebellion, freedom, love, skill, and memory. When Hiram was a little boy, his mother Rose and aunt Emma used to water dance, an act that involves dancing while holding a jar of water on one’s head and trying not to let any of it spill. It is one of the ways in which enslaved people steal moments of joy for themselves in the midst of the degradation and brutality of slavery. Moreover, it is also a chance for enslaved people to demonstrate their skill and talent to each other, which is significant given that slavery involves stealing enslaved people’s ingenuity in order for others to profit. The fact that this ritual involves water is also extremely important. Water is a symbol of rebellion for enslaved people, because when captives were transported from Africa to the Americas, many chose to leap into the water in order to refuse a life of bondage (even if that meant certain death). Water dancing is a way of honoring that legacy. For Hiram in particular, it is also one of the few memories he has of his mother and aunt, from whom he was separated after they were sold. Remembering Rose and Emma water dancing is what allows him to Conduct (travel through space instantly). By recalling the beautiful rebellions of his family members, Hiram is able to rebel himself and—several times—save his own life.
Water Dancing Quotes in The Water Dancer
Maybe the power was in some way related to the block in my memory, and to unlock one was, perhaps, to unlock the other. And so in those dark and timeless hours in the pit, it became my ritual to reconstruct everything I had heard of her and all that I had seen of her in those moments down in the Goose. Rose of the kindest heart. Rose, sister of Emma. Rose the beautiful. Rose the silent. Rose the Water Dancer.
“Was a big king who come over from Africa on the slave ship with his people. But when they got close to shore, him and his folk took over, killed all the white folks, threw ’em overboard, and tried to sail back home. But the ship run aground, and when the king look out, he see that the white folks’ army is coming for him with they guns and all. So the chief told his people to walk out into the water, to sing and dance as they walked, that the water-goddess brought ’em here, and the water-goddess would take ’em back home.
And when we dance as we do, with the water balanced on our head, we are giving praise to them who danced on the waves. We have flipped it, you see?”