Write up of Practical exam

Created by
icon Charles A. Washington
icon We are all a subculture
16 May 2021

The score presented on the 19th of May 2022 is a durational work lasting 1hr. It will be presented outside on hauptstraße, Dresden, which is a public space. The score is based on different subcultural theories and studies used to identify how the house music subculture arose and became what it is today. 

The research questions I had: 

How do I convert theoretical text into a practical tool that should stimulate original movement qualities and styles? Moreover, what method of embodiment is appropriate or used and how?

What is the didactic method I will use to teach or find to engage physically with the theoretical findings? 

How open or closed should the score be to individuals agency so that the performers have the right balance between freedom and structure?

How to maintain a balance between research and performance? As this score is being presented in a public place, what aspects of the score or the performers' expression were rethought, and how was this kept in line with the theoretical findings. 

Methods of working to address the questions.

After watching the students in their various classes, which include Classical ballet, Contemporary dance including, Limon, Cunningham and release hybrids techniques, Laban, Feldenkrais, improvisation including Forsyth improvisation method, I started to realise that the students were forming a type of knowledge and language to explain that knowledge that was informed by these techniques and teachers. It became apparent to me that this was a very effective balance. I was amazed at how adaptive and responsive the students were to what was said to them and how the different techniques were technically creating such a rounded, versatile dancer who could articulate clearly what they were doing or question what was expected of them to execute the movement. With the knowledge I had gained from my theoretical paper, I could already see signs that the students were a type of subculture. They shared in a language to explain certain notions of dance. They were growing together and were forming their own perspective of dance styles and qualities, which were informed by witnessing the complexity of how each other dance and is perceived to dance by the other. They had formed an unspoken shared interest or dislike in a certain direction unique to the constellation of people within their group - this included clothing, dance technique or style, studio, musician and teachers. The method, therefore, I thought I would apply would not add or counter what they already knew but use this information. It was, therefore, not my aim to place a language onto or replace what they already knew. This is because, broadly speaking, subcultures are formed by the environmental conditions and the individual that inhabit that environment. Therefore, it was essential that the space was open for all the information, abilities, likes and dislikes that came with the individual and groups perspective and it allowed that to grow and transform in the way our meeting together informed. So that I could as best as possible stay neutral to my perspective, I had to find a method to take me out of my role, which in this case was a type of teacher, which the students are very respectful of and have a traditional expectation that the teacher will lead the class or workshop. I concluded that my role would always be different if I did not participate in what we were aiming for. Therefore, in all movement research, I would also research with them through movement and through the exploration of movement that was taking place in the environment of one of the studios. I would verbalise the improvisational tasks that arose in me that were influenced by the environment, the students and students movement. The practice-led research that was taking place formed its point of departure or engagement of embodied knowledge through the theories and studies of Subculture I had gained through my theoretical paper. The only choices that I made previous to being in the studio were what type of awareness I would engage with, i.e. The Chicago School an awareness of environmental conditions, The Birmingham School an awareness of the group's identity, or post-subcultural studies an awareness of the sensations of oneself. 

The method that I used to share my research was a mixture of verbal language and anatomical listening. The language that I chose to use was as much as possible, one that did not evoke any archetype image or sensations that are present within dance as certain words within established dance language can evoke images and sensations, which have the ability to alter the student's movement and quality of movement. I deliberately considered the words I used to bring the students awareness to their present sensation or image of the movement they were engaged with or producing, which was being informed by one of the three awarenesses. 

In defining three types of awareness, I wanted to raise the student's consciousness of them so they could be usable tools, which have their own characteristics and uses. The way in which I aimed to raise the student's consciousness of the different awareness, was by engaging with the understanding of the bodies anatomy. The teaching of anatomy that I shared with the students was a combination of my own somatic experiences gained as a professional dancer with Body-mind Centering (BMC). BMC is a somatic approach created by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. In a BMC Ausbildung, I undertook to support my research. I learnt how to listen and locate the different body parts and body systems, i.e. skeletal system, cardiovascular system, organ system, etc. Essential to the sharing of BMC, is the fact that the information being given is not anything that the individual has not already experienced in their life, as it is about raising the individual's consciousness on a cellular level of their development from fertilisation. 

In many ways, I shared what I had learned in BMC with the students, especially how to listen to the different body systems and use this embodiment of the body part or body system to be the sensational state in which movement is stimulated and followed. 

The body system or body part engaged with or produced embodied knowledge came to me by embodying my written text on the three different awareness. I listened to what body part or body system awoke to the different awareness I wrote about. I did not question this, I trusted the sensation of my body, and I also did not try to rationalise why that sensation in that location.  

