The dance/somatic nexus offers an exciting field for embodied and artistic inquiry. Many emerging or experienced dance practitioners feel inspired towards researching through or about the integration of somatic processes within dance making, performance, or training contexts. The workings and effects of somatic practices as choreographic resources are well worth unpacking.
In this short text, I aim to raise some questions and inspire activities which might be useful within a somatic research context. Are somatic practices not already inquiry based, offer action/reflection cycles, guide us towards a ‘bracketing’ that can aid self-reflective practice, and aim to examine existing patterns in order to explore yet unknown emerging ways of interacting with the world?1 How do we unfold the workings of distinct somatic practices and articulate them as methods within our practice-led research?
1 Thomas Hanna called for a project of ‘Somatology’ (1973; 1986), partially referring to phenomenology as philosophical project that values first-hand lived experience. Moving beyond Phenomenology, which provides us with a quest for self-reflection or bracketing as part of our research journey, for Hanna Somatology allows yet for a broader study of ‘self-experience’ as ‘an organic and integral part of our psychological and physiological beings’ (1986). somatics.org/library/htl-somatology.
Gesa Ziemer (2009) reminds us that artistic research can activate conditions for embodied inquiry ‘where linguistic eloquence is being slowed down, where we are disoriented and touched at the same time to perceive something’ (Ziemer 2009). She suggests that these new somatic knowledges are potentially socially transformative and empowering for participants. A PhD inquiry offers a critical space where we can reimagine somatic practices – beyond their, at times, either ‘disguised-religious’2 or commercialised contexts concerned with wellness and self-improvement – into a critical and artistic realm. At the same time, we can re-embody and displace choreographic processes beyond the pressures and conventions of production, spectacle, and commodification. How do we articulate, probe, and move from ideologies, ethics, and body-politics affiliated to our practices within our inquiry? How can we critically reflect on and understand our own somatic biases and not get trapped in the jargon and pseudo-scientific processes that we might feel attached to in our favourite practices?
2 Neudorfer (2012) suggests that 20th century Western body cultures operated as invisible or disguised religions. Drawing on Luckman (1991) and Bry (1924), she argues that Western body- and rhythm-cultures, understood as proto-somatic practices, served as vehicles for practices of spiritual meaning and communal orientation in the period before and after the Weimar Republic (Luckmann 1991; Bry 1964).
Isabelle Ginot (2010) points us to the problem that – within the often self-referential somatic discourses – notions of ‘belief’ tend to override critical scholarship or practice. While Ginot proposes that somatic discourses tend to draw on science to promote a ‘form of homogeneous, non-historicized, almost eternal truth’ (Ginot 2010, 15) that excludes cultural variations or the body-politic, she also points towards the possibility to ‘investigate and construct somatic practices as practices of empowerment’ (Ginot 2011, 5). Does my chosen practice activate the dancerly agency of the participant?
My own PhD inquiry was concerned with investigating the possibilities of applying the Feldenkrais Method®, a key western 20th century somatic practice, within performance-making contexts. Within my research I was interested in probing and articulating innovative processes of performance-making and their relationships to the emerging product and agency of collaborating participants (Kampe 2013).3
3 Feldenkrais referred to his lessons as ‘compositions’, ‘improvisations’, or ‘Jazz’ – in movement – and described his hands-on practices as processes of ‘dancing together’. He aimed to foster a choreographic thinking within his numerous somatic inquiries or lessons, a thinking ‘without words, with images, patterns, and connections’ (Feldenkrais 2010, 88).
The non-goal-oriented and subjective orientation of the Feldenkrais Method, concerned with the recognition of the emergent malleable human being in ‘co-dependent interaction with the outer world’ (Reese 1985), started to open up new and changing research questions throughout my process. These questions shifted from initially reductionist questions concerned with vocabulary development and methods of transmission of somatic practices into choreographic resources, to bio-psycho-social questions concerned with enhancing affective agency and choice-making capacities of performers within co-constructive performance-making processes. Questions, insights, and processes emerged and disappeared through the multi-modal mess of reflective practice and contextual research. The consistent critical engagement with my practice over a prolonged period enabled me to identify relevant emerging questions. Engaging in dialogue with my supervising team, and presenting my work in academic and professional contexts, also served as invaluable peer-feedback processes to identify the currency and relevance of my inquiry within and beyond my field of study. What limitations, questions, or undisciplined practices might emerge through my bodily doing and undoing?
