In Conversation with (my) Practice….


What follows is an ongoing ‘conversation’ between my ‘practice’ and ‘myself’.  Through this conversation, in a playful conceit, we/I will be seeking to articulate our developing understanding of ‘nomadism’ in/as improvisation.

Like most conversations it will, no doubt, have a tendency to meander as lines of thought and experiences are explored and reflected upon. Yet the process will hopefully give rise to another mode of understanding. Through this conversation I seek to locate the emerging practice (as documented in tasks and images on the main blog) within wider discourses.

This page will be added to through (potentially random) interventions and through time as the need to think things through aloud – to converse on the page  - draws me.
I therefore invite you to revisit this page as time goes on.


August 2nd, 2011
Practice: So why are you spending time thinking/dancing through nomadism and improvisation?

Dancer:  Well. This idea comes from an ongoing project in which I am seeking to say something about the ontology of improvisation practices.  In this work I have identified notions of ‘non-fixity’ and openness to ‘change’ as recurring ideas across various improvisation forms in movement.  Artists regularly use phrases like - ‘going with the flow’ and ‘taking a journey’ and I started to think about this in relation to feminist concepts in which the body is unfixed and Deleuzian ideas of ‘becoming’ (rather than ‘being’).  These notions are both found in the writings of Rosie Braidotti and her concept of Nomadism.

Practice: But how does it relate to your own experiences of improvisation? To your experiences of dancing with me (your practice)?

Dancer: Interesting. When I reflect on my own experiences of dancing I can certainly point towards a sense of shifting through states, on not being in any one place – but I also know that my movement is very located. I note in my dancing, and in seeing my dancing, that I often remain within a fairly narrow and recognizable range of movement qualities.  Yet the sensation within this habitual (?) way of moving is one of being in a state of constant flux. In working through some of the conceptual frames of ‘nomadism’ as metaphors to be translated into movement (activities) to enable me to (re)experience these as an embodied form, there is a desire to both locate and open up this territory, such that a practice that overtly encourages a an unfixing (of self) can become evident…. Funny. All those nomadic words – locate, territory, unfixing! Humm I also note that there is something here about identity and my dancing body too (I need to think about that a bit more).

But I was wanting to say a bit more about nomadism in the work of other improvisers – would that be interesting?

Practice: I guess so – it would certainly help me to know more about where we are going – where you might be taking me towards…

Dancer: I not sure that I want to go ‘towards’ these other improvisers, or that I am really trying to ‘take’ you in any singular direction – indeed that would seem to counter my understanding of nomadism and be oppositional to the processes of improvisation too – that is, to know the outcome of the process at this point. But what I think it might help do is help us both understand the contexts in which this research is taking place.

So I might point for instance to Eva Karczag who comments that in her dance by being ‘….available to constant flow and change, I can balance’ (in Tuffnel and Crickmay, Body Space Image: 48)  and Miranda Tuffnel asks workshop participants to ‘take a journey without a map’ (workshop at UoN) and she writes:

I allow any impulse or direction to come from some part of me that wants to move or follow for as long as it lasts. … accepting the rhythm and impulse of whatever comes – even waves of boredom and emptiness will in their own way move me. I listen to the body’s need to hover, hesitate, be still – or to go wild, race, rush, roll, swing out.
            Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay, Body Space Image

What she describes is a body in the flow of constant change.  A mutating presence, which merges and emerges without any predetermined end, rather Tuffnell’s dancing we might argue is deterritorialised and in transformation. This unfolding dance is then like an enactment of becoming that never solidifies but continues through duration to reveal itself. Unfolding in moment and through time, this lexicon of improvisation includes imagery of journeys, geographies, metamorphosis and transformations and such imagery is clearly has an underlying nomadic theme. Experiencing, as Braidotti would put it, ‘the affirmation of fluid boundaries, a practice of the intervals, of the interfaces, and the interstices’ the improviser is ‘the kind of subject who has relinquished all idea, desire, or nostalgia for fixity.’ For, ‘the nomadic style is about transitions and passages without pre-determined destinations or lost homelands’.

