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Animated Edition - Summer 2020
Towards an otherwise sort of being
Symposium keynote speaker and Professor of Dance at Duke University, North Carolina, Dr Thomas F. DeFrantz speaks from his personal experience of queering on a project which “shifted the sense of what my dancing could be and could be for” as well as asking wider questions of what queering might evoke for us in terms of imagination, effort, agreement and limitless possibilities

I participated in the Queering the Somatic symposium because I so wanted to try to do just that: to pivot the somatic, and wonder at its queer potential, its queer ontologies.

What about a somatic intention could be made queer?

I, myself, am always already queer in the world, and in my dancing, making, thinking and doing. I wondered what others might think and do, and how we could turn things inside out among each other. How we could ‘remember forward’ the queer feelings that move our bodies? What could it be to wonder at ‘queer’ - presumably in relation to a somatic attention that arrived, first, normative, and in need of being turned, in need of being queered?

The pivot toward queer is work, and possibly hard work.

It may be hard enough to write a somatic, or to narrate a somatic. To queer it, as the call of the symposium predicted, might be to let go of the terms that place a somatic and its necessary differentiation in motion. It might be to recall that bodies are treated differently depending on when, where, and how we gather. Queer embodiment, like queer living, will not be easy; it might be hard to let go in order to explore a somatic. We had to explore a willingness to misbehave, to realign, to deny appropriateness and respectability. A willingness to traffic in the gestures of neurodiversity that make disabled bodies inherently queer in their affect to others.

In the 2018-2019 season, I danced in a work by a New York artist that imagined itself to be concerned with contemporary circumstances of Queer People of Colour and HIV/AIDS infection. Well, I should say that I thought of my role in that work to be a demonstration and exploration of that concern. I went into the project to imagine myself otherwise, to move myself in a capacity to dance among the thoughts of queer kinship. People I had known and people I had never met…moving among their remembrances as a queer person connected because of our shared differences from an assumed norm.

In the process of making the work, the collaborating artists met with queer Black citizens of smaller American cities and rural townships, and especially their allies, who work to provide information and comfort for others those with the disease and its constrictions.

Meeting people who continue to work at the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and urgent concerns of health care moved me toward a renewed commitment to my own improvisatory performance practices. The stories I heard about rural circumstances, buoyed up occasionally by visits in-person, galvanized me toward an unexpected willingness to explore through dance. The work that we made encompassed improvised movement that had been rehearsed, as most improvisations tend to be, across many hours and months of practice together. I brought along my thoughts about the encounters I had enjoyed with queer health care workers into the performances we shared in New York City in 2019.

Placing those encounters at the heart of the movement inventions I explored onstage shifted the sense of what my dancing could be, and what it could be for. A different sort of otherwise queer movement emerged in this setting. I realized that my dancing could speak back to the memories of the encounters, and speak forward to a queer possibility that HIV/AIDS seems to foreclose. We are not done with each other, though, not yet: those who left this plane because of the disease and those who are still sharing the stories and doing the work. I danced to participate in this process of queer ‘remembering forward’ - imagining the people in an unlikely present and an unknowable future all at once, moving alongside me as I explored the choreographic structures we agreed upon.

This seems to be a crucial thought here: We agreed.

We agreed on some movement ideas, and we agreed that we needed to spend time with the health care workers to establish some shared terms of contemporary queer life. We agreed not to try to dance as queer people constrained by HIV/AIDS whether we held those medical diagnoses or not. We agreed to dance alongside the terms of a queer somatic that we developed through shared experience and reflection. We agreed not to pretend that we agreed on what a queer somatic might be. We agreed to discover, and act, together.

This embodied movement towards an otherwise sort of being stands in for my experience at the Queering the Somatic Symposium. We agreed to gather, and to explore, and listen and move among each other with ideas and bodies and memories and curiosities. We agreed that we couldn’t actually know what we were after, because it consistently shifts its shape in order to ‘be queer.’

Queer somatics expand, repositioning at every moment to imagine otherwise, to make manifest by confirming that something else, something other, might always be possible. Moving in this way we remake ourselves, in reference to LGBTQAI+ lives and loves, and the shifting pleasures of surviving the day to feel queer-ly again, and again, and again.

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Photo credits

Top: Photo: Cheniece Warner

Bottom: Photo by Ian Douglas.

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Animated: Summer 2020