Perhaps in hindsight, the most important aspect of my practice became the testing of ways of weaving the dignified eco-humanist ethics of the method into the creation process – working in unruly and non-corrective ways, giving time for observation and discovery, for self-questioning, for ‘working with the person’ and not with bodies (Feldenkrais 2010), and for putting into question ways of being in the world within the constraints of a creation process: Who are we as makers? How do we interact in nondominant ways within dance-making processes? How do I respect the self-transformative potential of somatic processes within a choreographic process? Are we re-choreographing our perception and vulnerability in the making? Are we re-embodying being human?
Philosopher Arran Gare (2013) argues for an emerging culture of ‘re-embodiments’ as a
reaction against a culture that has pretended to become progressively disembodied, free of the constraints of embodied existence. It is this pretence of disembodiment that has enabled some segments of society to engage in a plethora of activities – ore mining in third world countries, development of bureaucracies with global reach, air travel, mass consumerism – that are disembodying third parties, stripping their communities of their own embodied form. (Gare 2013)
Feldenkrais-informed somatic interventions are concerned with exploring new modes of re-embodying corporeal modes of interaction with the social world. Feldenkrais’ lessons facilitate conditions for the participant to question and improve their ability to sensorially engage with their lived environment. They aim to foster an ability to make new and non-habitual choices – always in dialogue with a caring, curious, and critical ‘witness’ (Feldenkrais 1981), including the self-witnessing individual.
In my own research, I explored Feldenkrais’ dialogues as preparatory processes, as kinaesthetic-tuning scores that can aid distinct choreographic vocabulary development, and as critical perturbations that deliberately defamiliarised already created material. Research participant Alenka Herman described the effect of such somatic probing within the process of reworking a solo piece:
I have a problem setting any material today. Some things are beyond reason – I cannot understand everything I am doing, everything I do. It feels now like everything I did in original solo is an alien element. I don’t know exactly what the solo is about anymore. I only want to explore more.[…] There is a lot of work in undoing. (Kampe 2010, 49)
Tasks for being/doing
Somatic practice as preparatory process:
How do you design a process concerned with practicing being observant in the world? How do you construct and give time for a practice that is not goal-oriented towards a making outcome, but concerned with giving time for re-embodiment and for self-observation through not only inward sensing, but also outward observation?
Can you articulate and construct several different practices, of different activities, lengths, or modes of interaction with the world or each other? This might involve a still practice, an explorative moving practice, vocalisation, or touch interaction. During several research projects, I introduced Feldenkrais practices as preparatory-processes, supporting modalities that challenge visual perception as a privileged mode of process engagement. The combination of verbal instruction, as well as questioning in Awareness Through Movement® lessons (ATM) and haptic dialogues as found in Functional Integration® (FI) hands-on dialogues, often went hand in hand with the eyes closed practice of process-participants. Research-participant Rachel VonMoos commented on the non-linear effect of such preparatory practice on the process of dance-making:
I felt a strong readiness to enter my own work… Connecting the morning experience with the solo I was making in the afternoon was a very inspiring aspect for my creative process. During sessions ideas/images would come up, structures for explorations,…all these to be ‘used’ in the afternoon. I worked with some of the ‘instructions’, as restriction, not achieving the goal. (Kampe 2010, 49)
Process-participant Simeon Perlin described that such practice ‘bled into rehearsal and performance’ (Kampe 2016, 13). Alenka Herman commented on the non-linear effect of such preparatory practice on the process of dance-making, ‘as all the information was still in the body, and I felt like I was opening doors every day for new things’ (Kampe 2010, 49). Collaborator director/writer Julia Pascal echoed such sentiment: ‘…You are always opening; opening new rooms in the house, opening new doors, opening new experiences’ (Kampe 2016, 9).
