Notes from Dance Discourse Project #9

Notes from Dance Discourse Project #9

On October 18, 2010 Bay Area arts community members met at CounterPULSE for the Dance Discourse Project #9: Dance and Somatics in the Bay Area – what’s the connection. Co-presented by Dancers’ Group the event looked at how somatic practices and dance are interwined in the Bay Area. To learn more visit

At the event participants were broken up into small groups where they discussed a variety of pertinent issues. Below is one person’s account of the discussions led by Carol Swan and Augusta Moore about defining somatics and building a personal somatic practice.

As I sat in the transformed CounterPULSE, the living room set-up and colorful lamp lighting at once drew dancers and dance enthusiasts to little tables.  The room was abuzz with introductions, reunions, and pre-discussions, the hanging question – How would tonight unfold?

Mary Armentrout began with warm introductions and a preview of topics to come: connections between dance and somatics, somatics in the bay, connections between somatics, dance and social change, and above all what is this thing that we are all here to talk about, analyze, compare, and use in our lives and work?

Short presentations from Carol Swan, Augusta Moore and Cathie Caraker, posed thoughtful questions, and shared personal tales of connections to and discoveries of somatics, Following which, we broke into smaller tables for group discussions.  I found myself at a table facilitated by Carol Swan where we discussed how to capture a definition of the term Somatics.  Some ideas and questions that came up were:

What practices fall under the category of somatics?

Do all movement practices fall under the category of somatics?

Somatics is body based first, involves touch, and is concerned with following sensation.

Anything can be somatic if it’s done with awareness.  It is both an approach and an attitude toward exploring and observing.  It is not about manipulating or having someone do a thing for you or to you, it is a collaborative process.

Touch, either one’s own or between two people is a powerful tool and is one way of getting focusing our powers of perception on external sensations.  When we expand this, a somatic practice is directly concerned with honoring multiple ways of learning.  Attitudes toward education and power are very important in allowing for multi-learning style engagement.

A key factor is the horizontal power structure and non-hierarchical structure in the teacher/student relationship.  There is still a clear teacher and student, but the teacher is not seeking to force a right or wrong view of the body and movement.  Rather the teacher and student are actively engaged in collaboratively observing and experimenting with what is possible and what information sensation can yield.  In a cooperative relationship, as a group, or in a partnership people can work towards a common goal rather than be handed a single truth.  To do this, practitioners strive to build a space of receptiveness between each other, and with themselves, to learn to feel enough to be receptive to one’s own sensitivities.

With all this emphasis on objectivism and observation there is a lot of “putting your self on the table”, breaking down things that have been done a certain way for a long time.  Bringing attention to your self is an intimate process, and can be very vulnerable.  It is also subjective, like criticizing a poem.

Our culture has taboos around sharing exposing saying what is true.  To be transparent is a very scary thing.

Any work on your self requires humility and courage.  An understanding that we can all be at different points with in our learning or exploration and still have something valuable to share.

As we wrapped up our discussions and moved out of small table groups, the room was abuzz with conversations on all manner of topics.  Up in the right corner, an animated conversation comparing our pelvises.  Down by the refreshment table, talk of mutual friends and ongoing classes.  Just off center two people back to back: an impromptu contact duet broke out quietly, and didn’t try to steal any limelight.  This is what it’s like get a lot of very smart eloquent dancers in a room and turn them loose on a topic near and dear to their hearts.

Notes & Responses from Sarah Fiske

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