The morality of movement: Intercorporeality at a male dance festival

Jonathan Bollen, School of English, Communication & Theatre, University of New England

A paper prepared for ‘Drama on the edge’, the annual conference of the Australasian Drama Studies Association, Academy of the Arts, University of Tasmania, Launceston, July 2002.

Last summer I got picked up. Not picked up for sex – well, that happened too, but that’s another story. No. Last summer I got picked up – physically – by another man – who carried me a short distance and then put me down.

It was a small moment of interaction during rehearsal. There was nothing particularly spectacular about it. We demonstrated no particular expertise and nobody in the room paid any attention to us. It only happened once, and it was not incorporated into the performance we were making and would later perform.

Nevertheless, it was, in its own small way, a remarkable experience. Quite simply, getting picked up was a new experience for me. It was not something I had experienced before. And in that moment of being picked up and in the strangeness of that sensation – I recognised that I’d never conceived of myself as able to be picked up. Not only did getting picked up lie beyond my experience; it lay beyond my conception of the experiential, beyond what I had hitherto conceived of myself as capable of experiencing.

Of course, I was probably picked up and carried as a baby and young child. But to this day, I have no memory of that happening. And so, as I said, this experience of getting picked up was a new one for me. But not just new in a ‘haven’t tried that before, should give it a go’ kind of sense. It was new in a quite fundamental way, in a way that was thrilling and shocking, in a way that quickened my pulse and made me feel dizzy. Conceptually, experientially, affectively, and quite literally – I was swept off my feet.

Experiencing newness of this kind – and I say newness because novelty seems too bland a term – experiencing newness at the edge of corporeal experience, newness that enhances, extends or expands what our bodies are capable of doing and feeling: these are not uncommon experiences for performers. They are less common perhaps during performance than they are during training and rehearsal, but in the overall scheme of things, they are not so unusual. Newness, after all, is one of the things that sustains our interest in performance, and one of the things we seek through training and rehearsal.

I certainly don’t claim that there was anything special or unique about my experience of newness on that occasion. Nor am I particularly interested in asking why getting picked up should have felt new to me and this body at that time. Rather, I want to ask some questions about that experience of newness as an occasion of learning and I want to use it as a point of departure for developing some ideas about learning through a mode of experience which I’ll call ‘intercorporeal’ (after Diprose 2002).

I will be doing this with reference to the Stamping Ground dance festival in Bellingen, NSW, which I attended in January this year. I will be talking about some of the performance practices and pedagogical relations that were fostered at the festivel, and about some of the talk about movement, masculinity and morality that circulated amongst participants. But before getting to Bellingen, there are three contexts that are contributing to the ideas this paper develops and that I’d now like to outline.

Context #1

It’s New Year 2002 and I’m on the dance floor at Tribal Fruits, a gay and lesbian dance party in Lismore, NSW. I’m out there on the dance floor, dancing amongst others. It’s hot, I’ve got my shirt off, and I’ve been there for some time, hours even, sustaining myself and my dance floor participation, applying myself to the music, engaging those around me, enjoying the occasional dance floor interaction, enjoying others’ interactions with me. It’s still early. I’m on holidays. And I’m having a good time.

A few phrases float through in my head. They are familiar phrases, comfortable like old clothes. I try them on: “the lived body…built from the invasion of the self by the gestures of others”, “syncretic sociability … a system of indistinction … the transfer of gestures and movements between dispersed bodies” (Diprose 1994). These are phrases from an article by Rosalyn Diprose, published in Writings on Dance in 1994. That was the year I began research on a project about gay and lesbian dance floors in Sydney and those phrases became key building blocks in an argument I developed about movement, sexuality, and performativity on the dance floor.

It’s two years since I finished that project, but out there on the dance floor I still feel the resonance of the story I wrote about syncretic sociability, about gestural transfer between dispersed bodies, about the accumulation and deployment of dance floor repertoire, about becoming other through an invasion of self by the gestures of others.

In other contexts, I’ve become aware of the limits of that argument. In particular, I’m aware how it dulled my perception of the production of newness; how, for example, it had difficulty in accounting for an experience like getting picked up, an experience not of gestural transfer between dispersed bodies, but of entering into an assemblage which neither could perform alone, which was generated between us as an experience of intercorporeality.