Such preparation might also involve a reflective writing or talking practice. How do you document and evaluate these processes, and what can you glean from the feedback? The research project Weave (Kampe 2013), part of my PhD portfolio, involved peer discussions, time for note-taking, and plenary sessions at the end of each day. Here participants would write, discuss, and verbally share with the group the impact of somatic preparatory practices on their artistic processes. Research-artist Adi Lerer commented on the relation between preparatory and evaluation processes:
The format of the week was very helpful; the ATM lessons in the morning and the following improvisations set me off to experiment with my piece. The plenary sessions at the end of the day helped to have a closure to the day, share, listen, exchange impressions, which gave a focal point where you felt that you are not alone. (Kampe 2010, 49)
Somatic Tuning Scores for movement exploration and generation or development of choreographic material:
How do you activate a transition from a somatic educational (or therapeutic) process into a creation practice? How do you facilitate the transmission of heightened awareness within a slowed-down state to a probing of spatially and dynamic exaggerated action? Do you work deductively to prepare processes for a specific function (e.g., exploring the articulation of hip flexion and extension in order to test level changes that demand fluid coordination in pelvic and legs, or a working on improved function of the feet in order to create material based on walking, turning, or balancing)? Do you think of the function or outcome first and then design a somatic inquiry around it, or do you work inductively, where functions or choreographic material emerge organically through loosely led exploration from the initial somatic inquiry? Do you give time for discovery there, or do you want to prove or test something – an embodied hypothesis?
During the research project ‘Releasing the Archive’ (2015/2016), I designed the use of ATM and FI touch interactions as direct resources for choreographic movement generation.4 Performers were given time immediately after ATM practice to explore modes of enquiry and emergent unfamiliar movement patterns within improvisational contexts; minimal verbal intervention allowed for a foregrounding of kinaesthetic experience as a resource for enquiry and the setting of material. Functional topics were chosen in preparation for distinct vocabulary questions, including three-dimensional use of torsos in partnership situations, or sequential use of the spine and limbs. Dancers were also introduced to sharing hands-on FI practices to explore the articulation of the pelvis and legs, in order to support the stylistic and technical needs of the early Modernist dance approach re-activated in the process. Participating dancer Xin Ji suggested that the chosen somatic processes ‘always seemed to prepare the perfect muscles, joints and bones for whatever task we would be doing that day’ (Kampe 2017), and participant Karl Tolentino identified Feldenkrais’ lessons as ‘a gateway’ where ‘our experience is prepared’ (Kampe 2017).
4 Collaborative project with choreographer Carol Brown and the New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) on re-somatising the choreographic practices of Modernist dance-maker Gertrud Bodenwieser (1890–1959).
How do you construct the transitional phase between the somatic-educational part of your inquiry and the artistic construction process? What kind of somatic topics or narratives are you attending to and why?
Layering somatic learning strategies into the creation process:
How can you layer somatic learning strategies as artistic modalities throughout your process? Within the Feldenkrais Method, action/reflection cycles with reflective pauses are key modalities to facilitate learning. In similar ways, working in slow and comfortable approximations – allowing movement inquiries to be unfinished and leaving time to revisit material for improvement at a later stage – is an important process strategy. The learner’s curiosity is stimulated through strategies of the setting, increasing, and taking away of problems, and a unity between thinking, sensing, feeling, and doing in interaction with the world is fostered through verbal guidance of the facilitator. More so, an instructing-through-questioning is a consistent strategy within the somatic learning process to disrupt traditional hierarchies between teacher and learner and to facilitate an environment for ‘co-enquiry’ (Igweonu 2010). Within the one-to-one Feldenkrais lessons, the main somatic learning modality is the use of touch interaction that aims to support and clarify (Rywerant 2001).
I realise that I work through long periods of allowing for the unfinished – encouraging variation, working through gradual improvement, working in verbal feedback dialogue, and through touch interaction with dancers. I have often worked with colleagues who set material, correct, or strive for high levels of precision and performance quality quite early in the process. My Feldenkrais-informed practice has allowed me to work confidently in more open-ended and co-facilitated ways, yet this feels like a vulnerable practice full of uncertainties and not-knowing.
