Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities
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Why We Dance

Kimerer L. LaMothe, PhD

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Why We Dance by Kimerer L. LaMothe, PhD

The field of somatics has long nurtured a deep understanding of the revolutionary potential of movement—a potential that rests in the felt or sensory awareness that particular practices of movement can yield.

This awareness is most often described as an awareness “of the body,” or of the specific anatomical parts or metabolic systems or formative elements or sensations or energy centers of “a body.” As many have discovered again and again, when this consciousness of our bodily selves increases so too do the resources available for negotiating pain of every kind, spiritual to physical, mental or emotional.

Movement practices can release capacities in ourselves for perception and response that we did not know we had.

So profound, detailed, and all encompassing are the changes, that practitioners frequently describe them in terms that invoke spirituality or the spiritual. Engaging in practices of movement, cultivating sensory awareness, people experience Unity. Communion. Flow. Grace. Oneness. Belonging. Spirit. God. A power that lives in and as and through or bodily selves. A connection to enabling forces greater than ourselves.

But why? Why can and does movement effect such a dynamic and agential sensory awareness? Why is it that movements matter in our lives in such profound and all-encompassing ways? What are the implications for our humanity—for how we think about being human and how we become human? For how we think about dance?

I wrote Why We Dance to answer such questions. I wanted to provide a new phenomenological account of why and how bodily movement matters in our ongoing lives—one that would be capable of supporting work at the intersection of dance, somatics, and spirituality.

After years of researching into the philosophy and theology of the modern west; after years of practicing and creating modern dance; after moving to a farm and living close to the earth, I was finally ready. I realized that the answers were more radical than I had thought. It would not be enough to assume a notion of “the human” (e.g., as a minded bodily individual), and then argue why movement and dance are important for “it.” Rather, I would need to retell the story of what it takes to become human and locate dance at the very heart of that story as an enabling condition of humanity.

Fortunately, I had help. Across scientific disciplines and academic fields, scholars of all kinds are currently rediscovering the effective, affective role that bodily movement plays in the processes by which persons develop those qualities we associate with human beings: big brains, empathic hearts, ritual proclivities, spiritual aspirations, and an uncanny ability to adapt to their environments.

In Why We Dance, I engage this material, as well as resources in philosophy, theology and religious studies. I draw connecting lines among many points to reveal a vision of dance as a vital art.

Bodily Becoming

At the core of this project is a new way of conceiving the kind of awareness that movement can yield. It is not just that movement practices grant us a greater awareness of bodies as things. Dance and somatics exercise in us a sensory awareness of our bodily selves as themselves movement—not only as some thing that moves, but as the very movement that is making us able to think and feel and act at all, as we do.

“Bodily becoming” refers to the rhythm of this bodily movement—a rhythm of creating and becoming relational patterns of sensation and response.

Once we make this (movement-enabled) shift to thinking about humans as rhythms of bodily becoming, it is possible to conceive of a worldview in which movement is the source and telos of human life. Movement is what is, who we are, and what we evolved to do.

And once we acknowledge this step, then how humans move matters—it matters not only to the people we are becoming but to the relationships we enjoy and the ongoing creation of the worlds in which we live.

As I describe in Why We Dance, the rhythms of bodily becoming happen regardless of whether or not people notice. However, we can learn to participate as consciously as possible in it. We can learn to create and become patterns of movement that respond to sensations of pain so as to better support the health and well being of ourselves and the planet.

In these ways, Why We Dance offers a way of thinking about how traditions of dancing and practices of somatics, in a wide range of ways, exercise a human’s kinetic creativity. It provides conceptual resources for assessing the sensory education that various movement practices afford; as well as for honoring the spiritual aspirations of these movement practices in ways that neither reify the body as a thing, nor dissolve “it” into a formless unity. All along the way, it does so weaving the analysis through experiential accounts of movement experiences that exemplify and enact what is being described.

In the end, I hope readers come away from the book inspired and encouraged to continue exploring for themselves the myriad ways in which movement matters.

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