the art of bodies in motion

Friday, February 21, 2020


A Round Table Discussion
with Hiie Saumaa (Institute Fellow), and Lynn Matluck Brooks, Kiko Mora, and Ann Moradian at the Institute for Ideas & Imagination at Columbia Global Center Paris, April 16, 2019.

- What does the moving body reveal? 
- What can we know about the world and our selves through the body? 
- And what is the nature and value of this knowledge? 

These are some of the questions raised during the roundtable discussion, Dancing-Moving-Knowing, co-organized by Columbia Global Centers, Paris and Columbi Institute for Ideas & Imagination. 

In putting this program together, Institute Fellow Hiie Saumaa was committed to bringing the moving body to this conversation, and made space for us to integrate simple experiential practices throughout. After “tuning in” by bringing attention to the breath and subtle sensations, participants said they were more aware of tension, and more sensitive – “even more sensitive to your words.” 

Our moderator, Kiko Mora, dance historian and Professor of Semiotics of Advertising and Culture at the university of Alicante (Spain), opened the evening by pointing out astutely, "What is of interest here tonight is less 'What knowledge can do for the body' and much more 'What can the body do for knowledge?'"  

Saumaa is a dance scholar, writer,and somatic movement educator, who thinks of herself as a “somatic researcher” both when she is teaching movement, and when she is in the archives digging through historic artifacts. In both situations, she says, she brings a somatic, or “felt sense” of the body with her as a way of gathering information about how she feels, what she senses, images that arise, and what is being learned. She uses her somatic awareness even in choosing which materials to focus on in her research. 

Dance historian and educator, Lynn Matluck Brooks, also applies her embodied knowledge as a Laban Movement Analyst, choreographer, performer, and critic, to her research. In order to make sense of the traces that remain “from the great flux of history,” she looks for “body shape, center of gravity, stability and mobility, movement qualities, the ranking of movement according to power structures, and social-group identification and class,” which, she said, are “often indicated by the degree of control over the body.” She also highlighted the influence scientific developments can have on cultural ideas and expressions, including dance. 

Like Saumaa, she brings her own body to the experience. She described her first exposure to real, rather than digital documents in Seville, Spain, as “thrilling.” It was as if, she explained, she were holding hands across time through the physical page she was holding that had been touched and signed by the choreographer. “To me, that created a link across 300 years,” she concluded.

Saumaa raised many questions throughout the evening, for both the audience and the panelists. One of these was: How can this individual experience of our body’s intelligence and knowledge relate to the larger picture of our communities, our global world, and beyond? This is a powerful and important question. 

From my perspective as a movement artist, with research interests in systems thinking, ecology, mythology, cultural transformation,and mindful movement, I highlighted the often overlooked fact that we are always in relation. When we move with mindful awareness, over time we develop not just emotional empathy, but a physical empathy – which can sometimes come across to our dancers or students as if we were reading their minds, when in fact we are simply reading their bodies through our own. 

Mindful movement is a way to practice bringing conscious awareness to the information available within our bodies and within the world around us. Leading the group through a balancing exercise gave an experiential sense of dynamic balance. This is a key concept within systems thinking. Science today understands that living systems use information from within and from without in cycles of feedback, processing,and response in order to navigate, grow, and evolve. The body holds this knowledge, which can become potently apparent as we practice moving with awareness, and the depth of our awareness increases with experience over time. 

I pointed to the example of group movement improvisation, where we can practice encountering the unforeseen. Over time, our response can evolve from one of stress and cognitive shut-down to a more open, conscious,and creative response. For many movement practitioners, this becomes a playful collaborative adventure. In today’s uncertain and unpredictable world, these are important and useful skills to have.

The field of 'Body Studies,' Mora said, is an inherently "trans-disciplinary investigation that includes sociology, economics, philosophy, bio-politics, semiotics, history, anthropology, and the arts." it also includes biology, physiology, ecology, psychology, physics, and somatics. It is a vast, and truly multidisciplinary subject that merits further attention. The thoughtful responses and contributions from the audience underline its timeliness. 

Ann Moradian

Please contact Perspectives In Motion for the full transcript.

Somatics (definition): Thomas Hanna, who coined the termed, defined somatics as “the body experienced from within.”

Video link:  
Institute for Ideas and Imagination
Columbia Global Center I Paris