The rehearsal process for the project “The Dybbuk” (2010) included an application of a dialogic and questioning approach in the rehearsal process that allowed for trial and error, even during the run of the performance. The effects of such an open directorial stance were described in an interview with participant Simeon Perlin as ‘I don’t feel that I’m being told to do something; I feel I am being encouraged to discover something in myself’ (Kampe 2016, 10). Performer Stefan Karsberg identified such an approach as ‘liberating for the ensemble and the individual’ (Kampe 2013).
Can you identify relevant modes of somatic knowledge creation within your somatic process that might disrupt traditional dancer-choreographer hierarchies or modes of production, or that can function as choreographic process tools? Can these help you test your own position as a researcher/artist?
Somatic processes as tools for intervention/perturbation/strange-making:
Many somatic practices are designed to disrupt or make strange habitual and normalised behaviour. The Feldenkrais Method offers a whole array of disorientation strategies, constraints or perturbations – designed as interventions – that allow us to revisit and improve or change old or ‘sedimented’ movement patterns from within5. In a recent collaborative project with choreographer Carol Brown on re-somatising the choreographic practices of Modernist dance-maker Gertrud Bodenwieser, we used somatic processes to question traditional ways of choreographic transmission and of inhabiting key vocabularies and principles of dance material.
5 Phenomenologist Elizabeth Behnke indicates four ‘approaches’ towards empowerment of the participants in her activist ‘Embodiment Work for Victims of Violation’ (Behnke 2002). Facilitating an ability to self-recognise and to transform habitual ‘sedimented’ movement patterns form an important aspect of her work.
Key questions here were: How do we re-interpret learnt or codified material after experiencing a somatic learning situation as part of our research process? How can we facilitate somatic interventions, at any time in our process, that allow participants to experience the well-known in new ways from within, and to disrupt or improve an embodied understanding of the performed material? What somatic agency does such permission to disrupt and unlearn within a dance-making process foster? What qualities of performance and curious engagement emerge through such culture of intervention and disruption?
Research collaborator Julia Pascal suggested that such permission to disturb ‘eradicated fear from the rehearsal process’ (Pascal cited in Kampe 2013, 30) affected the performance qualities greatly. Dancer Xin Ji described the effect of such culture of somatic interventions as supporting ways of ‘moving without censoring myself’ (Ji cited in Kampe 2017, 86 ).
How would you articulate processes in your research that are designed to disrupt or undo the given? How do you document and evaluate the effects of such disruption? These might not always be glowingly positive, but disorienting to the participant in threatening ways.
Testing a soma-ethics:
Can I articulate the ethical dimensions of my somatic research project? Do those differ from the ethical dimensions of the somatic processes that I am drawing on? Can such differences open out further potential for creative inquiry? At what point do the ethics of choreographic research or production converge with or differ from the ethics embedded or embodied within somatic learning processes? What does this mean in practice? There are traces of articulation of ethics in Feldenkrais’ writings or talks, and these have both emerged from, and are embedded within, the practice-dialogue between facilitator and learner. They have also been influenced by ethics articulated within the historical and cultural context of the articulation of the method. It took me a long time to identify and attend to an ethic embedded in The Feldenkrais Method which subscribes to a working in non-corrective ways with the dignified person, not on bodies. What happens to my artistic practice through the application of a soma-ethics? Does this limit or liberate my processes?
Is it enough for me in my research to draw on ethics formulated by somatic practitioners, or do I wish to extend my thinking and doing towards contemporary discourses outside the somatic realm (Gare 2016; Firth 2016; Rose 2008) concerned with bio-ethics or embodiment, to contribute to a ‘somatic ethic’ as ‘a constitutive feature of contemporary bio politics’ (Rose 2008, 48)? What is the meaning of my practice outside of my sheltered studio/laboratory context? Does it need to resonate beyond my research context to find trans-disciplinary value? How do I articulate, test, document, and evaluate a soma-ethics as a critical practice?
