Dance response to article, Autoethnographic Writing and Solo Dance Performance

In the course, Performance and Poetic Approaches to Qualitative Inquiry, taught by Dr. Monica Prendergast at the University of Victoria, I developed dance responses to articles written by people who engaged in or with the dance arts in their research.

This page begins with the abstract from the article, Autoethnographic Writing and Solo Dance Performance, written by contemporary dancer and scholar Karen Barbour.  The abstract introduces you to the article that I physically responded to followed by my notes and a video of my physical response. A citation for the article can be found at the the bottom of the page.


In this article, I demonstrate an approach to fusing autoethnographic writing and solo dance performance, advocating for a place for the female performer to stand as creative practitioner and researcher. While contemporary ethnographers and autoethnographers have actively engaged with issues of methodology and representational forms, and have gained some recognition within qualitative research communities, artists engaged in contemporary performance research still struggle for

acknowledgement of the methodological rigor and representational innovation in their work. As in other art forms, dance artists have distinct bodies of knowledge, unique methods specific to dance, and diverse embodied and representational options for sharing knowledge. Referring to creative processes utilized in developing a particular solo dance performance, I weave together descriptions of movement activities undertaken to enhance awareness, literature on human developmental movement and on performance ethnography and excerpts of creative writing. To represent my dancing in this article, I

include images from the solo performance. In this weaving I offer a partial representation of embodied ways of knowing and make a call to qualitative researchers to reconnect with their own beginnings – to return home.


             Barbour’s (2012) sharing of movement activities that augment her awareness were challenging for me to read. I know that if I heard them in a dance studio, when I am deeper in my body, they would feel more comfortable and accessible. Reading them in this article, they sounded light, and less appealing. Knowing that an embodied experience of them could be quite different, I was inspired by her connections between the script of the exercises and the writing about human developmental movement. I wanted to try some of the visualizations, and then I realized that would be my response to this article – to dance the work she is writing about with my body. In this improvised dance exploration I embody her guidance through two exercises to experience knowledge she has gathered, and to be able to enhance my work as a white settler (among other characteristics) working toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Barbour’s experience of dancing all of her exercises to explore the theme of coming home reveals insight that strongly resonates with me. I see overlap with my thesis theme of ‘relationship to land’. While the scope of my dance exploration for the purposes of this assignment does not cover this overlap, I have included quotes that support my understanding of this aspect of my research.

To follow Barbour’s (2012) script, I audio recorded my recitation of it. As an optional supplement to viewing the video, the following table is a copy of Barbour’s (2012) script and the accompanying human developmental writing:

Exercise Script Human Developmental Movement
Exercise 1
Lie resting on the floor. Draw your knees in and rest them comfortably together, feet relaxed on the floor, arms to the sides easily. Nestle your body into the floor and allow the floor to support your weight. Pay attention to your breathing, noticing the movement of your chest, back, and abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Now bring your awareness to your belly button, to your center of gravity. Your belly button is what remains of your umbilical cord, your lifegiving beginnings, your first connections to your social world. Allow your awareness to deepen. Let the smallest and simplest movements initiate from your navel. Try a tiny rocking motion. Move easily, gently from this earliest connection. Rest. As embryos, we reveal the ontogeny of ourselves. Our “growth functions precede all higher functions. The achievements of the embryo are always the precursors of all subsequent accomplishments. As such, the former growth functions constitute the natural plan for all adult functions. There is no cell, no tissue, and no organ that does not already function during its very development. The fundamental functions are growth functions” (Blechschmidt, 2004, p. 5) From our very fundamental beginnings, our development unfolds. In this development we are intimately connected to an other, mother, and to our genealogy. We are also connected in our development to our social world.
Exercise 2
Rest easily on your back allowing your legs, arms, and neck to spread and lengthen along the floor. Gently release your limbs and head, allowing energy to surge from your navel. Extend and radiate energy from your center like a starfish. Send intention and tone into your muscles, expressing your desire to reach outwards. Then release your weight into the floor and rest. Breathe easily and soften your muscles to relax. Indulge the intention to curl and contract in toward your center. Visualize your navel and allow your limbs and head to curl inward toward safety and comfort. Curl as much as is comfortable and satisfying for you. Take this basicpattern of extending outwards—navel radiation, and curling inwards, into an improvisation. Allow your breath to guide the rhythm of your movement, engaging your abdominal muscles as you curl and radiating energy outwards as you extend. Our first prevertebrate movement pattern is breathing—a gentle and simple, pulsing, cellular breathing. Our second developmental pattern is variously called navel radiation, and physiological