In this regard, the sense and significance that intercorporeality has begun to accrue for me has been informed by Rosalyn Diprose’s recent work, Corporeal Generosity (2002), which incorporates a revised version of her earlier article within a broader exploration of how bodies are lived through the generosity of their exposure to others.

Context #2

A research project, devised in December last year, in collaboration with Jane O’Sullivan, a colleague in the School of English, Communication and Theatre at the University of New England in Armidale NSW. This is how we pitched the project to our Faculty.

In western societies, men’s participation in dance practices has often been culturally problematic given dancing’s ephemeral nature and its association with femininity. However, recent cinematic features, such as Billy Elliot (2000) and the Australian film Bootmen (2000), are indicative of shifting relations between masculinity, dance and work.

This project aims to observe, analyse and describe recent developments in representations and contexts of male participation in dance. The project combines ethnographic research at an Australian dance festival with analysis of recent cinema depicting men dancing in order to investigate the following developments, posed here as research questions:

• Relations between dance, work and masculinity: How have representations of men dancing responded to contexts of unemployment and changing labour relations for men?

• Danced narratives of masculine self-actualisation: How does participation in dance and the acquisition of dance competencies figure in the enactments and attainments of contemporary male subjects?

• Masculinisation of dance practices: How are dance practices, such as tap, negotiated, appropriated and transformed in the development of new relations between masculinity and dancing?

In investigating these developments, the project will foster new ways of conceptualising relations between work and leisure that are cognisant of changing life-course patterns in the lived experience of men.

This paper draws on and forms part of the research activities of that project. In particular, it focusses on the second of our research questions – the one about male participation in dance, about the acquisition of dance competencies and processes of becoming that articulate the experience of males who dance.

In developing the project, Jane and I had discussed how films like Billy Elliot (2000) and Bootmen (2000) present narratives of men dancing their way out of contexts of unemployment and into a life of viable success, and we had noted connections between these narratives and accounts of self-actualisation – of becoming someone, or discovering yourself, or just being who you are – that were articulated by participants at Stamping Ground 2000 in an episode of Australian Story on ABC Television last year.

During my participation at Stamping Ground this year, this interest in relations between dance, masculinity and becoming came to focus on a particular nexus of ideas and actions. I became interested in how occasional talk about the processes of boys learning to become good, responsible, competent men might articulate to, but might also fail to articulate, the diverse opportunities which the festival afforded of entering into, enacting and experiencing intercorporeal relations with bodies of differing genders, generations, and capacities.

Context #3

It’s late Summer. I’m back from Lismore, from Stamping Ground, and from four days on the beach at Byron. And I’m visiting David McInnes, another colleague, at his home in the Blue Mountains. David works in the School of Humanities at the University of Western Sydney, and together we’re working on a project called ‘Sexual Pedagogies’. The project is funded by the NSW Department of Health and is looking at gay men and their experiences of learning about sex, health and HIV.

In particular, we’re interested in occasions where gay men learn about sex – on the job, as it were – and we’ve focussed our research on contexts of ‘sexual adventurism’, a cluster of sexual practices, sites and styles, identified by researchers, as located at the ‘extreme sport’ end of the gay sexual spectrum. We focussed on these contexts because we figured that gay men who, in various ways, sought adventure through sex will have stories to tell about sexual occasions upon which they learnt something new about their body and its capacity for sexual practice and response.

So on this day in late Summer, we’re talking about the project, trying to develop some ideas about learning and newness and intercorporeal experience. David begins with a distinction between expansion and foreclosure and with this quote from Paul Patton’s book on Deleuze and the Political

…Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between, on the one hand, assemblages of desire that are fixed or delimited in particular ways, shut off from all but certain specified relations to the outside, and on the other, more fluid and open-ended assemblages in which new connections and new forms of relation to the outside are always possible, even at the risk of transforming the assemblage into some other kind of body (Patton 2000: 77).

