Bare Muumuus: Reflecting on Process

Bodies on the Line

The rallying point for the counterattack against the deployment of sexuality ought not to be sexual desire, but bodies and pleasures.

-Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Part 1

Guiding Questions

How can I intervene through illustrating the normalizing systems at work in the fitness industry?

How can I celebrate bare-life without trivializing the experiences of those truly cast out of political life?

How can I celebrate the body, dance and performance while circumventing commodification or sexualization? Taking up the charge put forth by Foucault in the above quote?

How can a dance performance be a protest?



A jumping off point for the work was Judith Butler’s work on the materiality of the body. Particularly how she explored Plato’s interpretation of the feminine as material, and the masculine as form. She states:


Awkwardly, it seems, Plato’s phantasmic economy virtually deprives the feminine of a morph, a shape, for as the receptacle, the feminine is a permanent and, hence, nonliving shapeless non-thing which cannot be named. And as a nurse, mother, womb, the feminine is synecdochally the lead collapsed into a set of figural functions (Butler 53).


Choreographically, I took this idea of formless female into the organizing structure of the dance. Allowing chaos to be it’s own sort of form. The dance fluctuates between chaos and order, improvisation and choreography. This also allowed the moments of unison, the music (heard by the performers but the audience) and the times of more formal organization to read as an outside influence. That outside influence manifested practically through the glass confinement of court, unison choreography, or what came to known as marionette-ing. Or being moved as if imagined or real forces are manipulating your body.

One of those imagined forces I was nodding to, through the gym location, was the ways in which power in-scripts on and through the body in a Foucauldian sense at the RPAC.

Rachel Harrison Fats domino 141222_schjeldahl_05-800 141222_schjeldahl_04-813

The previous slides and this one show the work of visual artist Rachel Harrison. During the rehearsal process we looked at her work as inspiration for the movement vocabulary. Her sculptures are large and takes up considerable space, and are visually loud with vibrant colors. The large scale, ostentatious, almost frivolous, but clearly intentional sculptures convey a sense of movement, as if the clay is not fully formed, but could continue spilling into the space. A sort of feminine formlessness. This is juxtaposed with instruments of cleaning, and dieting. These ready-mades point to the domestic sphere, but also of cleaning and condensing. Controlling the messier parts of life. Which brings us to Bio-Power and back to Foucault.

If Bio-Power is what Foucault theorizes as bringing the political into domestic sphere, what is the affect on the bodies, particularly non-heterosexual male bodies? I hypothesized through observation, that the gym is a highly gendered space. Separate locker-rooms but also, the women tending toward the aerobic equipment to tone down, and men to the weight machines to bulk up. These normative ideals, of petit female, and strong male, have political implications. In the academic work of Susan Bordo, she studies how aesthetic and behavioral ideals limit feminine power.

Women must develop an other oriented emotional economy. In this economy, the control of the female appetite for food is merely the concrete expression of the general rule governing the construction of femininity: the female hunger – for public power, for independence, for sexual gratification to be contained, and the public space that women be allowed to take up circumscribed, limited (Bordo 171).

Both the muumuus and this section of the dance, instead of choreographically illustrating the norm, intentionally oppose this containment of space. This section was built on an idea of moving big and lazy to work against embodying small and disciplined. Below of is a clip of the improvisation score during the rehearsal process.  Fruitfully, the space during the performance, did the illustrating of confinement for me in an interesting way for me.

I was also interested in the ways in which the gym makes bodies prepared for labor in a Marxist sense. Barbara Jean Noble wrote about how the gym is gendered but also a disciplining function for capitalism.

Gyms and health clubs are strange sites of Marxist alienation and disembodiment even in the face of an apparent hyper-embodiedness. Fragmenting the bodies into “legs,” “abs,” “chest,” “shoulders,” and “arms” (and then systems like “cardio”), the class culture of working out before or after work (non employment/work as physically demanding) requires one to become, quite literally, subject to or step into a machine that has been designed to isolate a muscle or a set of muscles and work them with the goal of having them look like they do more than get worked on at the gym. The gym body is developed not necessarily from use but from an extreme form of docility, repetition, and discipline. Capitalism requires each of these when manufacturing laboring bodies (Noble, 251).

