As I approach the end of my first semester in pursuit of my MFA, emerging from my exhausted, scattered state is a direction in which I see my research moving. This semester I have been exposed to a variety of approaches of movement analysis through performance studies, dance studies, anthropology, philosophy, critical race theory, gender studies, ethnography and more. I have begun to see a myriad of potential pathways of analyzing, understanding, performing, making, sharing, and writing about movement-based research. I am still searching for the language to describe my research interests, but I know that I am interested in movement as a potential vehicle for transformative justice. I am interested in how creative practice, art-making, and more specifically dance-making within community can facilitate transformation in mindsets, relationships, and power structures. I am beginning to relate ideas from various course texts to each other, and am excited to return to these texts in order to direct my research toward philosophical thought, research methods, and creative scholarship that integrates social justice work into dance studies and dance practice.
Within the first week of the semester, a number of the authors I encountered offered ideas about movement, embodiment, socialization, subjectivity, and agency that have been foundational to my entrance into researching the role of movement and creative practice within transformative justice. Thomas Csordas discusses embodiment as the existential condition in which culture and the self are grounded. Csordas stresses the intersubjective and perceptual aspects of embodiment: ‘attending to and with the body in the world’ through a ‘culturally elaborated’ perspective. Marcel Mauss argues in Techniques of the Body that the human is always learning via tools and techniques of socialization—the human is taught and practices how to move (exist) in the world, following the repetitive, culturally developed techniques that are transmitted to her/him/them through socialization. In Docile Bodies, Michel Foucault speaks about docility as an intentional condition of modernity: disciplined, subjected, practiced, and obedient bodies become docile through learned movement techniques of power, procedure, and knowledge. Foucault speaks about the industrialized management of populations via ideas of individuality (e.g. enclosure, partitioning), structures of hierarchy (e.g. rank, competition), and value of efficiency (e.g. time-table regulation, exhaustive effort). Incorporating these ideas into research questions about transformative justice, I ask: how can we start to train ourselves out of the cultural movement techniques that capitalistic, colonial modernity requires? Can intentional choices in movement practice re-socialize practitioners in an effort toward transformative justice?
A few authors I encountered this semester address ideas related to these questions as they write about and from within groups of people (often on the margins) who are already creating their own movement practices to counter socialized notions of freedom, agency, and identity. Here, I think of Victoria Fortuna’s description of Bailarines Toda la Vida in Moving Otherwise—of how contemporary dance artists in Argentina use dance as a vehicle of expression, protection, and ‘moving otherwise’ within the context of authoritarian, violent regimes of movement. I am interested in returning to this book as an example of the multidimensional ways that arts (and specifically dance) can equip and empower those on the margins as they maneuver their pathway through negotiations of freedom and power: artistically on stage, communally in practice, economically in structure, and relationally in function. Additionally, in Performing Queer Latinidad, Ramón H. Rivera-Servera discusses the tactics employed by queer members of the Latin American diaspora as they develop ways of expressing queer Latinidad safely using movement in artistic, social, and political realms. I am interested to find more examples of populations who are already deeply in process of ‘moving otherwise’ in order to learn about and begin the embodied act of re-socializing toward transformative justice.
I look forward to returning to a number of texts for their analysis of embodiment, relationship, and identity within dance practice. In Exhausting Dance, Andre Lepecki draws upon philosophical thinkers Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari to understand “the body not as a self-contained and closed entity but as an open and dynamic system of exchange, constantly producing modes of subjection and control, as well as of resistance and becomings” (Lepecki 2006, 5). Lepecki’s work in Exhausting Dance is an example of analyzing movement by bringing into question the cultural conventions of movement that are complicit with colonial and capitalistic structures. In Sensational Knowledge, Tomie Hahn examines in depth a case study of the embodied, multi-dimensional, intentional transmission of dance as cultural practice. In Choreographing Empathy, Susan Leigh Foster tracks choreography, kinesthesia and empathy as sociocultural concepts that inform and mediate the relationship and communication available between a dancing body an its observer. These three texts situate dance and movement within their historical, cultural and sociopolitical contexts. If the creative process is to be a site of transformation and transgression, I believe that this conscious awareness of framing is necessary to engage in real time while in embodied practice.
Additional texts that feel related to my research are Perpetual Motion by Harmony Bench and Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman. While I personally experience resistance to digital technologies, especially those in social media, I also believe that social media is a key site where the global commons is ever evolving and shifting. Moving forward toward any amount of transformative justice through movement practice (or otherwise) will surely incorporate social media and a shifting of the digital commons. Bench’s work in Perpetual Motion serves as an entry into this realm of study. I admire Saidiya Hartman’s approach to research in Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Her integration of archival research, creative nonfiction and eloquent prose with an underlying purpose that I interpret as a literary act of transformative justice, is a powerful example of the type of work that weaving research, art and social justice together can create.
Bench, Harmony. 2020. Perpetual Motion: Dance, Digital Cultures, and the Common. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Csordas, Thomas. 1993. “Somatic Modes of Attention.” Cultural Anthropology 8(2): 135-156.
Fortuna, Victoria. 2019. Moving Otherwise: Dance, Violence, and Memory in Buenos Aires. New York: Oxford University Press.
Foster, Susan Leigh. 2011. Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance. New York: Routledge.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Hahn, Tomie. 2007. Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.
Hartman, Saidiya. 2019. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Lepecki, Andre. 2006. Exhausting Dance: Performance and the politics of movement. New York: Routledge.
Mauss, Marcel & Nathan Schlanger, ed. 2006. Techniques, Technology and Civilization. New York: Durkheim Press/Berghahn Books.
Rivera-Servera, Ramón H. 2012. Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.