Embodied Knowledge: Inhabiting Twilight Zone(s)
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
I’ll start with a dream I had this morning. It is one of those dreams from which a stream of words gushes forth and a stream of feelings too. I live in a twilight zone; by this, I mean that my inner-city studio fills with fluorescent light and that, even at 3 am, three layers of curtains cannot block out the street lamp directly outside my bedroom window. Thus, fluorescence is becoming a state of mind no doubt seeping into the scenography of my dreams. When I wake, a distinct phrase floats in my mind — bowing down to the four directions — which reminds me of that movement ritual I learnt several years ago from K.J. Holmes, where we bowed to the four cardinal directions, dancing the different geographical, poetical, psychic associations we had with each of these dimensions. And then only last week I am sitting in that theatre when the queer-coder-artist-writer Judd Morrisey says, “Ok now I want you all to turn. Yeah, that’s right. In your groups — just decide which direction and turn — oh, and keep writing.”
I TURN TO FACE EAST
I TURN TO FACE A WHITE WALL
I TURN MY BACK ON THE OTHERS
SUDDENLY, AN ATTACK
A BRIEF ILLNESS
I OPEN MY MOUTH AND A SOUND COMES OUT
THIS IS NOT MY VOICE AND THIS IS NOT NOT MY VOICE
UM . . . I CAN’T REMEMBER NOW
I BENT WITH THE CURVE IN THE RIVER
LIKE MAGIC YOU DISAPPEAR
I AM THINKING ABOUT DANCING AND I AM WRITING ABOUT DANCING
IS THIS DANCING?
NOT VERY PRETTY IS IT
The idea of “embodied knowledge” arose from a time in the discipline of dance when dancers, dance educators, dance scholars, and dance writers were concerned with articulating specific and particular “knowledge(s)” or “knowing(s)” that comes from, through, and of the experience of dancing. Embodiment is directly associated with experience — the experience that comes from having a body, with various sensory feelings and motor capacities.
“The process of embodiment,” writes Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, “is a being process, not a doing process, not a thinking process. It is an awareness process in which the guide and the witness dissolve into cellular consciousness. Visualization and somatization provide steps to full embodiment, helping us return to preconsciousness with a conscious mind” (Bainbridge Cohen 57). Working in the 1970s to create an extensive, experiential study known as Body-Mind Centering, Cohen intersected with the work of other seminal dancers who created “new” systems of movement and thought, such as Anna Halprin, Steve Paxton, and Deborah Hay — influencing a range of choreographers working at the time such as Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, Robert Morris, and Bruce Nauman. In that historical moment, the aesthetic of dance and the “knowledge(s)” of/in dance shifted. Collectively, the discipline of dance made a turn. Collectively, the discipline of dance shouted, “This is dance! Forget everything you’ve seen on stage until now.”
What is dancing? When are you dancing? So are you dancing now? Whose dance are you dancing?
This course is a performance. It involves a daily practice of moving/dancing/writing. It doesn’t involve learning any steps or sequences. It is not about progression, but it is about accumulation. The dancing will be guided by “task-lines.” In this course, repetition is not about learning and reproducing patterns, but about tackling the same tasks anew. Ultimately, the tasks don’t really matter; its purpose is to notice and value difference. Moving together, we will closely examine this state of identification we call “I” and “We.” This course proposes that “I” — the individual — am not dancing in relation to “We” — the group — with my own history, memory, agency, and self-determination but, rather, that “I” am already “We” and that “We” am already “I” and that, perhaps, I am not even dancing but being danced — by the breeze, the people crossing the street outside, the play of sunlight on the white wall, the mouse that lives under the floorboards, the ghosts of all the dances danced in this room, and so forth; that dancing is not something I make happen but something that happens in, on, of, through, behind, upon, at, against, toward my body in continuous becoming.