In that discussion, we speculated that expansion or an exposure to newness would entail the extension, enhancement, or amplification of a body’s capacity to do and to feel, to affect others and to be affected, to enter into new and potentially transforming relations with other bodies. In contrast, foreclosure would amount to a fixed or delimited specification of practice, arising perhaps from the force of habit or actively secured through a commitment to certainty, decisiveness, or the guarantee of competence in ways that circumscribe and constrain what a body may become in its interaction with others.

Soft bodies, hard bodies and newness

In developing these ideas of expansion and foreclosure I was reminded of a distinction between soft bodies and hard bodies, a distinction derived from training in physical performance that I had experienced first hand at Stamping Ground. According to this distinction, soft bodies are flexible bodies that readily enter into mutual and reciprocal relations with other bodies. They are physically ‘generous’ in interaction – prepared to give and take, to support and be supported, to initiate and response, to touch and be touched. In practical terms, soft bodies prioritise their commitment to collaboration, interaction, and the intercorporeal above their commitment to preserving or maintaining an autonomous sense of self. Soft bodies are useful in collaborative contexts where there is an exploration of ideas, where actions and moves are being invented, developed, tried out through improvisational and experimental processes.

In contrast, hard bodies are rigid bodies with established or routinised pathways for action that do not readily accommodate the deviations encountered in interaction with others. They are physically ‘selfish’ in interaction, sometimes overly concerned with the presentation of self, with how they ‘look’. Hard bodies may be said to have too much ‘ego’, they may be regarded as holding back, as not giving themselves over or yielding to the process or the work of collaboration. Hard bodies accumulate actions and move according to established habit or tradition. There is a sense of constraint or resistance that is constitutive of how hard bodies move, what they can do and feel. The sedimentation of habit may physically constrain the affective capacity of hard bodies, and there may also be an investment in protecting or preserving the integrity of their capacity. Hard bodies are useful where continuous, repetitious, predictable and autonomous actions are required.

Of course, most bodies are neither soft nor hard, but manifest varying degrees of hardness and softness depending on the contexts in which they are acting, the actions they are performing, and the other bodies with which they are interacting. In workshops and classes at Stamping Ground, I experienced the hardness of my body as it struggled to adapt itself to the actions of others, as I tried out unfamiliar ways of moving and as my body resisted that strangeness. That experience of getting picked up, on the other hand, was an experience of softening. It was, in fact, an experience of rapid expansion in affective capacity, in which my body – as an accumulation of affective capacity – was transformed and became other to what it had been. Crucially, I had not simply transformed myself. Nor had I become other by imitating my partner’s moves. To the extent that I became other, I did so by entering into an intercorporeal assemblage with another body.

To find newness at the interface between bodies, to source it within experiences of an intercorporeal kind, is an appealing proposition for me. It is quite unlike romantic notions of creativity, which seek novelty in the agency and originality of an authorial self – as if, with enough introspection and soul searching we could simply reinvent ourselves. On the other hand, it differs from the colonial appropriations of various exoticisms in which newness is sourced in the other, so that the other’s difference from me becomes the source of my own, fleeting yet fashionable, transformation. Beside those twin sources of novelty – since, between them, authorial creativity and exotic otherness have pretty much had newness stitched up – is the notion that newness may arise, indeed may only arise, as bodies enter into assemblages with each other such that they are exposed to the potential and peril of becoming other than what they are (Grosz 1999; Patton 2000).

Stamping Ground

Stamping Ground is a dance training and performance festival which has been held annually in Bellingen on the mid-north coast of New South Wales for the past six years. The originator and organiser of the festival is Peter Stock, a choreographer, dancer and dance educator who lives and works in Bellingen. Peter’s own values as an educator and promoter are evident in the organisational and promotional texts that he generates and have been influential in shaping the festival. But like any large-scale participatory event, Stamping Ground generates experiences for its participants which exceed the intentions of its organisation. Indeed, this excess generates a flexibility that is itself valued in and around Stamping Ground.

