Emergent Movements: The Role of Embodiment and Somatics in British Contemporary Dance

  • Georgia Giotaki

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis explores somatic practices as a social movement by focusing on the relationship between embodiment, somatics and contemporary dance practices. It looks specifically to Body-Mind Centering® (BMC®) and traces an ethnographic history of the practice examining it as a post-modern western somatic method forming part of an international social movement. The research is grounded on post-structuralist dance anthropology and analyses BMC® as a “socially constructed movement system”(Grau 1993).

    Through experimentation, the somatic movement cultivates bodily awareness and an embodied sense of self. The thesis points to the ways in which the emphasis on embodiment may form a key component in this social movement and its relation to British somatic-informed dance. While providing the conceptual and historic context for experimentation in contemporary dance in Britain since the 70s, the thesis illustrates that New, and later, Independent Dance artists drew from BMC® as well as other somatic practices. It argues that the exploration of embodiment as a human attribute and lived phenomenon from a somatic perspective gave rise to a culturally distinct discourse of practice, known today as somatic-informed dance. It works to illustrate the nature of the new pedagogical approach that emerged and, specifically, the way this aspect of contemporary dance evolved as a result of the emphasis on embodiment and the somatic influence. To do so, the thesis identifies and analyses distinct principles and pedagogic tools employed through an anthropological perspective and ethnographic, historical and practice-led research methods. Further illustrating the way the concept of embodiment is understood in somatic informed dance pedagogy, it critically examines the claim that embodiment processes may re-educate dualist perceptions. It, thereby, argues that it is only in the experience of integration in the lived moment that the problem of dualism might be challenged.

    Through an investigation of lineage, the thesis situates BMC® and somatic-informed contemporary dance practice within the socio-cultural, artistic, conceptual and philosophical context in which they developed. Pointing to the parallel expansion of scholarly and artistic interest in embodiment over the past five decades, it demonstrates a permeability of bodies, places, ideas and culturally constructed movement systems.

    Overall, the thesis is underpinned by a critical engagement with the position that embodiment and experience form the existential ground for culture and self (distilled in Csordas’ 1994a), offering an analysis of BMC® informed dance practice as another source of data shedding new light to this insight. Capturing a moment in dance history with a synchronic investigation (Sahlins 1998), this research works to further contribute towards an understanding of a diachronic property of the formation of cultures. In line with Csordas’ position, it suggests that given their distinct approach to experientially gained corporeal knowledge and awareness, the emergence of ‘culturally constructed movement systems’ such as BMC® and somatic informed contemporary dance form a potential illustration of the way culture is existentially grounded on embodiment and experience.
    Date of Award2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorNatalie Garrett Brown (Supervisor) & Sarah Whatley (Supervisor)

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