dance making / performance


There’s the shame of looking

And the shame of being looked at;

The shame of feeling pride

And the shame of feeling shame.

Poor dance.

Poor dance that would call itself art.

-Elizabeth Dempster

Katherine and I presented something with the working title “You’re Here” (music Homeless Wanderer by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou) the Spring Concert Adjudication today. We had Bita press play, we did a dance and talked to each other a little bit, and people laughed at the beginning. By the end, my sense was that they’d gotten the point and then some, but I don’t know. The process is not completely like you see on TV. I believe we were evaluated and likely ranked, but there were no shared results, only the smiling faces of our colleagues hesitating to say much in any direction. In a day or so, I imagine we will find the winners on a paper or in an email. The faculty who evaluated us will see us differently, maybe, depending on how much they’ve seen us before. I tend to worry about being thought less of as a result. It’s a mechanism for avoiding doing. But Katherine reminds me that in dance school, “you make dances and you show them to people”.

(wikipedia 9:04pm December 4 2016)

Adjudication is the legal process by which an arbiter or judge reviews evidence and argumentation, including legal reasoning set forth by opposing parties or litigants to come to a decision which determines rights and obligations between the parties involved.[1] Three types of disputes are resolved through adjudication:

  1. Disputes between private parties, such as individuals or corporations.
  2. Disputes between private parties and public officials.
  3. Disputes between public officials or public bodies.

Other meanings[edit]


Adjudication can also be the process, at dance competitions, in television game shows and at other competitive forums, by which competitors are evaluated and ranked and a winner is found.

Something about reading the initial explanation of adjudication made me happy about all this. The inexactness of attempts at legality, and the absence of a dispute in our category of “Other Meanings: Competitions”.  All the same, imagining that Katherine and I were staking a case for the validity of what we were doing, with the premise that it would be disputed, adds a layer of drama and comedy to it. We did a poor job of arguing that we deserved a seat at the table: chicken scratch sentence fragments explained where we were or weren’t in the process on our application and we did nothing to address our judges. Ran on, walked off, then felt a little embarrassed.

I found some help with this in a chapter, from Choreography and corporeality : relay in motion, edited by Thomas F. Defrantz and Philipa Rothfield, titled “The Economy of Shame or Why Dance Cannot Fail” by Elizabeth Dempster.

Dempster cites Brian Massoumi’s description of affect:

“[A]ffect refers generally to bodily capacities to affect and be affected, or the augmentation or diminution of a body’s capacity to act, to engage and connect such that auto-affectation is linked to the self-feeling of being alive–that is, aliveness or vitality” (157).

Dempster investigates the possibilities of discomfort, ugliness and other negative affective experiences in performance to instigate a transformative experience across the performer/spectator binary. Particularly, dance performance is the “scene for the exercise and disruption of gendered shame” (160). This becomes especially meaningful in her description of Alyssa Alonso, founder of the National Ballet of Cuba, performing the pas de deux of Giselle at 70 something years old to a disquieted, silent audience and aghast critics who viewed her as “an embarrassment to her profession.”I can imagine the subtle eyebrows and side eyes or slack jaws that I dread seeing as a performer. I can imagine the pulling desire for signs of appreciation, of recognition, of awe that isn’t met. And yet, Dempster says: “She should be ashamed, but she was not” (160).  

This turns the role of shame on its head; shame is presenced by the audience but but its subsequent refusal by the performer dynamizes the relationship between the two.

“When a dancer…breaches the sometimes unspoken codes governing the dancer’s public performance–that she be of youthful, slender appearance, and that she display supreme control and mastery of her body– a shield falls and the audience is also exposed, vulnerable to the frailties and failing of their own body” (165).

In the clever world of contemporary dance, supreme control can be forgiven for wit and originality. Nonetheless, the stakes for claiming space for these displays still feels weighted by the markers of the gendered, racialized body and socialized shame associated with not fitting. While this feels burdensome, (how shameful to feel ashamed as a performer! as a professional!) Dempsey asserts that dance cannot fail because shame “alerts us to fault lines within the representational and affective economy of dance and invites us to creatively reconfigure that economy” (166). So I am considering that this public movement, articulating the boundaries of my own body, even while shame infiltrates my expression can expand limited perceptions exchanged between myself and audience.

I think about this, in part as a distraction from feeling shame about recycled, vulnerable exposure, as a performer, asking to be judged today, but also to consider possibility that shame can shake up constraints of tradition, drawing us out of formal, rational judgment and into a moving “realm of affect”.


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