I combined the imagery of workout machinery with the sculptures of Rachel Harrison. Asking the dancers to both become the machine and use the machine they made. But with a Harrison-esque sensibility.


I’m interested in the ways in which performing the norm, adhering to the normalized ideal, allows one to pass and function in society, but through the process of normalization, become . . . normal and homogenized. As a choreographer I think of ballet’s corps de ballet, or the Rockettes. This dance was an anti-kick line dance. I want to put bodies on a more distinctive line. And yet, bodies outside the norm for any of the reasons people are culturally discriminated against, age, class, gender, race, size, disability, sex etc. are ignored. Part of the intended but not choreographed portion of the dance was the space between the audience and the performance. Just beyond the glass, the gym-goers passing by ignored or engaged with our muumuu dance.  As the dance was performed, the audience and the dancers implicated the passers by.  None of whom lingered to watch.


Within this dance piece, Bare-Life served as a metaphor for the realms and ways in which the feminine is kept out of the political sphere. Susan Bordo links hysteria, agoraphobia and anorexia as extreme manifestations on the body of power’s normalizing function. “In Agoraphobia and, even more dramatically, in anorexia, the disorder presents itself as a virtual, though tragic, parody of twentieth-century constructions of femininity.” In hysteria women fulfill the stereotype of uncontrollable, emotionally-crazed female. In agoraphobia, domesticity is taken to the extreme becoming afraid to leave the home. And in anorexia, women both over perform the feminine ideal of thinness, and over-contain their materiality. According to Bordo some feminists claim these pathologies as an unconscious form of protest, through taking these norms to abnormal extremes on their own bodies. At the same time as it is a protest it is also a retreat from the productive political world into the domestic world, or bare-life (175). I borrowed and tweaked an improvisation score from Susan Rethorst in order to build the section of advances and retreats, power and vulnerability poses. How can I similarly use the body to illustrate the the problems of patriarchal, heteronormative power structures, and privy the knowledge of body without retreating into it?

At the end of this course and this project, this is my new guiding question that will lead me into my next choreographic process.

Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “sex”. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

Noble, Billy Jean. “Our Bodies are not Ourselves: Tranny Guys and the Racialized Class Politics of Incoherence.” The Transgender Studies Reader 2. Ed. Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura. London: Routeldge, 2013. 248-257.



Bare Improvisations

Bodies on the Line

Since part of the inspiration for this work was rethinking Agamben’s discussion of Bare-Life and finding a way to reclaim it, I wanted to search for those sensations in our own bodies.  Part of the feedback and my own hesitancy with this process was to not trivialize those who are stripped of the rights and cast out of political life which has severe consequences.  In particular during the course we discussed victims of torture and the ways in which torture serves as way to strip them of their existence in the world.

But to continue searching and creatively thinking through this idea of exploring/reclaiming the domestic sphere each of my dancers improvised in their homes and recorded it for an hour. Serendipitously, one dancer Shannon, happened to be listening to an NPR piece on the restructuring of the CIA. I edited her video and pulled the sound.  I want to share some of the video here, because in the reclaiming of bare-life through this piece, I want to also connect to the graver instances of bare-life and homo-sacer as we read from Agamben. But I also wanted to be authentic to the experiences of my own and my dancer’s bodies. Careful not to assume an understanding I don’t have. Watching Shannon, I began to think about the ways in which my body does not implicate politics.  And learning about the practices of torture the government I live under employs in the name of security, implicates my body. Yet my body feels unempowered, helpless, to face such cruelties.  This was my impression of watching this improvisation, and helped to guide the work.