We created the score from the different sociological dynamics that are present in the forming of subcultures. I referred to Robert E. Park (1925) book The City, which describes a city as a type of organism formed by individuals and the different relationships between people and groups. For example, one part of the score deals with ‘intensities' experienced in a body system or body part while perceiving a straight-line connection with one other. The student’s movement varies to the intensity they experience that increases or decreases because of the distance between themselves and the other. It is open to experience if the intensity increases or decreases depending on the distance between and with whom the line is perceived. Within the score, this can also be done with two others forming a triangle. With a triangle, there are two possibilities an equilateral triangle or an isosceles, which also creates different types of intensities. Using intensities with these two possibilities, a line or a triangle within the score, all different types of expressions and situations arise that stimulate from the outside view different social relations and types of individual experiences.  

Within a day, individuals within a city moving from place to place from person to person change and transform due to the different meetings and environments. Within the score, I wanted to find a way for the students to go through some sort of movement and awareness development unique to the score's performance that day. Therefore, I considered how dance styles such a Jackin’ arose in clubs where there were no teachers. Therefore, there is a layer of the score called exploration and transformation, which is an adaptive tool that allows the student to explore any other aspect of the score and transform it. How the student does this is related to the information from the three awareness, which means, the exploration and transformation are not to be rationalised and, therefore, can be a performative expression as it is the researching of the exploration and transformation that is the movement and expression similar to an individual in Parks city.  The transformation and exploration layer of the score is differentiated into two part s 

  • transformation of the whole body 
  • Isolation of a part of the body 

The main body or structured choreography is based on what an individual brings to a subculture, as subcultures are shaped by those who make the subculture. It essential for this to manifest in the score so that happens the students have solo material based on their life experiences of different environments of their past. This information becomes the environment for the others and feeds and stimulates the exploration and transformation in a movement feedback loop within the group. As well as the solos, there are three short choreographed phrases that the students made. These choreographies are influenced by rhythm and footwork, with the arms playing a more passive role, which from my observation of the house music dance styles is an obvious signifier. 

The time that I worked with the students, took two main phases. The first was when I worked with only four students before I had finished my theoretical paper. The second stage came after I had finished my theoretical paper, I worked with eight students that included the original four. After finishing the written paper, it became apparent that I had to scrap what I had started with the four students, as it lacked a physical foundation from which I wanted to start from that I later implemented with BMC on the eight students. Over the time I worked with the eight students, I became very aware that the type of desire of all involved, including myself, could never be that of individuals of the subculture I researched, where dancing was the only comfort and means to escape a repressive culture. As well, this is due to the many outside factors such as the student's other academic responsibilities, their career desires, the significance of the status of Palucca University, my own conservative dance education and career, the installed teacher-student dynamic that arose because of scheduling rehearsal space, the need to be productive and present something within a given time, the pressures of presenting something in an exam, the choice of choosing students and the privileged conditions of the environment in which I tried to reappropriate and reterritorialise subcultural phenomena, that originally arose under conditions that nobody would choose to be part. To get as close as I could, I learnt that I had to accept these roles and positions. I used my position to help the students organise them themselves to create the score and listen to what the students felt and needed for them to have more or less freedom in how to engage with the different aspect of the score. I learnt that I also had to give some space to talk to them before each rehearsal to gauge where they were on an energetic level and a physical level. In doing this, I felt we became more present as a group and the feeling of work was replaced with interest and curiosity. If I were to redo what we created, I would give even more freedom and trust. I believe that something to arise akin to the desire that manifests into such unique dance styles of the house music subculture requires long periods of time together to develop.

Between Palucca University and myself, we considered the practical part of the research in many different formats. It was not clear what type of presentation would suit the research the best in the beginning. It was also not clear where and how the work could be presented if it would be part of the annual Palucca University Performances or not. After further consideration, the date and location were finalised. I would show the work at the Palucca Tanz Studio (PTS); this was a great opportunity. However, I felt due to the traditional theatre set-up and what the public expects to see at PTS. The work should be a set choreography, and it can not be more than ten minutes. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the PTS could not take place in 2020. In hindsight, I believe this was beneficial to the work. As a new date and formate had to be found, I started to work with the students in a new way, and we broke all set composition and started to work with longer improvisations, which allowed the exploration and transformational aspect to really grow and become the focal point of the work. I felt this way of working was more in tune with my actual research, even if it was not performed on stage. The next plan to have the work shown either over the whole school or in a Museum entrance was sadly also not permitted due to the extension of the lockdown. At this stage, I believed though I had reached a sense the work was what it should be and to perform in a public space that is transient with public and the few shoppers, in the end, is probably the perfect space, where the students will at times feel as if it is a performance and at other times have more a private feeling of blending in with the public.

One aspect of my original idea was to find a way to stimulate a dancer's own personal curiosity to develop their own original movement language. In many ways now that I have not been able to see the dancers this year, and with the performance on the horizon, I am curious to see if, and if so, how they have developed what we did through 2020.