Practice: These dancers are what I might call somatic movement practitioners hailing from a ‘post -modern’ (or post-judson’) improvisers. I thought you might be thinking about nomadic peoples dances – so the dances of travelling populations (or what historical have been nomadic people at any rate).

Dancer: It isn’t that I not interested in these dance forms (and I might well ‘go there’ at some stage), but that would be along way from where you/we are my practice (would in an embodied sense therefore be a bit strange). But more importantly, in line with Braidotti – this in not a literal nomadism.

Practice: This brings up other questions for me about the possibility of being a stranger to your own practice. How can you really be a ‘stranger’, an alien in your own skin, in your own movement, and this be a place from which to work?

Sept 1st, 2011
Dancer: I have been reading Liyn Hejinian. She writes in her introduction to The Language of Inquiry (2000) that poetry ‘is in the transition’, and goes on to explain that: ‘This is not to say that poetry is about transtions, but that ‘aboutness’ is transitional, transitory, indeed poetry calls conventional notions of ‘aboutness’ into question’ (2000: 2).

Now reading this I was thinking about improvisation: What if we replace poetry with the word improvisation in this thinking?  I think her idea of challenging ‘aboutness’ has something important to say about nomadism in/as movement.

Practice: Go on.

Dancer: Well, I still need to work it through a bit more.  But I was thinking that we ‘know’ improvisation is transitional, yes, transitory, yes.  But more important is that its very aboutness offers an unfixing, Nomadic improvisation is ‘about’ not being it is not static. And perhaps, in challenging the idea that aboutness is not fixed but transitory improvisation puts such worldviews into perspective.

Practice: Humm yes. Is there a way in which in improvisation there is (or can be), be a willingness to loose a kind of certainty, to ‘let go’ (I’m not comfortable with that phrase really – I think it is problematic – but still) of ones ‘habituation’….

Dancer: I guess so. But in being transitory, doesn’t mean habituation ‘goes away’!! Indeed, I would argue that when dancing my experience is that habit is crucial (it keeps me going and ‘knowing’ how to operate in the moment). The task of the nomadic improviser is not particular to find ‘new’ movement, but to forget and thereby reimage / re-imagine the settings in which movements are habitually found.

I’m nicking and idea from Lauterback here (2005: 88)… she says something similar about the role of the poet or writer.  She is thinking about the connection between words and memory and I think it works for dance too:

‘Certain key passages recur: they steady the pursuit, anchor the habit of wandering.
Digression is for me one of life’s pleasures;….
‘I wonder as I wander out under the sky’ song by John Jacob Niles
‘I do like to wander in language to the point of getting lost, to follow the lead of the sentence to see where it will take me’
(Lauterbach 2005, 5)

…. Following lead without possibility of revision….

Lauterback writes ‘ might imagine that the promise is not of something known, concrete, tangible, but merely a disposition toward, a willingness to put at risk that which is already at hand. The fulfillment of a promise produces another, unknown promise. What if the pattern of language which knows beforehand what its conclusion is were subverted? ‘ (2005: 70).

Practice: On another note – and I feel the connection to habit and transition – but it might feel to you like a jump here - I have been thinking about improvisation as part of life… as part of reality, of being in the world. 

Many dancers exhort the ways that improvisational practices can/does continue into the everyday. But I wonder about the separation here between reality and dancing.  Reality embraces all that there is, everything that is part of us and that which surrounds us. In this way improvised dancing is one way we touch and heighten our awareness of the reality of the moment. So it is not a matter, then, of improvisation passing into ‘life’ rather it is a feature of life that brings that which is real and to be experienced closer and enables a certain enhancing of it.

Dancer: I remember that somewhere Emerson writes that choice is the crux of human agency - and improvisation is certainly about choice!

Sept 10th, 2011
Practice: You/we have been thinking about and working with locations and improvisation – a literal traveling I guess. I wonder how site might be resonate in the movement.  In the blog tasks there are records of improvisations undertaken in different locations and the explicit inclusion of the environment in your dance.  This is not something that is a regular feature of our practice – you tend to focus on the body as site. How has is been shifting you?

