What remains in the body?

* Link to essay

We are currently living in a transitional environmental, political, socio-economic, and cultural way in attempting to get back to the body, aside from just paying attention to the mind; This means slowing down life - acknowledging the moment, rather than framing daily life with previous experiences we already had or things that we want to do in the future. This means paying attention to the senses (exteroceptors and interoceptors) rather than just our thoughts. In order to contribute to this ongoing conversation of getting back to the body, using our body as the mind, I have chosen to propose dance practices as a form to create knowledge, thus generating unfamiliar ways of acting and perceiving in daily life.

When developing self-awareness there are many things that are important to consider. How we communicate with ourselves, others, and our environment; because there are others living organisms that we should also be concerned of when taking care of our own bodies, what and how we eat, what we spend our energy on, etc. In this essay I am going to talk about the research I have done around the importance of considering dance and somatic knowledge not only to be able to adapt to this transitional and ever-changing era that we are currently living in, the anthropocene but also increase our awareness in relation to the world that surround us.

By we, I make reference of the sense-movers, the people who are interested in using their bodies as the main source of information of life. Our interpretation about dance and being a dancer is subjective to personal experiences. One important thing to have present throughout this process of using the body as the mind is the Sense of Allowance. This means we allow ourselves to understand that we are a constantly changing self; allow ourselves to acknowledge that we will not have the same connection to our bodies everyday - allow ourselves to be disconnected and connected to our and other bodies; and allow ourselves that there are many things about the world that are beyond our control but that we can adapt and improvise to our surroundings and be able to relate to self-regulate them.

Through my personal practice, I have recognized a contrast in the development of dancers and the so self-called “non-dancers.” In the early phase of the research, I spent two weeks observing differences between two classes: Experiential Anatomy, where 90% of the students were dancers, and Integrated Design Studio, where only one student used to dance for less than one year. I designed tracking sheets purposely structured to collect detailed quantitative descriptions (how many times they participated in the class, or interacted with other students, the teacher, or a particular object) and qualitative data (their postures, gestures, facial expressions and expressive whole-body movements). I also took into consideration whether their muscles were tensed/relaxed or flexed/extended. Likewise, I designed a user tracking sheet for the class environment that took quantitative measurements (about the weather, time, and how the space in the classroom was arranged) and qualitative information (about the personality of the class, the relationship between the teacher and students, and types of conversations that we engaged in within the class) into consideration. These user tracking sheets were taxonomized based on pictures and factual/inference notes. Additionally, I conducted a survey considering quantitative (concerning information about their backgrounds) and qualitative (general questions about their body-mind-emotion relationship) information about the users.  

Students from Experiential Anatomy responded more consciously about their body-mind connection in contrast to Integrated Design Studio. However, I determined that it wouldn’t be a truly holistic study if I determined that one class is more body-mind connected than the other based on only the data I gathered. While there is definitely a difference between the two classes, I cannot determine if that is because of practicing a certain type of movement or not. There are other factors that should be considered when analyzing our body-mind connection. The hour at which the class takes place and the day of the week; the background of the students and the teachers and their experiences; their own personal wellbeing habits, concerning their health, relationships, security, purpose, community, and environment; the size of the room and attributes of the space; and the personalities and types of energy that characterize the students and the teachers. Moreover, observing both clases closely for at least two months.

With the practice of sense-motion, I present the use of dance knowledge as a form of “making sense” of the information that comes from without and within the body, intuiting rather than attempting to understand, our daily experiences, to then improve our quality of life. Making sense will be understood as the form of understanding concepts through our senses. Use dance knowledge and forms as a practice of living, taking them beyond the realm of dance. I believe that there are three routes where dance knowledge and practices can take us. The routes are paths of getting back to the body; they juxtapose with each other but have the same purpose. The first one is the presentness that dancing brings to the body: living the moment, letting go past and future; the second one is recognizing individual and collective experiences that arise when we are dancing either alone or in a group; and the third, how dance allow us to explore of our bodies capabilities and limitations through sensorial experiences (through exteroceptors and interoceptors).  

Dance is known as an ephemeral practice, whether the experience was recorded, scored, or photographed. There is something about what and how bodies feel that cannot be translated in any other medium. Dance is about being here and now. Therefore, what remains in the bodies are the individual and collective feelings and moving energies that emerge beyond verbal language and communication - a feeling that can only be comprehended through what is felt in the body. What sense-motion proposes is to attend to and experiment with how dance can be transmitted beyond its regular settings (dance as a healing art rather than mere entertainment), generate unfamiliar ways of acting and perceiving, and defamiliarize and re-enact our ways of learning and transmitting knowledge to improve our quality of life.