The structure and scale of the festival stretches organisational capacity to its limits. Plans for the 2002 Stamping Ground involved organising 20 tutors running some 49 different training programs and performance workshops in 6 venues around Bellingen. The festival ran for 16 days with sessions beginning at 8:30 in the morning and continuing through till 5 or 6 in the evening and with 10 evening performances scheduled during that time. Over those 16 days, more than 500 people, both male and female and ranging widely in age, registered as participants in the event, whilst many more attended the performances as audience members. A significant proportion of participants travel from other towns and cities, some from interstate and some from overseas and the festival is also involved in organising accommodation for its participants. Of course, the impact of all this activity on a small town is not inconsiderable and the management of civic relations adds to the organisational load.

Given its structure and scale, the practice of scheduling the festival is an ongoing activity and the schedule itself is constantly evolving, with daily revisions posted in a central location throughout the event. Indeed, at any point, but particularly in the early days of the festival, the relation between the printed schedule of activities and what is actually going on would best be described as ‘loose’. And I would describe my experience of becoming a participant at Stamping Ground this year was one of feeling my way and inserting myself into streams of activity which converged and diverged more on the basis of co-presence and word-of-mouth – a combination of ‘who’s here now’ and ‘what’s happening next’ – than on the basis of the printed schedule. This kind of flexibility between intentions and actualities is valuable in that it enables the festival to accommodate a diversity of values, interests, attitudes and practices. In promotional rhetoric, however, certain interests and values are made prominent.

Showcasing male dance

According to the website for the 2002 event, the Stamping Ground Dance Festival “showcases male dance and the action arts” and this phrase encapsulates two key strategies that the festival uses to foster male participation in dance. Firstly, the notion of ‘male dance and the action arts’ is an attempt to expand a traditional conception of dance which might otherwise curtail the interests of men and boys. Studio classes ranged across a spectrum of dance practices from classical ballet and modern or contemporary forms of theatrical dance through to popular dance practices such as jazz, tango, tap, west African dance, and what is called ‘street moves’ in the program, but is in fact the kind of dancing seen in pop music videos. There was a series of classes in hiphop performance practices like breaking, beatboxing and mc-ing, a wide range of ‘action arts’ such as physical theatre, contact improvisation, stilt walking, circus acrobatics, sword fighting, aerial work, magic shows, body percussion, drumming, and martial arts, and also a number of therapeutic practices such as yoga, kinesiology, and body-mind centering. Secondly, the notion that Stamping Ground ‘showcases’ male participation in this array of dance practices and action arts is indicative of an overriding investment in ostension – in demonstrating and displaying, in showing and showing off – as its most prominent pedagogical and performative mode.

Learning through demonstration, through watching and copying the instructor’s moves, is a well-established, indeed traditional pedagogical mode within many dance practices. It reproduces a choreographic structure in which the learning bodies are arrayed within a uniform space, all facing an instructor who is positioned out the front. For the most part, the instructor demonstrates the sequence of moves to be learnt with his back to the learners, so that the relation is between a leader who demonstrates and followers who imitate, thus avoiding the potential confusion of left-right inversion were the instructor to face the learners in a reflective relation. It is a highly efficient pedagogical mode, both in terms of the number of learners it can accommodate and in the way it distributes the labour of learning amongst the learners. It is an effective and efficient way to communicate choreography, to develop student’s movement repertoire, and to enhance their movement literacy (that is, their ability to simultaneously observe and embody choreography).

It is also, in my experience, a quite lonely way to learn. For the labour of attending to, correcting and improving my performance is undertaken by myself alone, and undertaken within a force-field of shame, compelled not so much by the expertise of the instructor who in a studio without mirrors may remain ignorant of my efforts, but by the fact that any deviation I make from the instructors’ performance readily stands out as incorrect amongst the uniformity of other students’ competence. Because of this, the approach fosters a gradation of learners as the more competent ones tend towards the front of the array where they are closer to the instructor and where their competence may be demonstrated with pride to other learners in the class. Consequently, those less competent tend towards the rear of the array where their efforts are less readily observed by other students.

Within this pedagogical mode, a dance instructor may simply demonstrate a sequence of moves over and over for an entire session, without any talk and without facing the learners or attending in any way to their learning. And I did observe a class at Stamping Ground where this occurred, although that instructor was not well-regarded. More often, the instructor will turn to face the class after sufficient demonstrations in order to observe and coach their efforts without performing himself. In this way, the instructor may show care for the learners and interest in their learning in ways which are not apparent when he is out front with his back to the class.

