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The Place of Dance

A Somatic Guide to Dancing and Dance Making

Andrea Olsen

Publication Year: 2014

The Place of Dance is written for the general reader as well as for dancers. It reminds us that dancing is our nature, available to all as well as refined for the stage. Andrea Olsen is an internationally known choreographer and educator who combines the science of body with creative practice. This workbook integrates experiential anatomy with the process of moving and dancing, with a particular focus on the creative journey involved in choreographing, improvising, and performing for the stage. Each of the chapters, or "days," introduces a particular theme and features a dance photograph, information on the topic, movement and writing investigations, personal anecdotes, and studio notes from professional artists and educators for further insight. The third in a trilogy of works about the body, including Bodystories: A Guide to Experiential Anatomy and Body and Earth: An Experiential Guide, The Place of Dance will help each reader understand his/her dancing body through somatic work, create a dance, and have a full journal clarifying aesthetic views on his or her practice. It is well suited for anyone interested in engaging embodied intelligence and living more consciously.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xiii

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pp. xv-xvi

Speak the truth as you experience it; someone else can speak his or her truth. Dance is a place I go to know myself and the world experientially and intellectually. The creative process offers a forum in which to pose questions and investigate possibilities. I chose dance for graduate school, over my two other loves, history and biology, because dance encompasses this ...

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pp. xvii-xx

In the past century, dancers and movement practitioners have seen a revolution in attitudes about the body—from the Cartesian view of body as object (or machine) to body as subject in dance—through experiential anatomy, bodywork, and performance research. We have also tracked some of the cultural, scientific, and religious history that got us into the dilemma of this dualism from..

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About This Book

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pp. xxi-xxii

This is an experiential text in which time and space are integral. The goal is that you think and move. Each chapter is short, with time to do both. Through our words, we hope you will find deeper connection to your own creativity, engaging whole-body learning while honoring the historical lineage of embodied artists who have investigated dancing and dance making before you. The thirty-one...

Part One Moving

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Day 1

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pp. 3-6

Dance is both universal and highly personal. It is common to all peoples and cultures, and framed by particular styles and desires. Every person is a dancer—yet fully embodied intelligence expressed through the moving, dancing body is rare. Three basic concepts enhance our understanding of movement in contemporary life. When...

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Day 2

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pp. 7-12

People have complex views about the dancing body: it is respected and ignored, craved and forbidden, celebrated and scorned. Historically, dance has been feared and banned by both governments and religions. It challenges convention, threatening the status quo.1 Who knows what will happen when the body speaks...

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Day 3

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pp. 13-18

Flow is our oceanic heritage. As we focus on the sensations of flow throughout the body, we recognize that it exists in varying degrees and can be diminished or enhanced through attention. Understanding the feeling of flow and maintaining connection with this internal sense of fluidity in our busy days takes practice. Our inner body and the Earth’s surface are both largely water, most of which is salty. Life-supporting...

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Day 4

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pp. 19-24

Sometimes we need fire: heat, will, the drive that gets us up in the morning and out to the studio, classroom, or world. Fire is passion, essential in the process of overcoming inertia, motivating curiosity, and committing to action. Fire excites us to begin a project—striking the match. But fire also sustains—the slow burn. How do we find our passionate nature and feed expression without...

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Day 5

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pp. 25-30

You can only dance where you are: physically, psychologically, and emotionally. To get started, take stock. Notice what is actually happening in your body right now—not what you want to have happening, but the sensations detailing inner and outer landscapes at this moment in time. Then authenticity will flow through...

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Day 6

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pp. 31-36

We train for the unknown. Dancing cultivates a personhood capable of meeting the art form. Like all awareness practices, dance requires a balance of study and practice, reflection and doing. Along with work in the studio, there’s history, anatomy, and aesthetics to engage, as well as understanding media and the collaborative art forms. Throughout, there’s the creative edge of invention. Dancing requires our largest selves. Our choices for training reflect this desire, this understanding. Contemporary dance involves...

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Day 7

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pp. 37-44

Dancing involves surrendering to something larger than the self. Moving and making give access to the mysterious pulse of life, willing us to be participants. If we deny energy and ecstasy—the place of mystery—in our lives, we are cut off from this deep, ancient resource. When we dance beyond muscle power, sense of control, endocrine high, buff physique, and societal praise; when we source more deeply, we open to the mystery within each moment...

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Day 8

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pp. 45-64

Dance history comes in several forms: lived history, or what you are doing right now; researched history, or the stories and reflections of those who write and record; and imagined history, or the ways you insert yourself into other times and places. Seeing and reading about other artists’ work through time and comparing aesthetic values can deepen an embodied practice, enlarging your view. Within a career, there are times when looking back allows you to move forward. Certain aspects of dancing...

