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Thea Patterson & Lin Snelling

Having to write, or say, anything at all

As dance artists what is this writing we do? What are these marks in space we make? While writing offers the possibility of permanence, of (supposed) archival stability, at the same time, dance’s very ontology is traditionally marked by its disappearing nature, it’s resistance to sitting still. There are arguments to be made as to what this ontology offers in terms of resistance to certain hegemonies of visibility (Phalen 1996), and perhaps also what it neglects in terms of a certain melancholic notion the disappearing now (Lepecki 2005). This tension between the ephemeral written asks how we can think with the dancing body as a site of research where knowledge is generated in unconventional forms not easily taken up with the words. Words will surely fail, (as much as succeed), just as dancing will also both fail and succeed (whatever this might mean at the end of the day), and yet words or writing are always also there. It is with this continued tethering to the place of writing or the writing of place in both their / practices that Canadian dance artists Thea Patterson and Lin Snelling ask the questions: what can writing teach us about dance? And what can dancing teach us about writing? Conceived as a lecture performance this work unfolds as a scored improvisation where Snelling and Patterson source from conversations and written correspondence over the period of the pandemic about their relationship to dance dramaturgy, improvisation and dance pedagogy. In this work they speak directly to each other, interrupting and querying each other as they share their thoughts and their written letters about dancing; and sometimes dancing their way out of having to write, or say, anything at all.

Post sharing words

Thea writes – Oct 15, 2021

On Aug 31, just three days after we presented writing dancing at CARPA7 – my life partner and the videographer and editor on this project, Jeremy Gordaneer, was violently taken, in, an as of yet unsolved, murder. It is from this place of loss and bewilderment that I come back to the page as we contemplate how to speak about the work we presented and to find meaning, reflect and remember.

A large part of this project exists in the space between dancing and writing and between Lin and I through a roving interweaving of talking and writing and dancing and walking and transcribing. This culminated (before any idea of an intended culmination) in the creation of a score – which we repeated 3 times a day over 5 days in July 2021. This was tenderly witnessed and supported by Jeremy through his eyes and two camera positions. Jeremy then minimally edited the footage which became the presentation for CARPA7.

In trying to think about how to capture the weaving of this project that was already without a necessary aim; which is to say not intended to be productive or over-determined – but rather as a jumping off point, or as a kind of gentle mode of inquiry emerging over time and without fixed form; we write about it now as a way to continue to follow its meandering weave.

To consider what forms best hold this is where we begin today. So, this may not end up being about writing and dancing as an object of study or it might be just that, a way to turn the thing around, as reflection and archive – probably it will be a little of both…. and.

The writing that comes out of this process is in large part in the form of poems – or in Lin’s case poems that then desired to be drawings – as she traces a path from words to forms – (not that words are not also forms). For me – the lure of language maintained its hold – crossing from Lin’s body to my fingers in the space between the dance and the page. Some of these poems and drawings exist now as traces. They hold (or perhaps carry) the memory of the dance. Or perhaps even the dance itself in a manner less discrete or delineated, but there nonetheless. Just because the dance is no longer seen does not mean it has disappeared. But the traces are also not the dance – or not that dance, but something else – another kind of dance perhaps across the page or in the mind, or as yet to be. The poems, for us, evoke the memory – of either dancing or witnessing – and in the touch of the word, that ephemeral passing is traced underneath and evokes wisps, things not fully formed as images in the language of memory but as a tone skipping across the water – touching briefly towards recall that is moving ever outward into the ungraspable.

The score

Enter and take a seat at the table
Begin the conversation
Follow the threads
Use papers on the table from previous talks, walks and iterations as jumping points
Feel for the natural conclusion (whatever that means)

Decide who will write first and who will dance first
Move the table
One person dances
The other person writes
Read the writing (or drawing)
Move the table
Both dance while (attempting) reading the other’s writing

Exit when the end arrives.

