MINDTHEDANCE Lab Vienna 2018

This July I participated at the Mind the Dance Lab in Vienna, as part of the IDOCDE residency project and the ImPulsTanz dance festival. In this two-day research laboratory, artists and authors Sabina Holzer and Anouk Llaurens presented us with the digital publication MINDTHEDANCE.com A movement Guide for Documenting Contemporary Dance Teaching. The MTD publication is a collection of essays, manuals, scores, manuscripts and ideas around documentation practices. The publication’s and Lab’s aim was to inspire dance teachers towards integrating documentation into their own artistic practices.

The first day, Anouk introduced us to her ongoing research on “poetic dance documentation” through The Breathing archive: a movement practice which invited us to interact with physical documents (texts and images from the MTD publication) by crumpling and un-crumpling the printed A4 pages. This simple action was done in relation to our breath; expanding and compressing and a slowly evolving process of hearing, reading, seeing, and learning. That same afternoon, we had a discussion about our experience and were given 60 minutes to document it. 

This is how this blog post was made.

a photo taken during the practice of the Breathing archive

The choice of tools and forms of documentation

When we first start documenting we are in front of a choice: What kind of medium should we use? My choice was based on the limited time we had as well as the desire to create something  that is easily accessible and visual. Writing a blog post allowed me to regroup my thoughts in a very open format; less “official” than an article or any other scientific publication. It is also a good writing practice. Some studies argue that writing by hand is much better for a long-time memory and remembering conceptual information. As much as I love taking notes with pen and paper, they often get lost or their meaning is forgotten… The practice of “writing out” my notes on a computer, allows me to take a second look and revisit my thoughts. 

Throughout the Lab, we widely discussed the importance of choice of tools/forms of documentation in relation to the artistic practice and asked ourselves: What is the purpose of
documentation and why should we document? Does this documentation need to be
objective? How do we share information and provide a dynamic and interesting
presentation of it? What does it mean to explore documentation in real time, on
the spot? 

During the one hour practice it was possible for anyone at anytime to record what was happening. Many chose to do some form of documentation such as taking videos, photos, writing notes and even drawing. Having the right to document almost everything and everyone in the space was already a very intriguing situation in itself(!) In the past, I have already faced a situation where I was not allowed to document during fieldwork. This was a fun and liberating experience as I found myself “documenting documenting”; taking photos of other people and their drawings.

Marianna Panourgia drawing during the Breathing archive

Documenting others invites an obvious question : what are the the limits of documenting our own practice? As we are dancing we might feel fully immersed in the feeling and the practice. Once we step outside to frame a picture: What happens outside the camera or/and inside the body while my attention is elsewhere? These questions are also related to the specificities of dance as an art form. It is these type of questions that motivate us to look for creative and meaningful ways to document an experience, movement and practice.

How do we document?

To understand the versatile and overlapping processes during an artistic experience, the academic research uses various methodologies to gather different types of information; field studies, observation, recordings, interviews etc. Dance research, as an outline of humanities, studies aspects of the human society, culture and experiences. In addition to the anthropological and choreological approaches, we have also developed more “dance-specific” methods such as practice-based research, movement research and analysis of movement. Once on the field, documentation can be used to gather data and to record the details of an event or an experience. In this kind of approach we will take into consideration the person’s inner subjective processes and their uniqueness; identity, self-consciousness and perception of reality. The collected data can then be stored as evidence or further analyzed in the hopes of pushing the boundaries of knowledge of the observed phenomena. 

This is my very simplified version of the process but it brings us to a very important point, which is questioning the “frictions” between the academic and artistic worlds. As a dancer, researcher and teacher, I’m deeply interested in the connections between physical movements and research. I believe that finding solutions which facilitate the exchange between theory and practice can only be achieved if we continue moving and exploring. As we all may know, objectivity is one of the most cherished ideas of the academic world. This philosophical notion lies at the root of the scientific methods and forms a basis on which science may be grounded. While studying subjective experiences, such as our own dance practice, we need to be aware of the general problematic. Some scholars may argue that subjectivity interferes with objectivity. Others suggest that subjective processes and research methods enable researches to objectively and effectively comprehend the phenomena. What ever our point of view may be, it is necessary to acknowledge that while documenting, our own biases are inevitably involved in the process.