Part Two Making

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Day 9

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pp. 67-74

Improvising can be experienced on a continuum from moving spontaneously to the advanced practice of composing while dancing. There are many forms and focuses, with fully articulated preparations; they train (or tune) the mover toward particular states in the body for expression and interaction, offering ways of exploring and organizing movement in the moment. Improvisation can be used as both a mode of performance and a resource for choreographed...

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Day 10

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pp. 75-82

Composition is arranging. It involves the what and where of a thing—the elements of design and how you play with these elements. Consider both organization and orientation: what the elements are and how they are put together, and where you are putting them in space—all in the context of the moving, dancing body. Composing addresses the underlying structure of a dance. Basic components apply horizontally and nonhierarchically...

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Day 11

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pp. 83-88

Choreography involves the why of a thing. In contemporary dance, you often have an idea, a question, something you want to investigate in more depth. It’s a form-giving process that draws on all your resources: engaging the flow, finding your fire, and opening to mystery. When complete, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts—it transcends itself. Like a hologram, any part is reflective of the whole. Choreographing creates a work...

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Day 12

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pp. 89-94

How do you know whether you’re moving or still? Close your eyes—slip out of planning. The frontal lobe of the brain is not where original, outof- the-box, weighty material is sourced. Shift to whole-body thinking to access deeper knowing. The history of your entire movement life is stored in the cerebellum of the brain, the primary site for movement memory—as well as coordination. This double-lobed structure, the second largest area of the brain, is situated at the back, the base of...

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Day 13

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pp. 95-104

Sometimes the most stunning dancing happens in rehearsals. Without the pressure or distraction of a performance, the dancing finds its own pace and edge. A robust studio practice, pumping energy into movement investigation, is a must. Seeking thoughtful and passionate effect, rehearsals balance nonchalant humor with a search for something original and memorable. The rehearsing process becomes the ground from which the creative imagination takes flight. Keeping a direct relationship...

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Day 14

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pp. 105-112

Ears are always open. The whole body listens. You are affected by sound at every moment, even when sleeping. Sound is vibration; sound waves register in sensory organs in your ears and are interpreted in the brain. Sound also resonates in all the body tissues; bones, in particular, vibrate. You are touched by sound, regardless of whether you are consciously listening. Sound tells you where you are and also takes you far away. Highly detailed audio maps in the brain (in your temporal lobes, around your ears) orient you to context moment by...

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Day 15

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pp. 113-120

Space shapes the body, and the body shapes space. Just as an ocean contours an island, an island affects the movement of the ocean. You are in constant co-creation with the places you inhabit. Stretch your arms into space, and you displace molecules all the way to a ceiling or wall in dynamic interaction. Where you are located in an environment affects choice making in composing. Why here? Why not over there? Where you dance is part of what you make...

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Day 16

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pp. 121-126

Don’t abandon your ending. Take charge. It’s too easy to let the final moments be dictated by music, by light, or by the time you have to complete the project. But if a dance has integrity, it will tell you the ending. Let it emerge as part of the making, and then feed the life inside it. Value the aftermath. The moments after an ending are like the silence after sound, the re...

Part Three Collaborating

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Day 17

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pp. 129-138

Language shapes a way of thinking. Learn two or more languages, and you get distinct perspectives of the cultures that made them. All languages are based in sensation, registering inner and outer states. Sensory signals become thoughts that arrive into words, manifesting communicative expression. Even when people speak the same language, individual orientation to words can vary. For example,...

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Day 18

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pp. 139-144

Both touch and partnering involve a yield toward center. This includes yielding to ground for support and to the center of gravity within each partner’s structure for connection. Throughout, you stay aware of your sensing-feeling inner landscapes. Without yield, touch remains superficial and partnering is awkward. Without self-reference, relationship is one-sided. Levity is also essential in partnering. A dancer can weigh 200 pounds and feel light by orienting...

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Day 19

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pp. 145-154

Vision links past with future and communicates the present. Metaphorically, vision includes the overview of your life and the artistic intent of the project or piece you are creating. Physically, vision involves your eyes— their moment-by-moment orchestration. Seeing spills over into dancing and dance making, including the dominant role of vision in cuing the body. Within a lifetime, the underlying artistic vision or intent that motivates your actions changes, evolves,...

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Day 20

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pp. 155-162

Breath affects the phrasing and timing of movement and vocalization. It frames how one sees and hears these aspects of performance. In dance, breath motivates actions, gives accent and dynamic shaping, and creates intensity. Most important, breath is the oxygen source and energy fund underneath all movement. You can’t think or move clearly without adequate breath—it’s physiologically impossible. The body prioritizes oxygen over everything. Many dancers hold their breath, restricting movement and limiting expression. Perhaps the most effective...

