Philosophy in Physicality



This project has been challenging my body and my expectations at every rehearsal. On the first day, we learned what seemed to be a step dance in changing meter (I later found out it was Reggie’s experimentation with movements from South African gumboot dancing). For full disclosure, I am pretty rhythmically challenged and at first was incredibly frustrated. Everyone else seemed to have mastered the coordination of steps and claps, and I stumbled along as best as I could. Despite my confusion, I began to enjoy the percussive movement and stop perseverating on my inadequacy. I hit whatever beats I could, and instead of dwelling on my frustrations I let myself be a little lost.

 I realized something that might seem obvious—I’m learning. Sometimes while learning new choreography, I have the drone-like feeling that I must perfect and memorize it, then move on, all within a matter of minutes. This movement vocabulary was new and different, and I had no choice but to accept that this was unfamiliar, and I would need some more time, practice, and work. Yesterday was only our third rehearsal, and I’m already beginning to feel at home with the movement. Reggie’s classes and choreography are waking me up to the fascinating process of learning movement, and making me more aware of my mentality towards it. Once he told us we can laugh if we want while doing a warm-up, and I began to wonder why this seemed so strange to me. If the desire to laugh while dancing struck me, did I usually suppress the urge? Or had I never even entertained the possibility?

 Reggie said he wants to get us out of our minds and more into our bodies, and I feel the additional benefit of getting out of my ballet training and into other ways of moving. Now, this is not to say that I think ballet has been an unnatural imposition on my body; Reggie also noted that all our bodies house various habits, histories, traditions, and trainings, so I don’t think any kind of movement is more “natural” than another. Rather, I am becoming cognizant of the affectations my own body takes for granted as natural while moving, whether it’s doing something as simple as looking up to the ceiling or making eye contact with another dancer. This is one thing I love about the work we’ve been doing—the physics and the physicality of it.

We talked during a rehearsal about the huge difference between what physically happens in the dance studio and how you write about it. I’ll do my best to articulate the experience for me, aware that this is a written platform. He told us to think of what we learn on Sesame Street, concepts that might seem obvious or stupid. Near and far. Up and down. In the dance studio, these aren’t abstract concepts. Thinking about the concept of near and far tells you nothing about really moving in space in proximity to others. Similarly, I thought I knew up from down. Reggie distinguishes between “up” (just looking up) and “dancer’s up” (for example, looking out over your hand in arabesque). Up and down, near and far, these concepts are so easy to talk about, but feel so different in the studio. I’m going to go out on a limb here and form a somewhat random association, just because I think this is a beautiful idea that does have philosophical as well as physical resonance.

Derrida has a notion of “différance” which he explains helps make meaning in a text. The main idea (summed up nicely on Wikipedia) is this:

 “In the essay “Différance” Derrida indicates that différance gestures at a number of heterogeneous features that govern the production of textual meaning. The first (relating to deferral) is the notion that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they mean, but can only be defined through appeal to additional words, from which they differ. Thus, meaning is forever “deferred” or postponed through an endless chain of signifiers. The second (relating to difference, sometimes referred to as espacement or “spacing”) concerns the force that differentiates elements from one another and, in so doing, engenders binary oppositions and hierarchies that underpin meaning itself.”

 It may sound strange, but I immediately thought of this idea after hearing Reggie’s way of thinking about pairs like up and down or near and far, and then experiencing physically just how great a difference there is between “up” and “down” and “up and down”. The terms are accepted as abstract opposites when you just talk about them, but in movement the conceptual binary between them dissolves and all you have is dancing.

From here I want to write a bit about our exploration of these kinds of basics in rehearsals, which are fundamental but not at all easy. I feel like a system of physical basics informs the choreography, and gives it a very powerful sense of directive. Our bodies are all different, but watching Anna and Raja perform the duet last Wednesday I was struck by the similarity of their physical intentions, even though they have different bodies and movement training. They look up or drop the pelvis down, kick straight back or twist from left to right. Reggie talked a bit about physics, and how force is always mass times acceleration. I was reminded of the idea of task-based choreography from postmodern dance, but realized as he spoke about physics that all movement is a task—a real and physical thing.

Another idea mentioned was the pelvis as a kind of “point zero” for different kinds of movement, and this really makes sense to me. As your center of gravity, the pelvis is where all these directions (up, down, right, left, etc.) can be initiated on different bodies with different training. When I do the movements more like physical tasks, like moving up or down, I discover myself working in fully new ways. For example, I’ve found a “magic calf muscle” area right near the back of my knee that fires when I simply flick my feet during part of the solo we’ve been learning. In the same solo, there’s a moment where I can shake my knees and feel a ripple move up my spine with no effort on my part. There is a unique tension between control and release in this work, and I’m excited to continue exploring. All movement is physical and physics, and I think realizing this basic necessity is key to delving into the diverse and dynamic materials that are created, combined, reconfigured in this choreography