Oct 20th, 2011
Dancer: Sorry. I have not spoken with you in a while. You asked me about the effect of working in/with site and I have been thinking about this in relation to nomadism. There is perhaps an easy confluence between relating an improvisation to changing locations and ideas of being nomadic.  But something in me resists such an overt reading and framing of this – it seems that whilst relating to changing locations is important what is most evocative is the sensation of ‘being at home’, being in ones skin and knowing  that skin is porous – that it both absorbs, and drift out into the places, I find myself dancing.

Jan 9th, 2012
Dancer: Whilst dancing with Eva Karczag recently she pointed me towards Hugh Brody’s book The Other Side of Eden (Fabar and Faber, Uk, 2001). In this book he discusses the territories of hunter-gathers and explores the divide between hunters and famers.    He writes:

A crucial difference between hunter-gatherers and famers is that one society is highly mobile, with a strong tendency to both small and large-scale nomadism, whereas the other is highly settled, tending to stay firmly in one particular area of territory.  This difference is established in stereotypes of “nomadic” hunters and “settled” farmers. However, the stereotype has it the wrong way round. It is agricultural societies that tend to be on the move: hunting peoples are far more firmly settled. This fact is evident when we look at these two ways of being in the world over a long time span – when we screen the movie of human history, as it were, rather than relying on a photograph. (2001: 7)

This shift in perspective is an interesting one – from short to long term – and it leads me to re-think notions of site and home in relation to improvisation. We might think through the longer history of the body (the changing body through development or even evolutionary time) and the body at a moment in time (sitting in this position, in this place, typing these words). These are the same body – I am ‘at home’ and ‘sited’ in both…. It is the perspective that is different. So I guess in rethinking the notion of ‘body as site’ in relation to nomadism I am coming to a place where it is possible to recognize the located nature of the nomad!

Practice: This remains me of another idea (that I think comes to me from Ann Lauterbach, 2005) that picks up these themes. In these three simple lines perhaps much of the twists and complexities of nomadism in improvisation can be found:

The curiosity of the tourist
The comfort of the native
The restlessness of the homeless

And we could play with this too, seeing what happens when we shift the interrelationships around…

The restless of the tourist
The curiosity of the native
The comfort of the homeless

These concepts (in all the playful manifestations) certainly seem to resonate with the experiences you describe of improvisation.

Dancer:  Yes certainly and when improvising these ideas are very present in me. I note the comfort (and pleasure) of improvising, the dwelling in the home that is my body and in a moment, a movement….but that also curiosity is crucial to the process. I find that you have to be interested in the details and pay attention to them… this way the home can be made strange… you can become a tourist in your own home.  I guess it is this idea that is explicit in the task ‘Relocations 2: Home’ in the blog entry 18th August, 2011).  
Practice: Hum… yes. But there is a difference too between ‘making strange’ and ‘being unknown’ and between the nessacary traveling on the nomad and the pleasure oriented visits of the tourist. Both might well be approached with curiosity and include pleasure (of the new and of the re-found or re-traveled), so
I wonder if in improvisation if there isn’t something about the relationship between these intersections? Doesn’t the nomadic improviser travel in many modes?

Jan 10th, 2012
Dancer: Over the last few weeks or so I have been revisiting the notions of nomadism developed by Braidotti and others.  I am thinking it would be good to talk these through a bit more. It would certainly help me… would you mind?

Practice: No, do go ahead. I think it would be good to start to not only do the literature review thing but also enflesh these concepts. So perhaps you might say something more about how the ideas are embodied within movement improvisation and also perhaps how the movement work morphs, blurs or exceeds the very same ideas.

Dancer: Ok. I think I can start to do that (and certainly I would want to be clear  that the theories we are discussing are not ‘causal’, they help illuminate what I am doing and, of course, as they reside within me they continue to form part of what I am doing (when dancing and when sitting here with you), but they are not the ‘driver’ of the work… does that make sense?

