By Lori Teague, Director of Emory Dance and Movement Studies Program
Movement is a language that captures connections between the realm of the body and the world. It is a manifestation of how we see, relate, act, and communicate. And through our own movement, we come to know ourselves; we learn to articulate emotion, reveal curiosities, excavate memories, and respond to each other non-verbally. Movement is abstract, metaphoric, and symbolic of who we are; it is also an act of change.
We are all movers. But, to study movement is an embodied practice; the body becomes more relevant. It develops a heightened consciousness of energy, space, and time. The beginning of the process is an art of being present, a discipline of being grounded and aware. Soon, a more somatically-engaged moving body is sensing, playing, and communicating authentically. Then, there is more spontaneity and more skill to excavate deeply rooted messages. Moving consciously develops kinesthetic listening skills and empathetic sensibilities through contact, collaboration, improvisation, and dancing with others. You understand more, because you feel more. You discover how connections within the body influence those that are made between the body and the world. Clarifying and deepening these connections is a practice that bridges the mind and body.
If we research movement in relationship to the world we live in, then each creation of contemporary dance speaks to time and place. Choreographic research invites provocative and courageous storytelling. The work’s point of view deepens the experience we can have with each other because it interrogates aspects of our lived culture that will awaken an audience’s sensibilities. The individual’s curiosities and questions are a response to broad topics–gender, race, disability, agency, equity, loss, risk, and power. The investigation is an act of truth-telling that reveals layers of complexity between the body and its relationship to societal norms, definitions, and functions. But the individual is never alone; the choreographer and the movers value collaboration. They stay supple and responsive to the unexpected while listening to each other. This investment strengthens the manner in which we communicate and relate to each other.
I focus on the capacity for my choreographic research to take risks, physically and socially. A recent example of my research is a collaborative, evening-length work entitled Rule of Thumb. This piece excavated the embodiment of self and examined the ongoing relationship gendered bodies have with societal norms. The creative process included workshops and story circles that advocated for a new understanding of gender expression. Every rehearsal was a series of structured improvisations where we gained access to natural states of being. By living in the body’s center, and sharing the space with a diverse group of bodies, we built important connections for expanding empathy.
Every discipline has its own perspective, with a lens that sharpens and shapes everything. As a dancemaker, educator, and observer, I find all movement fascinating and telling. Studying the movement of a blink, the pattern of someone’s gait, the behavior of water, or the distinctive choices we make as individuals shifts me into unknown territory. In contemporary dance, we are constantly relating to the other arts and other disciplines; we are compelled to align movement with text and discover ways to inhabit spaces; and, we remain driven by a revolutionary desire to be innovative. This desire will always encourage experimentation and will always propel the research forward. Movement offers us multiple ways to embody knowledge. So, when you feel truly present in your body, the research can begin.
Lori Teague is the Director of the Dance and Movement Studies Program at Emory University. Her current research focuses on improvisational performance. Teague co-directs the Dancing Flowers for Peace, a performance troupe for women over 50, and serves as the program chair for Moving in the Spirit, a nationally recognized youth development program.