Then there were the conversations themselves as we iterated it in walks, phone calls and zoom sessions and in each scoring over the week in the studio. The conversations unfolding through each other and opening other skeins of thought that circle a core – around this question of writing. Along with this we carry other modes of writing as memory captures from previous conversations – while walking, while on the phone – this other mode of address… and the question of archiving opening questions…around how to write and what to write… From our conversations and walks we asked questions and collected words: Here are a few of the poems – some from that week of scoring, some from a practice shared over zoom.

Lin and Thea dancing/reading together (video) – August 28, 2021

Itself (because we said it together)

 It’s over,
               noticing …
                         many things.

She starts.
tempo …
                        splash opening,
to puncture the echoes,
the way,
the page …

           Music and dancing.
in silence.
                       she starts,
music and
music and
            music and
                      her eye.

sweep …
she starts,
arms, elbows
one point,
of the sweep;
the tension of. /(or “attention of” … from your book Thea?) Did you get a chance
to take a look at this?

Listen to the recording of Lin and Thea dancing/reading together.

Thea writes Lin – July 3, 2021

Beside the tall limbs vertical
meets horizontal meets circle
Curves always curve up it
seems –
silver catches the glint of skin
on a wall – washing the
windmill – unwinding the
thread – reversing the stitch.
Tumbling and thrash
Bones to clink the corner
of the room. Wait.
Curls like turtle – collapse

Lin writes Thea – July 3, 2021

Thea writes Lin – July 2, 2021

Sensing the turn of a wrist
in search of soft memory of
a face –  
Skin paper written
in the fingertips that touch
the lift of a knee and into the
curl shell of hieroglyphs
that become circles –
the air in the curve out
of a shoulder across the back
and forth of the scapula
One way is in and one way
Is out – whispers breath
across a finger that
rests to bend into the heels
of blue and the light that hits
the side of the face

Lin writes Thea – July 2, 2021

Tip with a curve
         turning to
         touch …… index
finger slides
crosses torso
shadow dips to
quick to soften
sigh ….underneath
she comes close
behind me …
         footsteps slide back and pivot
towards this/there.

         (I and belly reach into dissolve)  
She watches me write …
suddenly and not …

Lin writes Thea – July 1, 2021

arc and swerve



heart drop


and away …

                                          to just here

         close arms up …


         hand as flame

                                          walk forward,


         grab to heart

         hands part quiet.

Thea is standing

and Jeremy can hear writing

Thea writes Lin – June 30, 2021

Flushing half measures


Air under joints in a triangle
Sensation across the sternum

Star bursts

Shoulder in spiral to the
Knee of the arched spine
In the grid patterns of the floor
And a bridge to the edge of the


Upside down tiny’ness and a startled
gesture of wide eyes
Describing a chance operation
Of a wrist in rotation
And she remembers all those
names in a crazy pastness
of history

Lin writes/ Thea

Thea writes Lin – April 13 2021

Inserted in the triangle room
with paper ears

Seems to be

stories of only today
Secrets – 

Apples and scales of busy angels
daydream dancers
                     and the undressing of time

 When I gesture the story
it dances like this
Light fingers places in circles
                     and patterns

Placing things
and placing bodies
                     things and bodies

perspective always changing
         and whose
                  and whose?


Apples in the middle
And the palms of a dancer

She dances across the white stage
in her perpetual frontality

She states the obvious

Things before things
What is before?  What is before?
                  Is there even a before?