Bare Muumuus: Searching for a Movement Vocabulary

Bodies on the Line

High Resistance and Heavy Limbs

The choreographic process started with a lot of improvising.  I was searching for modes of moving to deliberately contrasted or juxtapose those found at the gym.  In this first clip you’ll see clips from a day where we played around with different levels of resistance against the body moving in space.  This stemmed from thinking about the ways in which the gym isolates resistance to certain body parts (a bicep curl applies resistance to work the bicep), but in these improvisations I attempted through imagery to reintegrate and destabilize the body.

Power Stances

In a composition course with choreographer, Susan Rethorst, she assigned the task of finding “power stances” and letting them resonate in the body before moving on.  Sometimes the sensation of power resonating through the body could allow one to move through space. In trying to find the power of the bodies, I find this exercise apt for using the body as a means to conjure power.  In the final choreography we added “vulnerability stances” with the same instruction of letting the vulnerability resonate in the body. As I experience this improv, I feel an outside/in affect.  As I pose strong, I begin to feel strong, and when I’m posing vulnerable, I feel vulnerable.  A lingering question from this process is how fitness and dance training train more than just physicality.  Specifically in the context of this work, looking at the ways in which Bio-Power is disseminated through practices at the gym. If I feel the resonance from standing in the simple dichotomy of power and vulnerability. When the movement and the purpose is more coded and complex, what is the effect on the body.  In turn, how then do those bodies affect the political world?

As I mentioned in my proposal I’m particularly interested in the ways in which the gym normalizes binary gender differences.


We spent a lot of time with partners.  One partner being totally active while the other totally passive.  After that period of time, we tried to move as if the active partner were moving us.  While docile bodies are in fact not passive at all, I was interested particularly once the partner was removed, at how the imagined forces moving the dancers bodies became visible through their movement.  The potential for portraying unseen influences on the body excited me, and we kept exploring and choreographing with the idea of being a marionette.

Lazy Aerobics

This was the most literal of the improvisations, which is why I initially thought none of this material would make it into the final work.  The prompt was simply to choreograph lazy aerobics. I kept it because I felt it set up an agreement with the audience, that the dancers’ are aware of the norms at the gym.  Subverting norms without knowledge of them reads differently than an unconscious subversion.  Similar to the way that “outsider art” is often dismissed for not acknowledging the canon of art,  nodding to the cultural codes was important for me so that the dancers’ weren’t read as totally outside the system.

Togas and Muumuus: A Project Proposal

Bodies on the Line

For the course, Bodies on the Line, taught by Dr. Bench, we’re allowed to synthesize the course material in a final project of our own design.

Togas and Muumuus: an intervention at The Ohio State University’s Sport and Recreation Center

This project will look to subvert the dissemination of what Foucault defines as bio-power as found at The Ohio State University’s Recreation Center. Sovereignty operates at the rec-center via normalizing operations, controlling life versus death, through the optimization and aesthetization of physical bodies. It also normalizes not only a performance of gender, but also the materiality of gender, as women tend towards the aerobic machinery and men towards the weight-lifting equipment. Thus reinforcing binary gender differences but also perhaps intensifying the presence and absence of the bodies. As the women work to tone down and the men work to bulk up.

This project will seek to intervene and create a temporary heterotopia, a space that operates differently, or point towards the possibility of such a space. Staged in a racquet-ball court and performed wearing muumuus this work will celebrate sloth and silliness against a backdrop of effort and efficiency.

I choose muumuus for a few theoretical purposes drawn from the texts of the class. First, the volume of the garment opposes the emphasis of females wearing small clothing and the effort towards being smaller, again looking to Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. I’m also interested in muumuus as an article of clothing meant for the domestic sphere. Wearing the house dress outside the home I aim to emphasis a breaking of typical boundaries between public and private spaces. Georgio Agamben’s Homo-Sacer: The Sovereign and Bare-Life, discusses the differences between bios polotik, political life, and zoe politik, domestic life. Bare-life, or domestic life, is the realm of women and children and men cast out of political life. By signaling to bare-life with humor and celebration, I want to challenge the assumed hierarchy of political life above domestic life.