flexion and extension (Cohen, 2008; Olsen, 2002). Through navel radiation, we establish “the navel as a center through which all the extremities relate

individually and to each other. It is radially symmetrical. The extremities which do not relate to each other through the navel will not establish

efficient relationships to each other in the future patterns; those extremities which establish a clarity to each other through the navel will continue to do so in the future patterns” (Cohen, 2008, p. 17). In navel radiation or physiological flexion and extension, we draw our limbs inward toward center as we do in the womb, and extend outward from center as we do from birth (Olsen, 2002). The return to center offers safety and comfort, and extension outward represents intention and desire to engage with the world.

Please go to to view my dance response to this article before reading the notes below. Thank you to Gordon Celesta for video support.

As we were preparing to video this work, three young men, Noah Beaupre, Brad Cox and Tommy Hueston, were skateboarding in the area. I asked if I was occupying the space they wanted to use, and they assured me in a friendly way that it was fine. I was inspired in that moment to make explicit use of the outdoor and public nature of the space I chose to move in. I decided to break what I perceived to be the sanctity of Barbour’s (2012) script with loud and fast movement by inviting the skateboarders to pass through the space during the video. Other unidentified pedestrians took the cue and chose to walk through as well.

My experience of people passing through the space was one of holding tightly to Barbour’s (2012) image that I was working with at the time (focusing on my navel as the centre of gravity) and maintaining my breathing. I felt excited and slightly fearful as I heard the skateboards roll by. I am curious about the nuance of my response – an internal tightening and pulling in resonates with Barbour’s (2012) instructions, although my improvisational impulse wanted to recreate the sound, excitement, and fear I experienced.

The second exercise brought me to a place of retraction and expansion that gradually widened and filled out the space I carved with my body. I experienced this fullness as strength, and wrote this word on the walkway. Digging deeper into strength, I came to feel my arms and legs holding my weight in different ways. I played with the sensation of my pelvis moving higher into upper levels. Coming to standing felt like a new world to be recognized and revisited until my pelvis no longer needed to drop.

Exercise one and two together:

A single, breathing, navel draws from sunlight and crisp air to fold the wholeness of my being into itself, and billows along its transverse plane with a rush of cells rolling over and over one another to dribble into distal ends. An imperceptible stasis as the navel holds tight to protect my soft inner being. I am a sphere that curves and carves through space to find strength in the posts and beams of my architecture. My structure is steady as cells explode, curl, and unfurl. My pelvis reaches upward and the swing and suspension of weight roll me over to return to thrust upward and lengthen my chest to the sky.


Belonging is an imagining, not uncontroversial, not straightforward. My parents are immigrants, and yet I was born here and all I know is here. My people are immigrants, struggling with being, not of there, but of here. We are who we are becoming. (p. 69)

And if new knowledge derived from our creative actions is to have any meaning at all, we have to be able to embody it, to live it, to discard knowledge if it is not livable. We need to realize embodied knowledge as useful in our living. To contribute to the development of new knowledge, to create artistically and to express our knowledge, we need to know ourselves. Moving reveals our worlds and ourselves. (p. 70)

We reduce our potential as we age, becoming subsumed by colonialism, capitalism, neo- liberalism, postmodernism, and the rest of the “isms.” We have to find a way home, to reconnect with our beginnings and with the simplest movements that provide embodied knowledge. (p. 70)

Barbour, K. N. (2012). Standing center: Autoethnographic writing and solo dance performance. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 12(1), 67-71. doi:10.1177/1532708611430491