I dance therefore I talk
Meditations on Social choreography
“Metaphors are useful. They make you see things. Take ‘The world is a stage’ for example. It’s just a picture. But it allows you to observe the ‘roles’ we play when we engage in social life. Another useful tool for cultural criticism has been the metaphor, in use since the 1970s, that you could ‘read society as a text’. You can, because role-play, body language and fashion are coded. Yet, again it’s only a picture. Neither is the world theatre, nor social life words on a page. Still, it seems, we cannot do without such pictures when we seek to understand things. So criticism develops by inventing new ones. One such metaphor is the notion of ‘Social choreography’. It’s a powerful concept because it blends the dynamic aspects of picturing the world as a stage with the analytic edge of reading social life as coded: As dancers on the social stage we move in synchronicity with groups or break away to perform solos and, relying on the gestures we have rehearsed, we structure the space and time of everyday’s life through the specific choreographies of our motions.”
(Jan Verwoert, Social choreography)
In his study of the politics of choreography since the eighteenth century, Social choreography – Ideology as Performance in Dance and Everyday Movements(2005), Andrew Hewitt goes as far as to suggest that the connection between the logic of dance and the structures that shape modern society is not merely metaphoric, but in fact intrinsic. He argues that dance is the ‘space in which social possibilities are both rehearsed and performed’ and that the choreographies of certain dance styles therefore constitute a ‘structuring blueprint for thinking and effecting modern social organisation’. Accordingly, Hewitt shows how a change in dance routines at the turn of the nineteenth century parallels the shift in the ideological patterns of social organisation that marks the transition to modernity. It’s a shift from the concept of dance as play to that of dance as work. The formal, yet playful choreographies of eighteenth century ballroom dance, according to Hewitt, rehearsed the principles of a social order based on manners and tact. Modern forms of dancing, however, focus on how the body generates the force that drives the system of production in modern society: pure physical energy. Ideologically then, modernity is haunted by one obsession: ‘to locate the origin of labour power. Modern dance and ballet does just this, it locates the source of labour power in a body that energises itself through its own motion. The stomping of the foot replaces the formal gestures of ballroom dance as the paradigmatic move that electrifies the modern body. In this light, the scandalously visceral ballet choreographies of Nijinsky can be seen to inhabit the same ideological space as the modern revue dancing. It is a social space defined through the immanent capacity of a body to produce the forces that power material culture by ‘working out’.
Accordingly, you could argue that the relation between art and social reality is notoriously ambiguous precisely because, in the end, it is always metaphorical. In the same sense in which the world is a stage but theatre still remains theatre, art can manifest the principles of the social and, at the very same time, be just art. A choreographic metaphor would then be a bridge to the social that an artist proactively builds (or burns).
(global) American culture: the expressive dance of Isadora Duncan as well as popular forms like regime or course-line
‘I dance, therefore I talk’ is a series of what Gertrude Stein called meditations; rumination on Social choreography in which the intent is to enjoy, to savour, and to dance with the music of your ideas and what they spark inside you.
A performer stands in front of an audience and talks and dances. It is part lecture, part demonstration, part mental pirouette on the state of dance and performance in relation to politics. Not a lot is happening. The audience is invited to listen, to watch, to ‘dance’ motionless in their seats. The performer is moving from one talk to another, from one style of dance to another, from one topic to another. The connection is associative, loosely historical. It is a personal take on social choreography with very little attempt to put it in academic context. It is, in the most simple intention, a dance of body and words.