The location of the racquetball courts interests me in the context of the course, for the above mentioned reasons regarding the fitness industry as a normalizing institution. Additionally, the glass surrounding the courts emphasizes the displayed nature of female bodies in performance. In this way, though it is an a-traditional performance space, I want to play with how this separation between audience and performer through the glass is a physicalization of Walter Benjamin’s concept of optical unconscious that Rebecca Schnieder discusses the chapter, “Secret’s Eye,” from her book, The Explicit Body in Performance. Where in photography the optical unconscious describes the imagined, sensual contact between the viewer and the photographer’s subject, made “secret” through a separation of time and space from the moment and place the picture is taken to the moment of viewership. Here the boundary of time and space will be substituted with a physical and present yet transparent boundary, the glass walls.

The choreography itself will seek to find a balance between joy and lethargy. I am looking for a mode of moving and being in the world that is in contrast to the action of the gym, as one seeking enjoyment through movement, yet does not seek to alter the materiality of the body. A way of moving that produces pleasure for the mover more than for the viewer. For inspiration I will return to Judith Butler’s introduction from, Bodies from Matter.

The larger projects this choreographic work builds towards are both my final MFA project and my choreographic portfolio. My final MFA project explores the intersections of presence and absence, and performativity and materiality of female and queer bodies via the flesh. This work will help me in my creative practice that explores theoretical concepts through the body. This is an opportunity for me to delve into relevant texts and begin familiarizing my collaborating performers with the critical frameworks they will be working in next year. I intend to document this piece on video and add it to my choreographic portfolio expanding my repertoire to include site-specific work.



Creativity, Research

Art is free, shameless, irresponsible, and as I said: it’s constant movement is intense, almost feverish, it resembles in my opinion a snakes skin full of ants.  The snake is long since dead, emptied, deprived of it’s poison, but the skin moves, full of bustling life.

-Igmar Bergman


pulp. is a first step towards my final MFA project exploring the materiality of the body through jiggling and tensing the flesh.


Shannon Drake and Rachel Freeburg

Laban Busters

Creativity, Research, Uncategorized

How can we share the joy of dance?
-Dance class?
-Dance club?
-Dance performance?

Perhaps the better question is: how can I share the joy I feel for dance?
There are many ways to tackle this simple yet complicated question. For this post I chose to analyze one example of pure joy: myself, dancing to the theme for the Ghostbusters movie, captured on video by my father in 1989.

Laban movement analysis offers a system to both dissect and generate movement. So I learned the improvised dance from the video, and attempted to analyze the movement according to Laban’s effort categories: space, time, weight, flow. I saw foregrounded, flow, time, and weight. Which, was later pointed out to me, that weight had less factor, because children develop their sense of weight and space later their development. Visualizing children attempting to lift heavy items, or stand in a formation without the help of a carpet square, proves this point. When I taught young children’s dance classes, for their recital pieces I always tried to break up the routine formation of two straight lines, sometimes successfully yet always painfully. And in watching this video, my focus, unless it’s on the reflection of myself in the TV, is not under my control. And besides the jumps, I lack control of my weight, often stumbling.

What happens if I use this joyful dance as choreographic source material?

I accented and manipulated the efforts (time and flow) found in my dance. Abstracting them as if they were volume knobs varying the speed from slow to fast, and the flow from bound to free. Laban describes this as the “mobile state,” and movement within the state creates a dramatic effect. Imagine the sudden, free flow of an agitated rocking, or frightened quality of slow, bound treading across a room. My dance felt erratic, like a child who bumped their head and is crying one moment, and smiling, running around in the next. Laban delineates time and flow as related to intuiting and feeling, I’m curious if cognitive development aligns with intuition and feeling developing before thinking and sensing (connected to space and weight)?

More questions that arose for me during this process are:

-How can we use laban analysis as a mode of understanding dancer intelligence?
-How can we apply the effort theory to generate movement material? Both in an abstract and a dramatic mode?