I found Dancing Across the Page: Narrative and Embodied Ways of Knowing by Karen Barbour during a moment of uncertainty in one of my favorite bookstores. Now still present in me as I write, the uncertainty makes my head feel full of questions. I don't necessary want the quick fix of an answer, but something more like an answering, taking me somewhere beyond right and wrong, yes and no.
A dangerous state to be in while in a bookstore. It's like being hungry when you go grocery shopping.
So, Dancing Across the Page found its way into my life and became part of this ongoing answering. Karen Barbour is a senior lecturer in the faculty of education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. In her book, she writes about being a choreographer, dance teacher, improviser, writer, mother and feminist, and how all of these roles become fodder for her continued explorations in dance and in living the creative life. By telling her story about embodied ways of knowing, she seeks to, "...inspire you to affirm the values of your embodied ways of knowing as a basis from which to undertake creative action in the world."
I breathed a little deeper reading these words. And I found more moments of recognition throughout her book. Her endeavor to map out her research as she moves between dance academia, life and the spirit of dance gives rise to phrases and language that I've found myself saying, wondering, Is anyone else thinking about these things?
Like these passages:
"While I am, to some extent, culturally and socially constructed, and of course I am very specifically embodied, there are still some possibilities for me to re-create myself. And I see potential for such re-creation in dance making. I find this perspective empowering." (pg. 29)
"Now as a dance academic, my teaching and writing opportunities provide a context to reflect and to story, or re-story, my life and to help me make sense of my experiences. Like dancing, writing has become a passion for me, and I see both as different but complimentary ways of knowing." (pg. 42)
"...as I breathe deeply I reaffirm to myself that writing with an engaging, embodied voice is equally as important as experiencing embodiment in my dance research." (pg. 69)
I feel a sincerity in Barbour's writing, a genuine desire to stand firmly in her search. And it is not a solitary search. It includes others as she talks to colleagues and friends, teaches students and asks them about what they think and spends time with her sister and family, enjoying the seaside and good food. All of her questioning and articulations are folded into her life. Her life is a part of her research into embodied ways of knowing. The two seem inseparable for her.
This model and way of being resonates with me. As a dancer, I know things - about the technology of the body, the world of movement and how people work together - and yet these things, this knowledge, is not valued in the working world. As a dancer you are made to feel other instead of celebrated for all you know and can offer to others. As Barbour writes, "As a dancer, I attempt to understand my world through embodied exploration, but I have often felt like what I 'know' as a dancer does not count."
I know this feeling deeply, in my bones.
What strikes me most, though, about her book is how she moves beyond the exploration of embodiment into the work of writing and finding language for the embodied experience. She speaks, at times, with an eloquence about how writing is a practice in embodiment as much as dance is.
And I may write that with some bias, because I believe it to be true. After reading Writing Begins With the Breath by Laraine Herring I felt like I had found a writer who knew this to be true. And it is nice to find a dance writer and artist articulating it from the other end.
And I have a new question, now, after reading the book. Barbour writes about autoenthography as a preferred form of research for her work. Autoenthography is a form of qualitative research and defined as: "...an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience." (Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams & Arthur P. Bochner, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Volume 12, No. 1, Art. 10 – January 2011)
The way she described it made me think of blogging and all of the many women who are keeping blogs, writing about their experience, challenging the status quo, and not necessarily in the name of academic research but because they find fulfillment and connection in it.
So I wonder: Is blogging a form of autoenthography, however divergent?
For those who practice it, they might not consider it research. But living the creative life and asking questions as you go is creative research, in my mind. And it's way of living, too, that can have an immediate social, sometimes subversive, impact.