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Day 21

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pp. 163-168

Costumes are experienced as part of the body—for the viewer and the dancer. The brain maps the moving body, space immediately around the body, and fabric as one. Thus the texture, weight, volume, shape, flow, color, pattern, and detail of costumes all become part of the dance. Viewers read a dance in the first ten seconds or so of watching—looking for clues that clarify. Complex ideas are being communicated and translated, and costumes help in...

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Day 22

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pp. 169-176

As an active player in performance, light makes things happen. Light is both visual and tactile—you see-feel it. Light touches the skin, changes the pupils of your eyes, and recalibrates the nervous system. Your sense of time, and time passing, is impacted. There’s a lot going on when you’re dancing with light, for the dancer and the viewer. And you always are— even in darkness.1 Natural light is sunlight, the primary source of light on our planet. Light waves travel 186,000 miles...

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Day 23

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pp. 177-180

Performance week is a time to focus your attention on what wants to be seen. Now that you have clarified your intent for yourself—what you are making and the form that best supports that intention—which performative and theatrical elements can amplify and bring shine to the work? In the transition from private to public view, take a moment to reflect on all that’s come before. You’ve sourced your dancing and creative work through movement, research...

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Day 24

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pp. 181-190

Performance invokes transformation. You have the support of light, sound, and the audience’s attention. Your own singular focus, plus the adrenaline input from the “risk” factor, enhance the “presence” factor—the immediacy of dancing. There may be only a few moments that achieve this high in dancing. During some performances, rare ones, the whole evening flows; but many times, only pieces of pieces attain their full glow. It’s like coloring in a page—the goal is to get...

Part Four Living

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Day 25

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pp. 193-202

Although the nervous system governs our actions and reactions, it is often left out of dance training. Artists and educators might consider that studying such a complex system will interfere with creativity, or that it is beyond our capacity to understand. In fact, perception underlies all movement. A muscle can’t fire without a signal from a neuron. For healthy dancing, it’s worth spending a few hours of our time to understand how this system works. Differentiation involves...

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Day 26

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pp. 203-210

Dancing and dance making create agency over situations by allowing creative response. They help us develop skills for meeting emotions, so we can stay present in challenging situations. When we are in dialogue with our body’s timing—learning and growing—development and creativity are instinctive. Emotions are natural participants in the journey: we cry, laugh, and keep dancing. Significantly, we recognize the distinction between what’s emerging from the body...

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Day 27

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pp. 211-218

Teaching is learning. If you’re not discovering in the process, then something’s missing. Contemporary modern dance training is distinct terrain. The culture of the classroom includes the tone of community interaction —the “mind” of the room, including instructor, dancers, and musicians. Teachers view emerging work from various angles, encompassing historical perspective and anatomical accuracy. You learn dancing through...

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Day 28

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pp. 219-226

Dance and yoga are longtime partners. Sourced in the subtle creative pulse of the universe, they remain pathways to self. Breath by breath, you are reminded of this heritage, experiencing union with universal forces that move through your body, shape the planet, and link you to faraway places. While remaining distinct categories of movement, both dance and yoga practices offer an increasingly essential opportunity to balance our more sedentary, electronic, virtual...

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Day 29

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pp. 227-234

Body is Earth. This is not metaphor, but fact. Your bones, breath, and blood are the same minerals, air, and water inside as outside. You inhabit an inner landscape as well as the outer. Within Earth’s history and within the womb, much has come before to create the unique being that you are. When you feel alone or disoriented, remember that you are part of much larger systems, alive and changing...

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Day 30

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pp. 235-240

Dance is embodied spirit. One of the reasons you begin dancing, and continue throughout a lifetime, is that it offers a pathway to recognizing your true nature. Expanded consciousness is implied. You remain embedded in the daily activities of life, while transported beyond—accessing unknown realms. Various words are...

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Day 31

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pp. 241-242

Create your own chapter to add to this book. Consider dance as an expression of wholeness. Embodied dancing calls on every cell, personal experience, and resource. Can we listen and respond to that part of ourselves that knows inherent interconnectedness with all Earth’s systems? Can we be present to the enormity and simplicity...

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pp. 243-246

Movement has always been my medicine, my food for the soul. On this path, I’ve had many colleagues, supports, and surprise teachers—those who turn up and share their wisdom when and how I least expect it. The process of this book spans forty years. The initial opus of twenty-one chapters written in 1978 sits with me now in a faded three-ring binder—challenging me to keep the youthful..


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pp. 247-252

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 253-254

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Publication Credits

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pp. 255-256

...?Dancing in a New Plac


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pp. 257-264

Art Index

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pp. 265-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780819574060
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819574053

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dance -- History.
  • Dance -- Psychological aspects.
  • Somesthesia.
  • Senses and sensation.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access