- Thomas Hanna called for a project of ‘Somatology’ (1973; 1986), partially referring to phenomenology as philosophical project that values first-hand lived experience. Moving beyond Phenomenology, which provides us with a quest for self-reflection or bracketing as part of our research journey, for Hanna Somatology allows yet for a broader study of ‘self-experience’ as ‘an organic and integral part of our psychological and physiological beings’ (1986). somatics.org/library/htl-somatology.
- Neudorfer (2012) suggests that 20th century Western body cultures operated as invisible or disguised religions. Drawing on Luckman (1991) and Bry (1924), she argues that Western body- and rhythm-cultures, understood as proto-somatic practices, served as vehicles for practices of spiritual meaning and communal orientation in the period before and after the Weimar Republic (Luckmann 1991; Bry 1964).
- Feldenkrais referred to his lessons as ‘compositions’, ‘improvisations’, or ‘Jazz’ – in movement – and described his hands-on practices as processes of ‘dancing together’. He aimed to foster a choreographic thinking within his numerous somatic inquiries or lessons, a thinking ‘without words, with images, patterns, and connections’ (Feldenkrais 2010, 88).
- Collaborative project with choreographer Carol Brown and the New Zealand Dance Company (NZDC) on re-somatising the choreographic practices of Modernist dance-maker Gertrud Bodenwieser (1890–1959).
- Phenomenologist Elizabeth Behnke indicates four ‘approaches’ towards empowerment of the participants in her activist ‘Embodiment Work for Victims of Violation’ (Behnke 2002). Facilitating an ability to self-recognise and to transform habitual ‘sedimented’ movement patterns form an important aspect of her work.
Reference List and Additional Resources
Behnke, Elizabeth. 2002. “Embodiment Work for the Victims of Violation: In Solidarity with the Community of the Shaken.” Accessed May 15, 2018. www.ipjp.org/images/e-books/OPO%20Essay%2005%20-%20Embodiment%20Work%20for%20the%20Victims%20of%20Violation%20-%20By%20Elizabeth%20A.%20Behnke.pdf
Batson, Glenna. 2008. “Teaching Dynamic Systems Alignment.” In The Body Eclectic: Evolving Practices in Dance Training, edited by Melanie and Rebecca Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Batson, Glenna, and Margaret Wilson. 2014. Body and Mind in Motion: Dance and Neuroscience in Conversation. Bristol: Intellect Publishers.
Bry, Carl. 1964. Verkappte Religionen. Edmund Gans Verlag: München.
Feldenkrais, Moshe. 2010. Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais., edited by Elizabeth Beringer. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Feldenkrais, Moshe. 1981. The Elusive Obvious. New York: Harper and Row.
Firth, Rhiannon. 2016. “Somatic pedagogies: Critiquing and resisting the affective discourse of the neoliberal state from an embodied anarchist perspective.” ephemera: theory & politics in organization 16, no. 4: 121–42.
Gare, Arran. 2016. “Beyond modernism and postmodernism: the narrative of the age of re-embodiments.” In Contributions to Law, Philosophy and Ecology, edited by Ruth Vito and Sian. London: Routledge.
Gare, Arran. 2013. “The Grand Narrative of the Age of Re-Embodiments: Beyond Modernism and Postmodernism.” Cosmos and History 9: 327–57. Accessed June 25, 2018. www.researchgate.net/publication/289771164_The_Grand_Narrative_of_the_Age_of_Re-Embodiments_Beyond_Modernism_and_Postmodernism.
Garrett Brown, Natalie Julia. 2012. “Disorientation and emergent subjectivity: The political potentiality of embodied encounter.” Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 3, no. 1–2: 61–73. doi.org/10.1386/jdsp.3.1-2.61_1.
Ginot, Isabelle. 2011. “Body Schema and Body Image: At the Crossroads of Somatics and Social Work.” Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 3, no. 1–2: 151–65. doi.org/10.1386/jdsp.3.1-2.151_1.