Modelling men

Given its role within traditional dance training, there is nothing particularly surprising about the prominence of demonstration as a pedagogical mode at Stamping Ground. Whilst the festival afforded opportunities for other modes of teaching and learning across its program of classes and workshops, the prominence of demonstration arises, in part, from the fact that its structure was often incorporated and displayed in both classes and performances. As is appropriate for an inclusive, community-spirited festival, performances were more often demonstrations of work-in-progress than presentations of polished choreographic works. And dance instructors would often lend confidence and memory to performances by leading an ensemble of dancers from out in front. In this way, a dance instructor’s choreographic creativity could be displayed more or less in tact, and dancers could display their enthusiasm for and participation within the choreographic process, even if they varied considerably in their ability to perform the choreography with precision and skill.

What is significant about all this demonstrative activity in pedagogy and performance is that, with the exception of a male and female couple who taught tango and a female instructor who ran a performance-making workshop for women, the remaining 17 or so dance instructors who ran dance classes, directed performances, and demonstrated their skills, expertise and talent in both choreography and dancing at Stamping Ground were all male. This is a deliberate strategy on the part of the festival organiser and its significance was brought home to me in conversations I had with several mothers at Stamping Ground. Whilst most towns and suburbs around the country offer after-school or weekend dance classes, usually run by women and predominantly attended by girls, the mothers I spoke to recognised Stamping Ground as providing a rare opportunity for their sons to be taught dance by men, to dance with and to see other males dance.

Such an opportunity is most commonly articulated around Stamping Ground in terms of the provision of role models. Specifically, it is articulated in terms of a popularly recognised need for young boys to be provided with adult male role models, of which there is a popularly perceived deficit, in order to foster their development as they grow up to become fit and proper men. The need to provide male role models for boys in the context of dance education is regarded as particularly pressing, not simply because of a predominance of female dance instructors teaching classes in which girls overwhelmingly outnumber boys, but also because boys’ interests in dance may be readily curtailed, at certain ages and in certain contexts, by a homophobic discourse that attributes feminising and homosexualising connotations to male participation in dance. It is against such connotations that the discourse of role models readily articulates to the demonstrative pedagogy deployed within dance classes and performances at Stamping Ground. According to this pedagogy, by seeing male instructors dance and by emulating their moves, boys at Stamping Ground are learning to become men who, in the model of male dance instructors, may enjoy, sustain an interest in, and excel at their participation in dance.

Clearly, there is value in the use of a demonstrative pedagogy of male role-modelling to foster male participation in dance at an event like Stamping Ground. It also has its limitations. For instance, within a role-modelling strategy gay men may be required to act straight on occasion so as not to upset or discourage other males who are participating on the basis of tacitly homophobic assertions that ‘just because you like dancing doesn’t mean you’re gay’. On the other hand, there seems little room within a strategy of male role-modelling for articulating how an active participation in dance may actually be one of the ways in which boys become gay and if gossip counts as evidence then I’d say that in certain instances this may well be the case. Regardless, a strategy of role-modelling, in which boys become men through processes of demonstration and imitation is only one way of accounting for the potential of becoming through participation in dance. The remainder of this paper is directed at articulating the potential of some other pedagogical modes enacted at Stamping Ground.


5/1/02 Before [the kinesiology] session started, there was a break dance workshop on, and I watched a bit of it. It was intergenerational – older teenagers with 9-12 year olds. Some things that I thought were quite interesting about it. There was no clear overall pedagogical structure, in terms of roles / relations and sequenced activities. Rather there were clusters of boys trying out different moves, the more expert showing moves and helping less expert try them out, giving bits of advice about placement of body parts, etc. Lots of these moves entailed inversion, support on hands, etc. Another thing that was interesting was the fact that they were trying these moves without floor mats on a parquet (i.e. non-sprung) floor. So there was this enacted toughness around the practice – falls would hurt, and the only protection I saw worn was a helmet and two boys had taken their t-shirts off and made donuts out of them for head stands. I then went to yoga in Memorial Hall