It goes without saying that gaining knowledge by the means of experience and practice is a tricky path. This is where the two worlds, artistic and academic, often clash. To what extend should we be concerned about the influence of our emotions and opinions to documentation of our practice? Well, it depends…

Joana Chicau taking a photo of a crumpled paper

What is the documentation for? 

The objective of the MTD Lab was to sensitize us dancers/teachers to the possibilities of documentation in our own practice and to open our eyes for new forms of creative documentation.

Have you ever thought about documenting for yourself? 

Giving a canvas to the flow of thoughts, sensations, and feelings ? Using
documentation as a tool to improve your teaching, plan and transform your
dance classes?

The MDT publication invites us to reconsider the role of various reflective modes such as noting, scribbling and drawing in your teaching, It also encourages to share your experience by using forms of collective documentation. The idocde.net platform is made specifically for this purpose: giving voice to multiple ideas and applications of documentation online. Crossing the threshold of actually sharing your documentation with others becomes “less scary” in (what it feels like) an open-minded environment. I have to say, being encouraged to “think outside the box” and to explore documentation practice with fewer rules and restrictions is eye opening. It also contributes to the idea of transmission of knowledge in dance, which has longtime been considered only as a non-verbal means of expression. We also questioned the responsibility of us as teachers to conserve our legacy:  How can we transfer bodily knowledge and movement / monument / memory? However, some also presented their concern with the quality of the documentation produced during the Lab, suggesting that there is still questions about the nature of knowledge.

Writing as a trace in
relation to movement

I consider that the dancer’s body is a necessary instrument to
uncover the various layers of movement. But the further we go in our
research, the more vital it becomes to find ways and words to describe it. As we all agreed
during the Lab, « movement is the first language of
dance ». Sometimes the written-words seem far too incomplete to communicate the experience of movement. Thus, being able to cover all the three dimensions of transmission;
non-verbal, verbal and written documentation; is capital in order to empower
the individual voices of artists. 

Engaging in experimental ways of using words may help us to enter another language. As Sabina Holzer states in the MTD publication, writing as a trace “can never reveal the the whole experience but can give some indications for oneself to remember (…)”.  It is a way to get back to the experience and maybe to relive some of the memories and feelings. This is why I decided to end my 60 minutes with 10 minutes of automatic writing (below). To quote the MTD publication, automatic writing is “a method to engage with your subliminal perceptions” and “a way to explore the movements of the mind”. If you want to practice this type of writing, all you need to do is 

Chose a medium (paper, computer etc.)

Find a nice place and take a deep breath

The process of writing starts with whatever thoughts comes in to your mind

Don’t judge and just let them flow…

I remember listening to the sound of the crumbling papers with my closed eyes. It felt almost like hearing colors; Bright yellows and green shades. When I opened my eyes I was able to see what I heard for the first time. We were asked to connect with the text, which is when I would actually start to read. As I did so, the abstract figures on the wrinkled or otherwise smooth papers become words and therefore, even more meaningful. There was one piece of paper that particularly caught my eye: The article Scratching the Script of Sabina Holzer. I kept coming back to this particular piece of paper, that I sometimes lost…. and then rediscovered a few meters away;  i didn’t know who actually had brought it there.

It said: “Doodling and scribbling are most often associated with young children and toddlers because the state of their hand-eye coordination is very loose. Despite this, it is not uncommon to see such behaviour with adults, in which case it generally is done jovially, out of boredom. Doodling can aid a person’s memory by expending just enough energy to do a kind of daydreaming.” For a very brief moment I felt an instant connection with some of these words and said to myself: This is it! This is what I feel at this exact moment lying on the floor with two papers in my hands; contracting, pressing, opening, straightening. 

A child’s play. 

What about boredom ?, I ask myself. I was certainly daydreaming. I felt as if I was connected to a more sensorial state of mind. My attention was in my hands, the touch and the sound. But I didn’t have a pen and I wasn’t drawing. I remembered the words of the article : “Doodling/Scribbling is a drawing made while a person’s attention is otherwise occupied.” There was something about these words that resonated with the emotion and feeling I had at this instant: as I felt as if I was “doodling” with my body as it traced the space. 

Anouk Llaurens and some of the participants of the MTD Lab uncrumpling paper

Gwen Rakotova watching others interacting with the papers


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