Bodies on The Line: Research Project, Part 1

Last Wednesday, my collaborators for this project and I gathered together to start crafting a way into this project. Our question was: What are all the various elements/considerations of place? (ie. what do we need to know before we begin).

I developed 5 different categories to organize how we might engage with place. These categories, or perhaps layers, are not intended to be  hierarchical and they do not indicate a specified order of investigation. They are:

  1. Internal Sensation (The Body/The Individual)- One’s internal sensation and awareness of the space of the body itself. This includes physical sensations of pain, fatigue, relaxation, etc, and also, mood or emotional texture such as anxiety, happiness, sadness, etc. I encourage both to be located in the body, instead of relegating emotions to the “mind” or brain.
  2. External Sensation( The Senses)- Smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste. This might be the texture of the ground, the quality of light, temperature, air pressure, humidity, the drone of the air conditioning, or the rhythm of waves at the ocean. In essence, what does this place make you feel on a physical level?
  3. Space-  What is the actual space like? What is its size, depth, density? Is it open or closed? One compartment and many? Along with density, I introduce the idea of objects in the space, and also that of other people. What happens to an individual’s sense of space when it encounters another person? When relationship starts to emerge, I encourage a return to numbers 1 and 2, questioning what an individual senses when engaging with another human being. (This could be it’s own category? It’s up for debate.)
  4. Individual Association- What is a person’s history with this place? It is new or very familiar? Is it a familiar place but feels foreign? Or is it a new place that feels very old? How does memory come into play? Again, how do these associations present themselves within the physical experience of the body?
  5. Context- What is this place’s history? What is it’s function or purpose in society? Is it supported or neglected? What resources are available inside of it? Is it safe?

We discussed these ideas and tried a few out through a somatic improvisation in the Barnett Lobby. Immediately, a few key ideas emerged that seem important for the socio/political considerations of this kind of work, which will carry us into our next exploration. These are:

  1. Safety
    What steps do people need to go through in order to feel safe in their own bodies? This is obviously complicated and loaded and depends greatly on a person’s past experience with their body. As a teacher and choreographer, it’s essential that I approach this work by meeting people where they are and offering ways into doing this kind of work so that people feel comfortable. The reasons why someone may feel uncomfortable or traumatized in their own body may be related to their personal history, or they may stem from some larger socio/political issues. For example, if you grow up and live in a community without access dance education, the chances are high that you’ve never formally been asked to move your body expressively and with choice.  The dancers I’m working with are experienced and comfortable with improvisation, but what they do is truly incredible and beyond what most people often experience.
    Is the space itself safe? If it’s visible to the public, are my dancers feeling anxious or exposed? How much anxiety about being seen is enough to warrant stopping the action? Individuals will vary on this based on their history and experience.
    How do we engage in a space that makes movement physically precarious, such as stairs? As a choreographer and director, it is my responsible to make sure that my dancers are not harmed.
  2. What We Don’t Know
    In our discussion and process, we discussed how we might use this type of process in a space that is neglected or in need of revitalization. We immediately recognized the potential for an arrogance about our own field and experience to set it in. Who are we to take our dancing selves, an identity which carries a lot of privilege with it, and place ourselves in spaces that we deem to need our help? What this highlights for me as a choreographer is the importance of education and research about the spaces or communities I want to work in. It is important to me that I use choreographic approaches that respect the traditions, history, and experience of people and the places they inhabit. Our readings in Bodies on the Line on de-colonialism, as well as the recent events at Standing Rock, have made it impossible to ignore that very few of us actually “belong” in this country in the first place. How do the implications and residues of settler colonialism impact my investigations of space and place? In creating “place,” are we bringing forward new sensations? Or are we uncovering something that has been there along but hidden by years of oppression and violence?
  3.  What  about Unnameable  Sources of Discomfort?
    You know that feeling you get sometimes that something is off? An unnameable sensation that is nevertheless felt, and felt bodily. For whatever reason, perhaps this sixth sense, none of my dancers on Wednesday ventured into a corner of the Barnett Lobby (pictured below). None of them were attracted to that space.

    Barnett Lobby, 3rd Floor of Sullivant Hall

    Stay tuned for our explorations next week!


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