Embodiment and Its Varieties

Kate Mattingly
February 06, 2014
Catherine Long, dancer

Part of our series featuring Townsend Working Groups, this post by Kate Mattingly, co-coordinator of the Dance Studies working group, discusses the innovative analytical approaches of Dance Studies. 

When someone asks what I research, my answer is “dance studies.” Since this is usually met with a quizzical look, my next step is to explain how there is more to dance education than trained, choreographed bodies, or histories of people and performances.

Dance studies is an interdisciplinary field that is indebted to a relatively recent surge in scholarship that not only produced definitive texts and methodologies, but also led to the creation, in 1993, of a doctorate program: U.C. Riverside’s Ph.D. in Critical Dance Studies. Over the last 20 years, research and performances have broadened our understanding of the social, theoretical, political, and economic frameworks through which dance is created, viewed, valued, disseminated, and learned. 
Like most disciplines, the field of dance studies is multi-faceted and depending on where you begin your exploration of dance, you will see a different side—or a different approach to dance knowledge: pedagogy, performance, history, theory, etc.  

Sue Austin’s work explores her "embodied experience  
as a wheelchair user" (www.susanaustin.co.uk)  
The Townsend Working Group on Dance Studies has been a catalyst for conversations in and about the discipline, providing both the impetus and the space for dancers, choreographers, artists, activists, scholars and other community members to gather around a set of topics and think about approaches to dance, its study, and representation. As Sue Austin (pictured above) has said, “artistic practice gives power to take control of representation.”

Last September our meeting's topic was "screendance" and relationships between dance, technology, and phenomenology. Screendance is a burgeoning interdisciplinary field, expanded by access to YouTube and vimeo, as well as by growing national and international festivals, by an academic journal that began in 2010 called “The International Journal of Screendance,” and a recent book by Douglas Rosenberg called “Screendance: Inscribing the Ephemeral Image” published by Oxford University Press. What does watching dance on a screen do to our reception of the work? How do technologies of framing and editing collaborate with choreography and influence how we receive images?  Our discussion was inspired by examples of screendance provided by Charlotte Shoemaker who curated “Dance/Screen,” an annual international dance film program in San Francisco, and an article by Vivian Sobchack that argues against film as a solely visual experience and calls for an embodied or phenomenological approach to analysis.

For the Dance Studies Working Group’s blog, please visit http://dancestudiesworkinggroup.blogspot.com/

Image Credits:
Black and white photograph of Catherine Long by Timothy Fadek
Image of Sue Austin from her web site