The twenty-first century presents dance studies with a huge task: To understand the inherited knowledges and embodied practices of previous eras, while allowing space to imagine different futures and ways of moving and creating […] Discipline can be a gate-keeper, a kind of shame, a pathway to virtuosity and professionalism, a form of sophistication and an application of control and power. Despite the “corporeal turn” of much recent academic discourse, dance studies as a field has produced disciplined bodies persistently subjected to the commands of academic writing (Dempster, 2005; Lepecki, 2006.) — (Call for Papers: Undisciplining Dance Symposium)
- To understand the inherited knowledges and embodied practices of previous eras, this course will begin with acknowledging the historical context of “embodiment” as “the body” situated as a shifting site, function, form, and index of “knowing.” We will look at movement studies, practices, and choreographies that situate the body as “container,” examining the ethical implications of this.
- To imagine different futures and ways of moving and creating, we will take on Peggy Phelan’s injunction as “score”: “As a philosophical and epistemological injunction ‘movement’ punctures the ideological assumption that the centre is permanent, stable, secure. Thus the task before us is to shift from a consideration of the aesthetic dimensions of movement to a consideration of movement as ethical principle and practice” (Phelan 22).
- In regard to disciplined bodies persistently subjected to the commands of academic writing, we will daily practice handstands, headstands, and cartwheels namely to bring great benefits to our endocrine system, and also to practice (conceptual, theoretical, and philosophic) flips; to turn the Mind-Body illusion on its head by seeking not further integration (nor distinction!) but to focus on the hyphen between.
I’ll start with a dream I had this morning. It is one of those dreams in which everyone wears white, smokes shisha, and is watching me watch them. You and I are gliding underwater through some intricate canal system, where a long line of nymphs in silver sequinned shorts are dancing in perfect unison on the bridges above. Suddenly, a burst of fireworks. The dream is like some great big party, where I keep saying yes, YES!
When I wake I slowly let the half-light into my eyes; then I turn to you and whisper, “Utopia is never for one.”
Watchings and Listenings: A List of Video Essays
Bergvall, Caroline. Writing Gestures. What Now Festival, Independent Dance, London, 2014.
Bell, Jerome. Veronique Doisneau 1. Opera National de Paris, Paris, 2009.
Burrows, Jonathan et al. 52 Portraits. Sadlers Wells, London, 2016.
Davies, Siobhan & Hinton, David. All This Can Happen. Siobhan Davies Dance, London, 2012.
Edmunds, Becky. Have You Started Dancing Yet? South East Dance, UK, 2004.
Forsythe, William. Motion Bank. The Forsythe Company, Dresden, 2000-2004.
Gehmacher, Philip, Walk+Talk. SARMA and Tanzquartier Wien, 2013.
Parkinson, Chrysa. Self Interview as Practice. Independent artist video on Vimeo, 2008-2009.
–. Dancer-as-Agent Collection. SARMA and DOCH (Stockholm University of the Arts), 2014.
Le Roy, Xavier. Product of Circumstance. Studium Generale Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam, 1998.
Bainbridge, Cohen, B. Thinking, Feeling, and Action. Contact Editions, 2008.
“Call for Submissions: Undisciplining Dance Symposium.” Choreographic Research Aotearoa. University of Auckland, 2016. https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/creative/schools-programmes-centres/dance-studies/CRA/ud_calldesign_format02.pdf. Accessed 13 December 2017.
Dempster, Elizabeth. “Undisciplined Subjects, Unregulated Practices: Dancing in the Academy.” Conference Proceedings: Dance Rebooted: Initializing the Grid, Ausdance National, Canberra, 2005.
Hartley, Linda. “Chapter 1.” Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities: Contemporary Sacred Narratives, Edited by Amanda Williamson, Glenna Batson, Sarah Whatley, and Rebecca Weber, Intellect, 2014, pp. 9-33.
Lepecki, Andre. Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement. Routledge, 2006.
Phelan, Peggy. “Moving Centres.” Move: Choreographing You: Art and Dance Since the 1960s. Edited by S. Rosenthal, MIT Press, 2010.