Where is the Dancing Body? by Sarah Whatley

Much of what we are exploring in our project is what is a body, what can bodies do, how do we read dancing bodies, and how are bodies ‘materialized and normalized through particular conceptions of normality and abnormality’ (Blackman, 2008, 12)? Focusing on dance brings a sharp focus to this exploration because the dancer makes, performs, teaches and expresses her self through her body, which draws particular attention to the corporeal, the somatic and the material.

I attended a talk last week by Siobhan Davies, in conversation with Ramsay Burt at De Montfort University, about her current project ‘Table of Contents’. This is a gallery work, mostly improvised, and brings attention very firmly to the dancer’s body and how dancers carry their own archives within the body; dancers are quite simply ‘bodies of history’. In thinking about this idea, the dancers in the project reflect on, draw on and find ways to bring back into the present their engagement with the idea of the ‘archive’ and the content that appears in Siobhan Davies RePlay, the digital archive of Siobhan Davies Dance. Each dancer has embarked on a different journey. For example, Charlie Morrissey considers how early man moved, what would he do, how would he move? Andrea Buckley focuses on an anatomical study of the heart; how does the structure and function of the heart influence her as a dancer? Matthias Sperling re-embodied some of the early video rehearsal ‘scratches’ to ask how does the dancer of the (recent) past speak through his own dancing? None of the dance artists in Davies’ project are disabled but her work, and the attention given to the changing, evolving, expressive body and the intelligence that is carried through the body is relevant for all dancing bodies. The focus is on the knowing body, the composing body, the sensorial body, the relational body, and the body-in-process. But thinking about the processual nature of the body in dance also calls on us to think about how society and the law in particular treats ‘normal’ and ‘difference’ so that we can argue for the uncategorized and unbounded body in dance. The differently-abled dancer is also a body-in-process, a dancing ‘body of history’ but rouses a particular kind of curiosity. This curiosity can make ‘difference’ special and empowering for the dancer as Kate mentions in her blog, or it can make the dancer with impairment feel reduced to her disability as a marker of difference that equates to ‘less than’. All of this is fascinating for us thinking about how disabled dance features, or not, within our cultural heritage and our current cultural programmes, and the various reasons for its absence.

Blackman, L. (2008) The Body, Oxford, Berg.
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