The languages of learning: dance

I was lucky enough to catch Sioned Huws’ ‘The Aomori Project – of landscapes remembered‘ whilst in Singapore over the weekend. It’s an hour long modern dance, featuring two principles, whose dance is mainly synchronised, one solo performer, a quartet of japanese musicians and (it turns out, unexpectedly, half way through) around a dozen children who jump out of the audience, bouncing balls around the dancers.

I’m no dance expert, so if you are, forgive my descriptions, terminology and interpretations: i’m coming at this from a storytelling and experiential angle, i’m interested in how Huws uses the language of dance to communicate, how she tells stories using just the movement and interrelationships of the dancers. It’s a hard language to read at times, but strangely coherent, certainly captivating and, at many times, charming.

When we think about communication, we often focus on the written word and voice, but there is so much more that we use every day, so many languages that we use, and this week i’m keen to explore more of them.

In her own words, ‘In winter, the repetitive silent snowfall arrives, transforming the landscape; the heartbeat slows down, the body is overwhelmed by a desire to rest, to lie horizontally in this blanket of white. A desire to be resisted, to move and be moved. The sounds, songs and dances of Aomori personify these landscapes.

The notion of lying down is central to the dance: the two lead dancers almost exclusively dance whilst lying on the floor. The best way i can describe it is to imaging you are lying in a very cold bed and try to warm up by running on the sport, on your side (is it just me that does this…). At times, i could recognise elements of ‘traditional’ dance, but transposed onto the floor, whilst at other times, the moves reminded me more of wrestling or judo: movement between a series of stable positions through moments of ‘throwing’ your weight around. Much as when the dancers (in the vertical) jump through the air. The transitions are unstable, you can’t stop mid way, and the same in the horizontal movements.

Whilst (what i can only call) vertical dance tends to be fluid, smooth, there was an inevitable visceral quality about the horizontal. Partly this was caused by the thumps and bumps of elbows and knees (whilst beautifully fluid, i couldn’t help but wince at the toll the actions must take) and partly because for much of this section there was no music, just the pants and laboured breathing of the two dancers.

The sound of breathing, for me, made the experience more intense. You can see the movement, but in some ways you are still detached. Being lucky enough to sit on the front row, hearing the breaths escaping, seeing the concentration, seeing the tiny glances to position the partner to avoid collisions, these made it immersive, captivating.

There were layers to the dance too: the central theme was the two horizontal partners, but there was a repetitive presence of one dancer who moved through the action in quite a formal way, alongside occasional bursts of ‘unscripted’, playful, chaotic action from the girls who ran through and around the others. Indeed, their entrance was first heralded by a table tennis ball being thrown onto the ground. Much as the hollow ‘clip…clip…clip’ of a bouncing table tennis ball is a light and agile sound, so was their interaction. Playful, unstructured, seemingly uncoordinated.

So all three layers were visible to me at once, despite being on stage at the same time, the three layers could be distinguished by the motion (not the clothing, everyone was dressed casually).

I know nothing about choreography, but i do know it has it’s own notation, it’s own written language. Rather than Google it, i think i’ll wait till i can meet a choreographer and discuss it over coffee. I think it’s a language of experience, of passion, very physical, it feels like a song: more powerful in the experience than in the description.

The closest we get to thinking about choreography in learning is to think about the sequencing of events within structured programmes and to think about body language, which i guess does at least recognise that we can proactively control this, that we can act a part. Speaking to musicians as part of my current research into music in learning, it’s fascinating how some musicians write the music first and then struggle to put lyrics over the top, whilst for others it’s the other way around. Almost like they are two different languages being spoken. Maybe it’s the same if you are a bilingual poet, maybe you have to decide which language to compose in and which to translate to?

In fact, the language analogy may carry further, in that when you see professional dancers who have mastered their craft, they are able to ‘speak’ that language without thinking about it, able to move with their thoughts, much as i am able to speak without thinking about it (whilst my terrible dancing definitely requires thought…)

Yesterday we looked at the sense of smell and the way’s that it’s used in memory and association. Today, dance, a powerful storytelling tool. Exploring the many languages of learning makes me realise how many voices i’ve never really understood before, because i’ve never stopped to listen.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Agile, Choreography, Communication, Control, Creative, Dance, Language, Learning, Music, Narrative, Stories, Storytelling and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The languages of learning: dance

  1. loudoye says:

    Hi Julian,

    Your mum put me onto your blog and your post on the language of dance. As a trained dancer and choreographer dance can be both a form communication and conversation. When dancing with other professionals there is no need to talk as the body and other senses take over. You should check out contact improvisation, dancers work in a space without talking for at least 30/ 40 minutes , constantly dancing/ lifting/ traveling .

    The language of dance grows the more you open your mind to it and once you stop seeing it as a technique the communication begins.

    Enjoy more dance! If you ever want to seeore dance just shout and I can recommend.
    ( I teach your mum)

    • julianstodd says:

      Thanks for sharing these thoughts Lou – yes, i like how there are layers of interpretation: you have the physical movement, which you can perceive on one level, but then you have the interpretation, the meaning, which exists on another. It’s like language: you have sounds, which are abstract, until you ‘interpret’ and associate them with meaning.

      It’s a fascinating journey, looking at the different languages of learning: visual, dance, music and so on.


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