Practice: Sure. You have said things about this before (see Midgelow 2007 and 2010) and much of the current writing around Practice as Research picks up this theory practice relationship too so perhaps we can take that as read? We can talk about it too with the notion of ‘as if’ to the fore. That way we don’t have to worry about suggesting that this is a direct or literal transposition. Rather the point is to play and evoke – to allow one experience (the practice) to flow into another (the theory), and visa versa, such that there is a quality of interconnectedness.

Dancer: That’s nice, and is resonates with both the ideas I am reading and the dancing (so that is helpful).


The Braidottian Nomad carries a series of features that I think do this interconnectedness thing well.  She speaks of the nomad as way of: evoking paradox; the importance of reversibility; multiple meanings and the connectedness of insides and outsides.  As such the nomad is both intensely multiple (and aligns with a Deleuzian BWO) and deeply connected. She is able to adapt and draw on connections but these need not be appropriations. She writes: ‘… nomadic becoming is neither reproduction nor just imitation, but rather emphatic proximity, intensive interconnectedness’ (1994: 5).  It is via connections (to which she can circulate and move toward/from,  that the nomadic subject is able to form a mobile identity.

Yet it is important to note that nomadism ‘is not fluidity without borders but rather an acute awareness of the nonfixity of boundaries. It is the intense desire to go on trespassing, transgressing’ (Braidotti, 1994: 36). In trespassing and transgressing the improviser is able to dance ‘alongside’ themselves, to taste different territories and operate with a heighten sense of herself within multiple connections.

Jan 11th, 2012
Dancer: Today I went to dance with an improvisation group in Arnhem, Netherlands, that Eva (Karczag) dances with.  The women were from different parts of the globe and crossed span age span of some 40 years or so.  The dancing was playful, exuberant, delicate and above all caring and supportive. Each dancer listening closely to the practices of the others, their needs and their emerging dances.  Over this few hours it seemed important that it was women dancing together – a particularly female experience.  This reminds me that yesterday we didn’t speak about the feminist nature of Braidotti’s nomadism.

In her writing the figure of the nomad is, importantly, a way to reconfigure the female subjectivity and one of her ‘historical tasks is how to restore a sense of intersubjectivity’, this intersubjectivity she goes, on ‘would allow for the recognition of  differnces to create a new kind of bonding in an inclusive (ie. , nonexclusionary) manner. I think one of the ways which feminists could visualize the multi-differentiated and situated perspective, is trough the image of multiple literacies, that is, a sort of collective of becoming polygot’ (p.36).

Practice: So for Braidotti the nomad is a polyglot, able to shift between languages and styles-  I wonder how that works for dancer, for the improviser?

Dancer: Well we could take it literally and think about the way in which being fluent in different styles of dance can enrich your bodies range and choices and, through your embodied understanding, enable you to cross-between otherwise closed boundaries. On a more political reading, what Braidotti is thinking about here is the way knowing a language brings about a ‘deterritorilization’ (after Deleuze), and this is evident in the shift in voice (academic to personal) in her writing and in the desire to work against the canon.

Jan 11th, 2013
Practice: I cannot believe it has be a year since we last spoke in this context!

Dancer: We been busy continuing this dialogue in other forms!

Practice: That's true.  Many of the ideas I can see we were discussing all that time ago have found their way into an essay published with the 'Critical Studies in Improvisation' journal. ( The essay 'Nomadism and Ethics in/as Improvised Movement Practices' (Vol 8, No 1 (2012))
tracks the interface between improvisation and Nomadism concluding that: 
"the figurations of improviser-as-nomad does not imply an erasure of memory or un-locatable experience but unravels a becoming-responsive that creates positive energies and multi-layered visions of the subject that are dynamic. Accentuating that we live in a world that is always in transition, improvisation becomes a living map towards a nomadic and transformative account of the embodied subject. Thus it is possible to recognize the improvisational nature of the nomad and the nomadic nature of improvisation. The improviser is then the ideal nomadic subject, able to enact with the territory she finds herself in and adapt to complex conditions. I suggest then in tracing the interconnection between the nomadic figuration and improvisations it becomes clear that nomadism is a useful way of illuminating improvisation and, in a reciprocal fashion, improvisation is an effective way of extending the discourses of nomadism. For, I suggest, improvisation is the consummate form of nomadism."