In October of 2015, the Texas Tech University College of Visual and Performing Arts, the TTU School of Music and Department of Theatre and Dance, the Roots Music Institute (501c3), and the TTU Vernacular Music Center presented the conference Arts Practice Research: Scholarship, Pedagogy, and the Creative Process.
Leslie, Eric, and I proposed the following paper presentations and were asked by the selection committee at the conference to make a dance instead. Leslie and Eric directed me in till your eyes water, which became a vehicle for each of our writings on shaking, touching, and queering, shown below the proposal.
Shaking, Touching, and Queering
by Jess Humphrey | Leslie Seiters | Eric Geiger
We three practitioner-researchers have practiced together at least weekly, often bi-weekly, and sometimes daily for the past seven years. Our embodied praxis includes a weekly, spontaneous dancemaking practice followed by conversation, collaborative dancemaking processes, performance, teaching and co-teaching, designing dance curricula, and formal study of somatic methodologies and the praxes of artists in our respective lineages. Our practices range in formality and include evening-length dance works, private studio time where anything can happen, and structured study sessions. There are aspects of our practices that are consciously chosen and/or designed, and others that reveal themselves over time. The latter, more unconscious aspects include recurring movements, methods, compositional elements, themes, and states of being that are revealed through observation, reflection, articulation, conversation, and pattern recognition.
We propose a themed formal session of three interrelated papers exploring three emergent acts/actions/activities that have reappeared, developed, and, over time, influenced our praxis. They are shaking, touching, and queering. Threads through all three include intimacy, binaries/contradictions/paradoxes/continua, and the gentle unraveling of social constructions, habits, and our choreographed selves. Shaking, touching, and queering have been both products of, and ways into, all of our practices. They are methods, values, descriptors, and inroads to each other. This particular constellation of verbs does not alone represent our work. We arrived at these three topics while reflecting on our seven years of working together through the lenses provided in the description of this conference.
The “modes of knowing” in Robin Nelson’s Practice-as-Research in the Arts (PaR) model include know-how, or first-person, embodied, tacit knowledge, know-what or, the articulation of the know-how made possible through reflection, and know-that or the third-person, relatively objective knowledge traditionally valued in academia. Our papers and presentations on shaking, touching, and queering will emerge from all three modes. We created the following questions, loosely correlated with each mode, as ways of approaching our respective abstracts: 1. What is it? How do you do it? 2. What does it do? To you? To the world? 3. How might it change you? How might it change the world?
by Jess Humphrey
Shaking is the new plié.
Shaking is everywhere–it can come from everywhere, happen everywhere, and go everywhere–within one’s body, across disciplines, cultures, and time. It is relatively fast and small, repetitive, back and forth (up and down, side to side) movement. The Kalahari Bushmen, the Shakers, Western therapists, Kundalini practitioners, and dance artists all utilize and make sense of shaking in different ways. Shaking is a neurogenic tremor in Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), a bio-energetic meditation and ecstatic spiritual practice in Bali (Ratu Bagus), the natural, physiological response to trauma in mammals (Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing), called Waidangong in China, and can be found in myriad dance contexts worldwide. In my experience, it is part of all stages of dancemaking including training, creation, and performance.
There are many ways to shake. Methods range from totally free form to highly structured. One way into shaking is through “bouncing” (lightly bending and straightening) both knees simultaneously or in alternation. One can also feel (or imagine) the vibration of one’s cells, growing that vibration into shaking. In some practices, the main instruction is to simply allow the shake to happen.
Shaking can queer, disorient, agitate, frighten, and alienate. Stigmas attached to being out of control in our culture give words like “steady”, “rock solid”, and “stable” positive connotations while “spastic” and “shaky” are considered negative descriptors. A shaking person is more difficult to touch than a person who is still. The fact that shaking is a symptom of several neurological disorders or disruptions (Parkinson’s Disease, Essential Tremor, seizures) can even further “other” a shaking person.