Ginot, Isabelle. 2010. “From Shusterman’s Somaesthetics to a Radical Epistemology of Somatics.” Dance Research Journal 42, no. 1: 12–29.
Hanna, Thomas. 1991. “A Conversation with Thomas Hanna, Ph.D. by Helmut Milz”, M.D. SOMATICS: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences 8, no. 2 (Spring/Summer): 50–56. Accessed June 25, 2018. somatics.org/library/mh-hanna-conversation.
Hanna, Thomas. 1986. “Selections from… Somatology: Somatic Philosophy and Psychology.” SOMATICS: Magazine-Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences 8, no. 2 (Spring/Summer): 14–19. Accessed June 25, 2018. somatics.org/library/biblio/htl-somatology.
Igweonu, K. 2010. Feldenkrais Method® in performer training. Swansea: Centre for Innovative Performance Practice and Research (CiPPR).
Kampe, Thomas. 2017. “Entangled Histories, part 2: releasing the degenerate body.” Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 9, no. 1: 75–93.
Kampe, Thomas. 2016. “crossing/weaving: somatic interventions in choreographic practices.” Feldenkrais Research Journal 5. iffresearchjournal.org/volume/5/kampe.
Kampe, Thomas. 2015. “Eros and Inquiry: The Feldenkrais Method as Complex Resource.” Journal of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training; Taylor and Francis.
Kampe, Thomas. 2014. “Moving After Auschwitz: The Feldenkrais Method as a Soma-Critique.” Korean Journal of Dance Documentation 6. Seoul: Ewha University.
Kampe, Thomas. 2013. “The Art of Making Choices: The Feldenkrais Method as a Choreographic Resource.” PhD exegesis. London Metropolitan University (unpublished). www.academia.edu/6997769/The_Art_of_Making_Choices_Ph_D_Kampe_2013.
Kampe, Thomas. 2010. “Weave: The Feldenkrais Method as choreographic process.” Perfformio 1, no. 2 (Spring): 34–52.
Klein,G., and S. Noeth, eds. 2011. Emerging Bodies The Performance of Worldmaking in Dance and Choreography. Bielefeld: Transcript Press.
Luckmann, T. 1991. Die unsichtbare Religion. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Neudorfer, A. 2012. “Rhythmus als unsichtbare Religion. Die Rhythmusbewegung der Weimarer Republik aus religionswissenschaftlicher Sicht.” Magister thesis, Vienna University (unpublished).
Reese, Mark. 1985. “Moshe Feldenkrais’s Work with Movement: A Parallel Approach to Milton Erickson’s Hypnotherapy.” Accessed October 20, 2016. davidzemach-bersin.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Mark-Reese_-Feldenkrais-Erikson.pdf.
Rose, N. 2008. “The Value of Life: Somatic Ethics & the Spirit of Biocapital.” Daedalus 137, no. 1, On Life (Winter): 36–48.
Rywerant, Y. 2001. Acquiring The Feldenkrais Profession. Tel Aviv: El Or.
Ziemer, G. 2009. “Was kann die Kunst? Forschen anstatt wissen.” Zwölf. Die Zeitschrift der Hochschule für Musik und Theater 5. Accessed June 12, 2012. www.gesa-ziemer.ch/pdf/Was_kann_die_Kunst.pdf.
Thomas Kampe (Ph.D.) has worked as a performing artist, researcher and somatic educator across the globe. He works as Senior Lecturer at Bath Spa University, UK, where he directs the Creative Corporealities Research Group. Collaborations include work with Liz Aggiss, Hilde Holger, Julia Pascal, Tanzinitiative Hamburg, Somatische Akademie Berlin and with Carol Brown on re-embodying the practices of choreographer Gertrud Bodenwieser. His research focuses on critical somatic legacies and he recently edited JDSP Vol. 9. (2017) Bodily undoing: Somatics as practices of critique with Kirsty Alexander. Thomas is a practitioner of The Feldenkrais Method® and editor of the IFF research Journal Vol. 6 (2019): Practices of Freedom: The Feldenkrais Method and Creativity.