What the Body Knows – a resolution and an embarkation


I’ve become so aware of what my body knows. Body knowledge. The body can think and feel, and it doesn’t think or feel in the same way the mind does. Renee gave me the words for this idea, and Matthew the arena, the opportunity to practice. We can tell a story with the position of our sternum and the grounding of our feet. Biologically I understand this, it’s animal in nature, a social signaling. Like facial expressions. But I realized this semester that there is unfathomable depth to that communication of which the body is capable.
What does it mean to physically tell a story, using your bones, muscles, skin? Renee would ask us to lower our arms slightly or to widen our stance, but she would also say things like, “smaller” or “easy” or “show me” which didn’t correspond to movements our minds knew how to make happen. But she wasn’t talking to our minds, she was talking to our bodies, and often (miraculously, it seemed) they would adjust to her feedback. Doing ‘One Grain of Sand’ during tech week I suddenly felt so many…things…that I don’t have words for. I was only encouraging my body further into the story, deeper than my mind could reach, and my body…it felt. It thought about the story and responded and it was like air whooshing out of me like the exhales we do. It amazes me the rigor of Renee’s awareness, of her ability to converse not only with her own body, familiar terrain, but with ours too, who had never talked to anybody before. And then to translate everything into words, so that our minds would understand!
When Renee and Matthew talk about the ‘story,’ the story we strive share with the audience in our arms and neck and legs and chest, they aren’t talking only about a narrative told with words, I think. The body isn’t dancing a literal translation of ‘House of the Rising Sun;’ rather, it’s acting on a different plane entirely. It tells a human story, a universal story, one that accompanies the lingual narrative but ultimately spreads beyond, flooding into new realms of significance and sensation, catching up the heartstrings of the audience in its surge. It is this universal story that emanates so clearly, I think, from Renee and Matthew when they dance, it is this story that they share with their audiences, that they taught us to share as well. The story of being human. And it passes only between bodies; the dancing bodies speak directly to the bodies of the audience members, waking them out of their somnolence in the soft dark of the theater. No longer any meddling minds playing middle-man, no longer are meanings lost in translation from movement-story to word-story. The communication is direct.
That is incredible.
And I think that’s also why we can’t pinpoint, a lot of the time, what a dance makes us feel when we are watching it, or why we feel anything at all. Because our mind is trying to figure out something that only our body knows, and we haven’t learned how open the lines of dialogue between our two parts.
This is all a long winded way of addressing my initial blogpost and my unease at the outset of the project. I was afraid of taking a story that did not belong to me and forcing my way into it; of stifling another’s voice; of being unable to connect with the material and therefore unable to learn. But Renee and Matthew gave me my access point: the human story found in the movement. My mind was afraid because it only knew the words; but my body connected with ‘House’ through dancing it, through the choreography. This semester I learned that my body knows more than I thought possible, and I learned the beginnings of how to converse with it. It is that conversation, unconscious or not, that makes us human. I found my way into ‘House’ through the humanity in its movement.