Sunday, November 4, 2007

What is Physically Integrated Dance: I

A huge chunk of our time is spent doing educational/outreach activities. I invest a lot of emotion in these. At first, I am always scared no one will sign up. Then, I am scared that they will be disappointed, that they won't like it, that it wasn't what they were expecting. The thing is that, even though West Coast teaches classes locally in 4 week sequences, 8 week sequences, and sometimes, even a single workshop, it is really hard to know who will be there. If we specify, say advanced, we are unlikely to get disabled dancers. If we specify beginner, we often draw a crowd with a wide range of experience and goals, and people's interests may conflict.

These circumstances always lead to me question, in a very literal way, what I am doing. What am I doing? Who am I doing it for? What is physically integrated dance, anyway? What follows is a series of musings. More questions and explorations than organized essay. It is not a formal manifesto, and it certainly doesn't represent the position of West Coast Dance, the field, or even any other dancer. It's just me. Me thinking about some of the things that interest me about my daily life.

What is Physically Integrated Dance?

I don't think we can define PID in terms of a set movement vocabulary. There's no one technique, method, approach to thinking about movement. You can't say, well, in PID, the arm goes like this .... shape your hand like that. There are no leit motifs, no signature movements, no defining rhythms, shapes, or lines.

I think PID is a form of dance. A genre of dance. An art form in its own right. And I believe it is more than a dance setting in which disabled people appear and participate according to the structure of the class. Just because I show up to a dance class and work doesn't mean that it is PID. I mean, I may "integrate" the class, but I am usually there to learn more about the particular technique being taught. It is also more than a bunch of disableds and non-disableds dancing on stage.

I've talked about this with a couple of people, and I am coming to a place where I want to define PID by what it does, by the effects it can have. I am looking at a more fluid definition, something that goes beyond the product of a finished dance.

I like Chica's idea: PID is a set of representations of the body. I'd underscore in that the idea of the body -- not just the disabled body, but the bodies of all the dancers. PID is about the ways a dancer moves in his or her body and also about what I see as the positive effect it can have on the audience. It seems kind of cheap to say that I am looking for an integratedness as the effect of PID, but that is what stands out to me.

Too often, I think, you go to a dance performance and see bodies on the extreme doing extreme things. They can be very beautiful and very effective, but the usual dancer body tends to be if not alienating at least in a different world. You can marvel at it, enjoy it, be moved by it, but not necessarily own it in your own body. If you are not a dancer, you know that you could *never* do that.

I think the effects of the representations of the body we see in PID are very different. The movement that, for me, defines the genre communicates a certain awareness and accptance of the body. I think it communicates a deep engagement with embodiment. By which I mean, an understanding of the reality of the body -- something I think that disabled dancers can really bring to the field. I also mean an engagement with the idea that we know, perceive, and learn through our bodies.

Not sure whether that's clear. For me, a successful PID performance has me admiring the aesthetics, yes. It has me appreciating the social value of dancing PWDs, yes. But it also brings about within me a deep sense of recognition of the power and potential of the body. It's an embracing of the body -- any body -- the fleshly body as a beautiful thing in itself. A thing that can change the world, a thing to be admired; the thing that unites us, a central part of our humanity. PID is different from other dance forms in that the diversity of bodies on stage inherently enables everyone involved in the process of producing a performance (and, yes, that includes audience members -- no performance without you!) to engage in a deep knowing, acceptance, and embracing of all bodies.

All of which brings me back to the first question: so, what do you teach if that is your goal? A variety of things, obviously. A dancer has to learn his/her body, learn ways to move in that body. A dancer has to learn how any equipment does or doesn't respond under the stresses of dance or perhaps a dancer decides that pure quotidian movement is dance and that there have to be no changes -- no judgment, these are things that we think about. A dancer has to know a variety of skills from focus, to presentness, to muscle memory, to movement creation, to expression to ... ( I can't come up with a complete list). These are things that we study in class, in workshops, in the studio, and on our own. One of the other things that we learn is how to interact with each other (and this is often what we teach in a single 2 hour workshop).

I see the interactions that mark successful PID as a defining part of the genre -- but that is going to have to be a separate post. This has been delayed too much, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. There is a blog written by a professional Wheel Chair Dancer called "Bend, Move, Sway" on dreamwidth under paidiraiompair(dot)dreamwidth (dot) org Check it out!