adanceaday :: ethnography as sensory transduction

an experiment in ethnographic methods

The aim of this 365-day dance project was to develop new skills for conducting research in the realm of sensory anthropology. As an ethnographer I wanted to learn how to move with and be moved by other bodies in the world. Conducting research in the field of sensory anthropology requires that ethnographers attune their sensoria to their fieldsites. In this project I explored how an ethnographer might become a transducer in a field of affects and sensations.

Over the course of a full year I created dances daily as a means of cultivating new dexterities for sensing, recording and propagating movements and affects. Each day I experimented with new movements or observed other bodies in motion and found ways to move with them. These dances generated an experimental medium for crafting new methods of attunement and new modes of attention. Each dance was an unfolding entanglement with some other moving body, or surface, or screen.

materials and methods

adanceaday engaged a variety of media, including textual, graphic, embodied forms. The project hinged on developing techniques that I might be able to use to record movement and gesture while conducting research in the field. I’d been working for years with the assumption that my training in dance would give me the skills I would need to transduce the phenomena I encountered in the field. I eventually realized that my fieldnotes couldn’t supply this data properly. For various reasons, I have resisted using video recordings in the field, and so I needed another way to “re-member” kinesthetic

events. I wanted a practice that could make use of the simple tools of pencil and paper; tools that would be readily available at any moment in the intensive spaces one encounters in the field.

gestic diagrams and kinetic graphemes

As the practice developed I became more attuned to both my own movements and the movements of others in the world. I developed a gesture drawing technique to record the energetics of these movements and a writing practice to re-member the dances textually. I came to see the drawings as kinds of “energy diagrams”, “kinetic traces”, or “gestic diagrams” that transduced the energetics and affects of movement onto a two dimensional surface. As the project evolved, these drawings came to carry–for me–the energetics of an encounter, moment, or movement. Many of the drawings can, even now, spark a memory or sensation in me, and this helps me feel my way back into the movement. In the process, my skills writing movement have also transformed.

 

participants

This structure of a daily movement practice was very challenging; but it was also richly rewarding. I initiated this 365 day project on the Winter Solstice of 2008 and completed it on the Winter Solstice of 2009. I worked closely with my movement mentor Debra Bluth, a dancer, teacher, and healer in Cambridge, MA. She offered weekly guidance and support. In addition she gave me “assignments” to push my practice further. My dear friend, scholar and performance artist Natalie Loveless worked alongside me, creating her own 365-day project during the same period. We kept each other apace of the challenges of a daily practice. My most present companion through this entire journey was my beautiful 17 year-old cat Alice. Alice was a vocal and agile participant in this project. Alice passed away in my arms October 1, 2010. She is sorely missed.


 
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