Hills or dancers? apples or dancers?
Little men with weapons?
                           Blind spots

Shoulders in placements
of movements of explanations
twirling around the spine to then

repeat – wrist soft like
the ir-repeatability of repeating

                           drawings can do that

She floats for a while
in soft joints
and then back to the game
the game of placing and replacing meanings 

                           of not knowing

Thea writes Lin – April, 2021

It always begins with the ritual
Moving the chair and
Removing the glasses
Fingers threading


Elbow to wrist to the
scene of the transfer of weight

like walking
Walking the knees
Or sitting under a tree
Scooping the ribs
Of the
elbow to wrist to the heels of my feet
Toes curled in the pause
Elbows to wrists
To the folding of faults

Of words failing

Words space words
And float
in grounding and space-time
of body

elbows wrists knees
the sacrum place is behind me
a line in the sand
repeating desire
of difference

sitting beside the word I claim

Falling to the sky
up up
and around the traversing of allies
falling bodies apart

This is my pathway along my legs
Touching the spine saxophone
held in my hand
the inverted magic

of form

Lin writes Thea – April 20, 2021

Hand, wrist, hold
embrace fold, gazing sideways; pick up wrist
floating, again embracing,
full wing span,
fingers open and close
especially now, in this moment,
doesn’t really
do shape shifting as
worry about the depth
of a word.
Balance thought and
claiming something
making territory,
soft folding towards pattern and colour.
She is Sara Rudner,
She is all the performers who have not capital C claimed space
and are alive in my own body lineage.

Deborah Hay turn your f*****g head
constantly expressing
to form
to hold.

I find immense
Pleasure, as she
moves dance out and into relationship with
surfing …
the fall now
through body
she is doing a spacing study
speaking moving
surfing religion
a handwritten letter,
a dance as a letter,
she is being shaped and shaping,
my lower back remembers to curve.

yes, it curved …
here no territory

Lin writes Thea – March 30, 2021

here I go
elbow … and …
door frame
hands … foot.
embracing … she
has horns …
fingers from animal.
soft occiput,
look drop.
ribbing of sweater …
ribs … fold
turn soft.
dip and follow
sink door as helper
hear out
wrist, listens to
history of another
Space; I remember
her with trees,
fingerprints into
legs gently begin to
lift; stand …
she is shaping something coming back to her.
un …… reach ….
head sprouting.
throat is listening
pivots change tempo
leg back
exit, stand.

arch and reach.
New paragraphs
waterfalling her
Back and hips …
Below to above
Below to above
so much movement
bowing low
animal angel
wood shelter.
wall touch, lift
hands, she is wiping her hands.

Lin writes – Oct 25, 2021

There is a moment in the video where Thea looks out to Jeremy. There is a smile. He was most likely waving at us. He would do this so we would have a general idea of the time we had taken

versus the time we had left … he was waving at us to remind us that the video could only be 20 minutes and so … we must move on.

Time. It is what we work within as performing artists; presuming it will go on. Now I look at that moment and it goes by and stops at the same time. It was barely noticeable before and still it is only a second: and it goes by.

These conversations we had during the week of making the video were all witnessed by Jeremy. His presence allowed both Thea and I to continue these intimate conversations while being filmed. “We are going to make a thing!” I remember him saying with glee. Jeremy was listening and filming in the room with us and very much part of our conversation. He reminded us of time by simply letting us know how long each video had taken. He filmed each day and was confident in his process of gathering footage to watch and edit later. His energy in the room was tangible; supporting an invisible and idiosyncratic flow.

Time does stop. Life is finite and Thea and I continue to dance and write this “thing.”


Thea Patterson

Thea Patterson (BFA, MA, PhD Student) is a Montreal-based choreographer, performer, and dramaturg. Her research investigates the potential of the dancing body as the site of embodied theoretical discourse. Here, dance practice does not demonstrate an idea, nor is the idea danced, rather the two converse/converge in the entanglement of something between, something that “lives betwixt and between theory and theatricality, paradigms and practices, critical reflection and creative accomplishment” (Conquergood). Thinking, as expressed through the dancing body, moves the theory from body into the world.

Lin Snelling

Lin Snelling’s performance, writing and teaching is based in the qualities improvisation can offer as it applies to dance, theatre, visual art and somatic practice. As Professor at the University of Alberta she is presently teaching dance, experiential anatomy and composition and is Coordinator of the MFA in Theatre Practice program.’Rewriting Distance’, her on-going research collaboration with Belgian dance dramaturg Guy Cools continues.