6/1/02 Was thinking more about watching boys try out / try on break dance moves. One thing that’s important is that moves are performed and learnt discretely – so that they are like feats – things you can do and demonstrate you can do. I remember gymnastics being like that – you wanted to be able to do things, you were impressed when you saw people do things you couldn’t, and you’d try them out, the learning is informal, opportunistic and friendly in a competitive kind of way. Like – I have the right to teach you because I can do what you can’t. The discreteness of the moves, and their sufficiency in terms of spectacle helps this. Many of the moves have infinite duration – with repetition / rotation – so that in addition to the particular move, there is also demonstration of how long that move can be performed. The moves require strength, balance, agility – roughly in that order – but also a toughness and resistance to pain in performing gymnastic type moves without mats / padding etc.

7/1/02 I attended the end of another breaking session prior to S&S – again – the same loose, collegial pedagogical structure that works, in part, because the moves, manoeuvres are discrete, repeatable for any duration, or are feats whose performance is so marked it draws attention to itself. Morgan Lewis was running the session, but really just working one-on-one with individuals and occasionally noticing and commenting upon what others are doing. Again it reminded me more of a gymnastics class than a dance class.

In these excerpts from my field notes, I characterised the pedagogy of breaking as ‘loose’ and ‘collegial’. What struck me was how the relations between instructor and learner in these sessions were neither singular nor fixed. Rather, relations of more expert to less were deployed between participants in an occasional or instantial way, such that participants challenge, extend and learn from each other. The pedagogical context is not simply one of dissemination, the transfer of gestures from teacher to learner. It is one in which participants work together, in the context of each others’ capacities, at enhancing their own capacity and developing their expertise.

Certainly, there is modelling going on here, demonstrations of moves and attempts at imitation. And there are clearly hierarchies of expertise and admiration. The discourse of breaking is one of admiration and respect; audiences at demonstrations are invited to ‘give it up’ in their applause in the way that breakers give up space to each other’s performance. But what commands respect in breaking is inventive differentiation, so that hierarchies of expertise and admiration splinter and proliferate along different lines as experienced breakers focus on and develop particular styles and specialise in certain moves that differentiate their capacity from others. In this way, and in terms of what breakers may become and in how they develop their capacities, the pedagogy of breaking seems much looser and more open-ended project than is the pedagogy of role-modelling.


7/1/02 2:00pm
The Stix and Stones session was really quite fruitful – bizarre really. Christos led us through a series of task based exercises generative of movement material for a piece concerned with bullying, competitiveness, and aggression [10/1: and as it turns out relations between men and boys, fathers and sons]. The bizarre bit is the participants – four men and four boys – men aged between 30 and 50, boys pbly 9-12 – certainly prepubescent – which is what seems to be enabling this somehow. At one point, after working on a dance / fight scene where ‘the boys beat up the men’ – working in boy-man pairs – Christos asked if we were getting into dangerous territory – one of the guys responded with some advice about maintaining eye contact to avoid injury. My understanding, however, was whether the violence / intimacy, between the pairs of dancers was dangerous sexually. …

7/1/02 9:48pm
At the Larrikin session, there were 3 other participants – Darren, Tom and Luke. We began by working with handshakes and building out in pairs from there – basically combinations of handshakes and fight actions, trick handshakes, handshakes offered that turn into punches etc. There was not a lot of talk, beyond that necessary to facilitate the work. There was a lot of enjoyment and the work was energetic, hard going, and kinda tough – will be interesting to see if the effects of the work will be evident – well, more like see how they’ll be evident. I already know that my left hip is going to be sore, from a fall I take and land on it – need to sort a way for that to be avoided. Stefan, too, was fairly careful in the physical work, advising us of safe / safer ways of working with each other. There was a series of handshakes that I worked up with Darren – based on increasing closeness, and then two sequences developed by Luke and I and Darren and Tom, elaborated from the one starting sequence – fancy handshake. It was both of them that were quite violent. I think there were issues for me in terms of controlling momentum and weight – hence the experience / memory of working very hard, and a couple of times I felt I was working Luke hard as well – just in terms of momentum and weight – which I need to think more about. Stefan was concerned about things getting too violent – why did we immediately go there? Actually that’s quite interesting / funny – that violence is exactly where we went as a response to a task based on a handshake. I might raise that tomorrow and see what they think. [11/1/02: I didn’t raise it in the workshop, but I did raise it last night at the pub – how interesting I thought that the handshakes so quickly became violent. I’m not sure that we really had an answer to that – except that violence is a way of responding to closeness. […]

These are accounts of rehearsals from the two performance-making projects at Stamping Ground in which I participated as a performer. As part of performance-making projects, the rehearsals differed in a number of ways from the more pedagogical processes that I have described so far. But what struck me most was how these projects provided opportunities for participants to interact physically, interactively, in contact with each other.

