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Animated Edition - Summer 2020
Queering the Somatic
In November 2019 Dr. Adesola Akinleye and Helen Kindred, co-Artistic Directors of DancingStrong Movement Lab and Senior Lecturers at Middlesex University London, curated a two-day symposium - Queering the Somatic: interrupting the narrative - which brought together artists, practitioners, researchers moving within the fields of dance, queer theory, feminism, narrative, and somatic practices. Here they introduce the following articles which are contributed by some of the Symposium’s speakers
Photo: Anton Califano

The symposium was the third of three gatherings (1) held between 2016 to 2019. Each symposium spoke to our resolve (and DancingStrong Movement Lab’s mission) to work through perspectives that are proto-feminist, anti-racist and queer affirming - a phrase Dr Thomas F. De Frantz, who gave our keynote and contributes here, introduced to us. The symposia were held at Middlesex University with the goal of sharing practice at the heart of their purpose.

Dance can be seen as a critical way of being in the world. For us dance emphasises the 'felt' over the ‘named’, dispelling binaries and challenging Western constructs of the passive body. Queer theory is a field of critical thinking emerging in the early 1990’s drawing on feminism and queer studies to challenge social constructs and identities. Moving beyond the social constructs of the body both dance and queer theory offer a fluidity for narrating the lived experience; narrations that interrupt dominant stories of identity and how we move through the world. Queering the somatic offers opportunities to explore, challenge and celebrate the act of dispelling binaries: mind-body, male-female, subject-object.

The symposium sought ways in which we might re-imagine, re-educate, re-think, reveal and allow ourselves to re-create a world without the limits of binaries that reflect the somatic experience of Being in the world. 

The noun ‘queer’, has brought into being the verb ‘to queer (something)’ through the recognition that for many, to be authentically yourself requires a diversion, re-writing, re-remembering of how important it is to question what ‘normal’ means. In the late 20th century and early 21st century the LGBTQ communities have fought for rights to be ourselves. As with many groups fighting for rights, just being present becomes a political act:

“…to acknowledge that merely existing in the world is to have effects upon it.” (2)

Activism becomes 'still being there', 'being visible', 'claiming your space'; to change the expectation of your invisibility, to turn the tide, to queer.

The dancing body so often queers because it offers the opportunity for different bodies to be seen, be beautiful, be expressive, be present. We queer the streets and shopping malls and libraries by putting dance in them.

“The pleasure and difficulties of moving between multiple, layered identities. Frustration and diminishment physically reframed as strength.” (3)

We queer dance by offering opportunities to those who never imagined themselves moving. Yet at the same time queer belongs to a specific history of injustice to specific people – we must be careful we don’t rainbow and unicorn it into a history-less meaning.

We all left the symposium at the end of 2019 reflecting on the balancing of queerness between being queer (a more personal identity) and queering (an activist activity of challenging what it means to be ‘normal’).

And then in 2020 normal changed.

Suddenly, the imperative to be flexible, accepting, different, connected in new ways became a part of survival. The first lesson we draw on is the love, support, and community building that the queer community used to lead themselves through the fear and confusion that of 1980s.

Then came the queering of dance itself as the touch, gathering, sensing of dance classes became the personal, trans-global reach of Zoom Video Communications. I can wake up, go downstairs and join in the intimacy of a class with people in Paris or Toronto, feeling closer to them than the people who live at the end of my street. The bottom of normal fell out beneath us. How do we deal with this? Queer it! Therefore, we return to the principles of queering to help us find a balance, to find traction in the spin of 2020.

Here’s to the compassionate witnessing of self/other that Elaine Westwick discusses and to honouring each other’s stories by attending to the way we re-tell ourselves and others Andrew Waldron reflects on. Here’s to feeling empowered in our responsiveness to change that Helen Kindred considers, to the ‘remembering forward’ that Thomas F DeFrantz writes about. Here’s to queering the methods of finding ourselves present in 2020.



Photo credit

Anton Califano



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Animated: Summer 2020