Shaking can also release tension, induce euphoria, generate heat, circulate chi/prana/energy, reduce stress, stimulate creativity, increase heart rate and circulation, create community, and be/create choreography. After shaking, I feel undone, vibratory, whole, and ready.
Could shaking be an antidote to fixation? What if shaking is an embodied way to consider, navigate, and/or reconcile binaries? What if the back and forth movement is a physicalization of both/and that makes both both/and and either/or possible at the same time?
“Through our skin, we touch and are touched by the outer world. This outer boundary is our first line of defense and bonding. It sets our general tone of openness and closedness to being in the world.”Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
Touch is a dialogue.
It is an outward action that calls for equal inward attention, a way of being in relation. It occurs person to self, person to person, person to immediate environment, and person to surroundings. Touching is personal. Touching is functional, intimate and anatomical. Touching includes listening, directing, following, tracking, blurring, asking, blending, redirecting, accidentally bumping, tracing, transmitting, interrupting, riding, demanding and asking for nothing.
Touching orients, provokes immediacy, gives feedback, and has a two directional quality that can tune readiness, receptivity, and awareness. Practicing touching develops capacity to be soft (adaptable) and direct (willful) as two aspects of the same activity. The person-ness of touch prompts real (literal) connection that can transcend a representational aesthetic in dance. It can create: more subtle articulations, access to unknown pathways, support and entry to wilder/bigger/more extreme physicality, permission to change, and rest. I often remind myself to touch the floor. This recurring prompt quickly reflects my state, collects a sense of skeletal wholeness, connects me to sense of weight and gravity, energizes me, and reveals what is extra.
My dance practices are designed away from representational and towards re-experiencing, re-relating and re-presenting. Repetition of choreography can be an activity that is less about refining and more about refinding. Touching supports this return to experience and sensation.
A favorite question I ask in technique class is “what if this is what we are training for?” How does it affect our studio practice if dancing together is as much a culmination as it is a preparation? Touch is an activity that requires practice in order to give and receive unencumbered by expectations of what should happen. Touching is our first mode of receiving information from the world. It is a routine activity with potential for ever more precision, accuracy, clarity, permeability and ability to connect without anticipating or lagging.
by Eric Geiger
Queer as a verb.
Queer can be used as an adjective, a pejorative, a noun, a sexual orientation, and as an identity (gender or otherwise). But, what if queer was an action, a verb? What is queering? Queering is relational. It is divergent from what we perceive as stable. To queer something is to deconstruct, dismantle, deviate and jeopardize the foundations of certain kinds of normativity in order to reclaim abjected spaces and identities, and construct new dialogues. Queering fails, provokes, purposely contradicts, rejects, transforms, re-evaluates, and accepts. What is discovered when our perceptual orientations are reversed, our identities inverted, and the production of meaning is dispersed across multiple places, times, and ways of being?
Through my numerous creative processes, practices, and teaching I have found that the failure, rejection, and provocation that can arise through queering can transform my physical and emotional states and create a kind of destabilization of myself. In this state of unsteadiness I practice moving away from traditional value systems of precision, articulation, specificity and clarity of intention and make room for otherness to emerge. I give myself permission to be messy, sloppy, inarticulate and disoriented. Through this practice as research, I have discovered that I don’t have to say no to normative values and systems in order to say yes to otherness. This induced state carves out space to cultivate my awareness, notice what arises, and shifts my perception of binary opposites as existing on a continuum.
Queering is risky. By diving into uncertainty and alien systems we become vulnerable. If queering is integrated into art making practices and processes then it is inevitable for compassion and empathy, through this vulnerability, to become part of the work’s lineage. Paying attention to the process changes the process. The work does not attempt to be representational. It does not depict compassion or empathy but generates a context in which the value system of the process and its lineage is the actual desired change. Through the work we become permeable to the world. That which increases our capacity as artists also increases our capacities as human beings.