There is no “wrong” or “right” way of embodiment or dance, but a ‘preferred technique’ to do something. Being present allows us to acknowledge what is the “preferred technique” by intuiting what is happening in the present moment, rather than creating the moment with previous experiences or a perspective of what we want to do in the future. Being present allows us to explore a range of ‘realities’ and possibilities that are available in the body that we can access in uncommon ways to act and perceive.

Throughout the practice of bringing awareness to the present, I have perceived that the body is one entity, and that there is no separation of the “mind” and “body.” The mind is an organ of the body. It is a generator of thoughts, but these thoughts are not the mind, but a recorder of our perception of the world. Using our body as the mind is my scheme of acknowledging and attending to sensorial experiences as a source of information and means of understanding daily experiences. I propose to use dance as the form of how we perceive the act of dancing, rather than just the physical act of moving. I am not suggesting that everyday movement is a dance, but that how it is perceived in itself is dance.

One afternoon when I walked into a New York City subway car, there was a person dancing to the beat of music, they were like in their own bubble and unaware of their surroundings. The person had headphones on, and seemed to be moving with the flow of their body. Everyone in the subway car was staring and laughing at them. Even when the person got off the train, everyone was talking or laughing about it. They blurted out things like, “he’s definitely crazy,” “was he really doing that,” “that’s why we have so many crazy people in the world,” “I thought he would never stop.” On a different occasion, I was leading a participatory practice and one person told me that they were not feeling comfortable with dancing in front of the group. They asked me to blindfold them in order for them to enjoy when they were dancing.

Both of these examples show that individuals act on their own accord by blocking out senses (using headphones or blindfolds) in order to pay attention internally. Neither of these experiences are “right” or “wrong,” but rather, they present the ways in which the body can be explored. Experimenting with our bodies and the possibilities that are available through bodily presentness is what I that propose qualifies to be a dancer regardless of professional training, background or identity. Dance is how we perceive the dancing, rather than the physical act of moving. I am suggesting to expand the notion of movement as dance and consider dancing as an art healing practice to foster what remains in our bodies; our mental health, the way we look, appreciate, and take care of ourselves in relation to the environment. Thus, both of these people are dancers - they were just exploring the body differently.

The way in which the body is explored, and the ways of feeling and moving with and within the body gets constructed through social norms, cultures, and communities - therefore, it is not possible to blank or empty our bodies from what they already know, but rather re-learn and re-enact unfamiliar modes of action and perception through the ways in which different practices and cultures developed forms of being present. When we are experimenting our bodies in an specific setting or technique class is important to have present the Sense of Allowance by acknowledging that we have a specific way and pace of learning, that we are different and unique from others, and we are perfect were we just are.

Being aware to sensory responses, the sensorium, is what allows us to be present in our bodies. The senses are the intermediary between the self and the environment. Its manipulation and acknowledgement are essential to condition the approaches of being present. Martha Eddy puts into context how interoceptors and exteroceptors mediate the experiences with our surroundings:

The perception of one’s own body is known as proprioception and the perception of one’s own movement is kinesthesia. Proprioception and kinesthesia are basic senses, as omnipresent at the five exteroceptors: they are the “sixth and seventh senses” [...] When these “interoceptors,” senses that pay attention to our inner experience, are consciously awakened, they allow for somatic awareness and bring “mindfulness” to movement. Exteroceptors are important in somatic education too - the five senses - vision, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching connect [beings] to the outer environment providing information about the body in relationship to the world that people negotiate. With the five exteroceptors we perceive textures, temperature, location, color, shadow, vibration, sound, words, smells, and more. Each of these perceptions shape knowledge. Ultimately, information about life is multi-sensory and ideally living includes balance of both reading bodily sensations and cues (intero-reception) and being alert to external experience (extero-reception). [...] Movement needs sensory input as a key element of the stimulus-response, sensory motor or perceptual-motor cycle. [...] Bodily awareness can also expose frozen tensions, blocked areas, bodily resistances and movement limitations. Awareness is a first step, next somatic movement leads to practice in daily life - empowering by leading to action.

The headphones and blindfolds serve as tools to somewhat isolate the senses to get the desired bodily presentness. Through leading participatory experiences, I have found that it is easier to have props and tools that allow us to be present. As dance is a healing art, dance therapy props which are purposely designed can enact presentness within the body. For example, one form of these props I designed for the sense-motion practice is the motion-band. The motion-band is a circle of fabric used in the sense-motion (parentheses) to allow participants to interact with each other either from the inside or the outside. It is derived from dance therapy props and aims to induce physical and illustrative contact among the sense-movers without directly touching each other but through feeling others’ movements through the fabric of the band.