Whereas the technique classes and ensemble performances dispose an array of individual bodies within a field of similarity and whereas the breaking sessions and performances give over space to individuating displays of difference, working in intimate and interactive contact with another body entails entering an intercorporeal assemblage in which questions of similarity and difference between my body and yours are subject to an open-ended negotiation as we deal with the vicissitudes of mutuality, complementarity, reciprocity, cooperation, collaboration and interaction. These relations are vicissitudinous because working within an intercorporeal zone is a challenging and transforming experience: it’s certainly intimate but at the same time profoundly impersonal, there is a increased risk of injury and physically it’s hard work.

It’s also quite unusual, I’d say, for two males to enter an intercorporeal assemblage and to sustain its open-ended-ness as a zone of exploration and learning – without, that is, the potential of the intercorporeal zone becoming foreclosed as an experience either fighting or sex, violence or intimacy, aggression or compassion. And note how evident is the pressure of those foreclosures in the rehearsal accounts.

Becoming intercorporeal

As process and experience, becoming intercorporeal has been articulated and given value within the development of contact improvisation, a dance practice which cultivates the flexible intercorporeality and softness of bodies over and against a tendency for bodies, particularly those trained in certain institutionalised dance practices, to manifest rigidity, hardness, and autonomy. My intention, however, has not been to give value to particular dance practices over others, to value contact improvisation over ballet, breaking over tap. Rather, I have sought experiences and relations enacted within dance practices which may serve to enrich an articulation of teaching, learning and becoming beyond the account made available within a demonstrative pedagogy of role-modelling.

What then of pedagogical relations within an intercorporeal zone? Firstly, I would say that there is an oscillation, within intercorporeal experience, between teaching and learning. This is a reciprocal experience of teaching each other and learning together through processes of experimentation, exploration, and exposure. Secondly, whilst the processes of teaching each other and learning together may be experienced as mutual, I would say that such processes rarely, if ever, amount to a transaction between equals. Bodies differ in their capacities to act, to affect and be affected, and they bring these differences into play as they enter into and act within an intercorporeal assemblage. In this way, and thirdly, the potential for learning within the intercorporeal zone lies not in the modelling of one body in the image of another, but in the way two bodies may transform themselves in acting upon the actions of each other. As in the example with which I began, the experience of getting picked up – of becoming pick-up-able, if you like – was not one of modelling my body on another who demonstrated the role. It was an experience predicated upon, shaped by, and indebted to another body’s capacity to pick me up.

The process and experience of becoming intercorporeal invokes a more interactive and less predictable understanding of pedagogical relations than the notion that boys become men by copying role-models. A role-model pedagogy forces us to chose in advance what kind of men we want boys to become. It poses the difficult question of which man to choose as a model and it sustains that ongoing problem of boys who just won’t fit the model we’ve chosen. An intercorporeal pedagogy, on the other hand, need not know in advance what kind of men boys should become, nor would it know how men may themselves be transformed in the process. What it would know, however, is that role-modelling will only ever amount to more of the same, whereas newness may arise only when bodies interact with each other within zones of intercorporeal practice and experience.


Diprose, R. (1994) ‘Performing body-identity’, Writings On Dance, 11-12 (Summer).

Diprose, R. (2002) Corporeal Generosity: On Giving with Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas, Albany: State University of New York Press.

Grosz, E. (1999) ‘Thinking the new: of futures yet unthought’, in Grosz, E., ed. Becomings: Explorations in Time, Memory, and Futures, Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.

Patton, P. (2000) Deleuze and the Political, London & New York: Routledge.