Dance and/as Discourse: A Writing Workshop, connecting body to mind, writing to movement
Facilitated by Peter Dickinson
In this three-week workshop, dance artists and professionals are invited to reflect on their practices, their communities, and broader social movements through the technique of writing. Adapting a template for critical reflection advanced by the visual art scholar Irit Rogoff, we will begin with some self-analysis, questioning naturalized assumptions about our own work and ways of working. Next, we will situate this analysis within our professional communities, asking how our work is or is not in dialogue with specific place-based movement aesthetics and presentation frameworks. Finally, we will expand our critical worldview still further by thinking about the ways in which our individual dance practices and our respective dance communities are not only embodied through inherited techniques, but are also embedded in the historical present—in all its fraught complexity.
Week 1: Writing the Self
In what contexts do you write about your own practice? What do you take for granted in doing so? Why might it be important to question those assumptions, or, depending on your audience (e.g. collaborators, granting bodies, presenters or an audience reading your program notes), how you formulate them? We will tease out these questions through a bit of writerly retrograde, in which you will be asked to reverse engineer a specific work, project or process.
Instructions for writing assignment 1: Take a walk/amble in your neighbourhood. Think about a recent work or project or process you have completed or participated in. What comes up for you? How does it make you feel, in your body? Where does this thinking-feeling take you, both mentally and physically? At home (or on a park bench, or while enjoying a physically distanced coffee), free write about the experience for 20-30 minutes. Reread what you’ve written and circle specific nouns and verbs that stick out to you. Use this lexicon to reconstruct a score for your dance.
Week 2: Relating Self to Field
When you think about your dance community—the people who compose it and the works composed within it—who and what do you see? Is there a common vocabulary, aesthetic or mode of presentation? If yes, what are they? If not, why not? How would you position your own work in relation to other work you’re seeing in the community? If you had to describe this work to someone outside the community, what would you say?
Instructions for writing assignment 2: Take a walk/amble to a venue where you have seen a dance piece that has stayed with you—for whatever reason. Standing outside the venue, try to summon up the experience. Later, write a letter to your grandmother describing the piece, reflecting on the ways it does or does not offer opportunities to make connections to different archives and repertoires of performance in the city.
Week 3: Relating Self and Field to World
In writing about dance from the inside out, why might it be important not just to connect your own work to your specific communities of practice, but also to the larger social world in which it is situated? What insights do dance and choreography give you in making connections to our present moment, from the radical arrest and stillness of pandemic lockdown to the recent Black Lives Matter protests?
Instructions for writing assignment 3: Take a final walk/amble, but this time—and assuming local health guidelines permit—with a posse of friends/allies/peers, and either in actual or virtual solidarity with an act of political assembly in your city (e.g., maybe you join a scheduled Black Lives Matter protest march, or return to the site of a previous Idle No More round dance). What gestures do you find yourself making that implicate you in a specific social order? Transpose and develop those gestures in writing—in whatever form you choose.