This is an excerpt from a dialogue among participants immediately after using the motion-band that identifies how they perceived the space within. It draws attention to how participants have recognized the sensations emerging either through interoceptors or exteroceptors of the sensorium. It is important to clarify that I didn’t explain participants what was the purpose of the motion-band. (notes haven’t being edited):

“it felt like, this [the motion-band] was keeping the energy in one place of all of us…”

“yeah, that tactile sensation of you being on my skin”

“...but not actually touching you directly”

[...]

“we were really with each other”

“yeah, if there were like a societal fabric, like a group fabric, like what really connects us, this was literally and figuratively speaking that fabric.”

“literally, and then there were like the threads and then the energy was like intentional”

“and you could go against that or going with”

“it was like a good flow but also like a good tension, and I loved the feeling…”

Another concept I consider relevant to have present is Andre Lepecki’s (performance scholar) “will to archive” and Bruno Latour’s (philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist) suggestion for enacting of “new realities” can be considered as a form for embodied living and discovering different modes for belonging in a space through sensorial experiences. The adoption of the “will to archive” stems from the desire to implement and incorporate different embodied, kinesthetic, somatic dance, improvisational, and sensorial approaches to the practice of sense-motion as a way to enact “new realities.” Lepecki proposes the “will to archive” as a “will to re-enact a privileged mode to effectuate or actualize a work’s immanent field of inventiveness and creativity.” I use this idea as a form to understand how the different approaches of attunement to one’s body across cultures serve as an adaptation to the environment and discovering unfamiliar spaces within it, which fosters diverse modes for action and perception. These modes of acting and perceiving aim to contribute to defamiliarize ordinary ways of knowing and relating to oneself and their surroundings, enacting the development of “new realities.” This generates an embodied living’ common but diverse world; a world full of diverse perspectives and ways of acting that stems from the same desire of being present in the body. The embodied, kinesthetic, somatic dance, improvisational, and sensorial practices present diverse ways to listen to what we feel in our body as simply a way of moving and responding, rather than thinking in terms of how we should move or feel - filling our minds with embodied knowledge of the moment rather than giving meaning to the moment with previous experiences or things that we want to do in the future.

Living in New York City means that I am always receiving multi-sensory stimulus which has increased my awareness of how important it is to be present. This leaving experience has allowed me to learn new ways to adapt to circumstances and not blame myself for the things that are beyond my control. I made this conclusion after conducting a sensory ethnographic experimentation considering how the parks and the subway of the city influenced the way I was perceiving things. I chose these specific locations because in these places is where every New Yorker meets regardless of their social or economic background. You can learn more at sensemotion.org/embodied-archive1/

Dance allows individuality and collectivity to be enacted in various forms. There is certainly a difference in dancing in a group versus alone. There are feelings and moving energies that are shared through bodies in motion. The ways in which these flow or energies and feelings arise are due to site specificity and the space created through this flow. They serve as a form to repurpose the meaning of spaces and sensing the inner spatial feeling of the body. To further understand how space impacts bodies and vice-versa, it would be relevant to consider DeCarteu’s idea of places and spaces in The Practice of Everyday Life. This binary concept of spaces and places as defined by Michel DeCerteau, who describes places as physical locations and spaces as the meanings of those places, indicates that a place can have different spaces based on the perception of the people who are activating the space. Spaces are created by the communicative modes of expression that happen in a place. These modes of communication occur through bodily, energetic, or verbal expressions. This concept may encourage sense-movers into a mode of awareness about physical, energetic, or communicative exchanges with others. Instead of considering dance, embodied/somatic, and improvisational forms as a factual concept, I attempt to use sense-motion as a platform to embodily explore the self through the mediation of these practices and the senses, rather than determining the ‘realities’ of the mind. I propose Bruno Latour idea in How to Talk About the Body? of embracing the senses as ways of knowing to expand the realm of the “realities” available in the body. The feelings and emerging energies that flow through the bodies is what remains constant throughout our lives. I find it appealing to use these sensations as the form by which to communicate what and how we feel, to our own selves and others. I believe that these approaches can be more accessible through embodiment and attunement of the senses.

Sense-motion is not an attempt to generalize the use of dance knowledge and embodied performance just as modes of action and perception, but present them as ways to create fewer attachments and less control of the environment by being open and vulnerable to the potentiality that the lens of the culture may enact rather than perpetuate static modes of knowing and relating oneself to the environment.


Works Cited

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley, Calif London: University of California Press, 2002.

Latour, Bruno. “How to Talk About the Body? The Normative Dimension of Science Studies.” Body & Society 10, no. 2–3 (June 2004): 205–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/1357034X04042943.

Lepecki, André. “The Body as Archive: Will to Re-Enact and the Afterlives of Dances.” Dance Research Journal 42, no. 2 (Winter 2010): 28–48.

Mauss, Marcel. The Notion of Techniques of the Body in Techniques, Technology and Civilisation. Translated by Ben Brewster. New York: Durkheim Press/Berghahn Books, 2006.