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Dancing Identity

Dancing Identity: Metaphysics In Motion

Sondra Fraleigh
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Dancing Identity
    Book Description:

    Combining critical analysis with personal history and poetry,Dancing Identitypresents a series of interconnected essays composed over a period of fifteen years. Taken as a whole, these meditative reflections on memory and on the ways we perceive and construct our lives represent Sondra Fraleigh's journey toward self-definition as informed by art, ritual, feminism, phenomenology, poetry, autobiography, and-always-dance.

    Fraleigh's brilliantly inventive fusions of philosophy and movement clarify often complex philosophical issues and apply them to dance history and aesthetics. She illustrates her discussions with photographs, dance descriptions, and stories from her own past in order to bridge dance with everyday movement. Seeking to recombine the fractured and bifurcated conceptions of the body and of the senses that dominate much Western discourse, she reveals how metaphysical concepts are embodied and presented in dance, both on stage and in therapeutic settings.

    Examining the role of movement in personal and political experiences, Fraleigh reflects on her major influences, including Moshe Feldenkrais, Kazuo Ohno, and Twyla Tharp. She draws on such varied sources as philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Martin Heidegger, the German expressionist dancer Mary Wigman, Japanese Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, Hitler, the Bomb, Miss America, Balanchine, and the goddess figure of ancient cultures.Dancing Identityoffers new insights into modern life and its reconfigurations in postmodern dance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7088-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction BEAUTY’S WAYS
    (pp. 1-12)

    Traditionally, metaphysics searches for essences, but the post-metaphysical quest leans more toward potentials. Martin Heidegger puts it this way: “Higher than actuality liespossibility.” Metaphysics as a branch of philosophy studies the nature of being and beings, existence, time, space, movement, and causality. It also involves underlying principles and theories that form the basis of a particular field of knowledge. Heidegger conceived the primary task of metaphysics as the clarification ofbeingin his book on phenomenological metaphysics,Being and Time. In the analysis of being, he holds that phenomenology and ontology characterize philosophy itself, and that we can best...


    • 1 Embodying Metaphysics
      (pp. 15-31)

      A basic issue in dance is how to link human agency with movement form and expression. When we dance we embody agency through bodily orientation and consciousness. The dialectic nature of these links is played out daily in our movement choices and bodymind awareness. Judith Butler asks what kind of performances will destabilize received and rehearsed categories. The possibilities of transformation may be found in a “failure to repeat, a de-formity.”¹ Dance forms are repeated daily, hourly, in rehearsal rooms around the world. Thus a major question we should ask is, “What do we want to instill in this process,...

    • 2 First Sounds
      (pp. 32-48)

      Simone de Beauvoir was the first philosopher to look into the darkness associated with woman and nature inThe Second Sex, which stands at the beginning of the second wave of feminism: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” This most famous sentence from Beauvoir’s book sums up her argument against biological determinism. Beauvoir’s comprehensive and still controversial text also initiated existential feminism, as she developed her themes within the emergence of existentialist philosophy—an open-ended, anti-essentialist, and nonsystematic philosophy that studies life as an undecided project-in-the-making. She did not call herself a feminist at first, but associated...

    • 3 Thickening Ambiguity
      (pp. 49-84)

      If existence is indeterminate, open-ended and not predictable, then we dance as unfinished metaphysical artifacts in much the same way as phenomenology and evolutionary science explain how life is ongoing.We are works in progress, in other words, and like works of art we live between content and process. Our living metaphysical reality does not mount to heaven, but spreads into our everyday dances—of auspicious being and indeterminate becoming.

      But not so fast. It slows down here. We further understand the created history, constrained and chosen freedom of bodily existence. We are free; we can dance and we can...


    • 4 Anti-Essentialist Trio
      (pp. 87-118)

      Through Simone de Beauvoir, I understand how biology, ontology, and politics are connected, and the biological politics of domination that puts nature and indeed all forms of life in harm’s way. I study Beauvoir’s work here in close proximity to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a contemporary of hers, and Judith Butler, a contemporary of mine. These three comprise a trio of related but significantly divergent phenomenological critiques of determinism. Through them we can see how the concept of determinism shifts back and forth, how it is performed. Questions of tradition and gender in ballet also shift around essentialist thinking. I provide a...

    • 5 A Dance of Time Beings
      (pp. 119-135)

      Sociocultural processes and artifacts are humandoings, expressions that extend from and also extend our bodily nature. Encompassing sex and gender, our performances include nature and are sown in word and deed. The body is a primal natural fact and also a sophisticated artifact, and if fact comes before “arti-fact,” both dissolve in metaphysics. Artifacts reflect the nebulous material of beings-in-the-world that shaped them. Dancing brings this to us, but in a slippery way.

      As a metaphysical artifact, dancing springs from our embodied state, our embodied sexuality, for instance, but overflows the body even as it contains it. This is...

    • 6 Letting the Difference Happen
      (pp. 136-150)

      In ancient Greek thought, nature’s naturalness is calledphysis, also translated asphusis, “a term that captures the appearance and disappearance of every being in its presence and absence.”¹ As a phenomenologist, Heidegger carried this sense of metaphysics forward, but with a marked difference from tradition. I return to Heidegger to place him on the postmetaphysical stage that surfaced in hisBeiträge zur Philosophie(Contributions to philosophy) written in 1936–1938, a decade later than his first undermining of traditional metaphysics inBeing and Time, and not available in English until 1999.² I gather his textual dance of being still...


    • 7 Messy Beauty and Butoh Invalids
      (pp. 153-193)

      My experience tells me something quite different from the texts and dances of classicism and metaphysical dualism—that our transcendence is not won at the expense of flesh and body, nor is mind higher than matter: mater, matron, matrix, mother, the land. Rather, we pierce reality through the body, and we transcend downward as well as upward. The “descendental,” a word we do not use as much as its “transcendental” opposite, is that which descends to the matter-of-fact.¹

      “Descendance,” now used rarely, is a word derived from the Latindescendentum.² The sense and spelling of this word captures the downward...

    • 8 Existential Haircut
      (pp. 194-242)

      In their drawing apart, they are balanced by forces of cohesion that hold them together.¹ In the abstract, this connection is aesthetic tension. In the human body, this connection is dance. Tension, rhythm, vibration, and energy ignite “dance”—in Sanskrit,tan(tension, sound, and rhythm) and Old High Germandanson(to stretch). The German wordtanz(dance) also partakes of the sacred language of Sanskrit.

      In the flowering and fading of our body consciousness,tanlivens the soul of our dance, and the dance has a soul when we take time to notice. Through the bodily tension of tan, the...

    • 9 The Morality of Joy
      (pp. 243-256)

      My aunt likes to tell a story of how I came to be, how a door saved my mother’s life, and how my aunt was the one who finally picked me up and announced, “Look at the baby.” My father, who—my friends say—looks like the Marlboro Man, is central to her story:

      I was born at home on a ranch nestled in a valley of the Rocky Mountains, attended by a country doctor and midwife. My father, dripping sweat and tears in July’s heat, ripped the front door off its hinges with his bare hands…. He was like...