Can dance and performance be defined as poetry?

Can dance and performance be defined as poetry? To answer this question, we must first ask oureslves why does the word poetry evoke a textual activity? History informs our concepts. We’ve been taught that poets WRITE poems instead of DOES or IS BEING poems. We’ve disarticulated this activity from the body.

The removal of poetry as an embodied activity has led to postmodern ideas such as the death of the author. How can the author be dead if the words, when recited by another living being,  become alive and are embodied in someone else? If I recite a poem, and even dare dance with it, how can the author be dead if their poetic words are being embodied in myself? The once created poetic activity is alive in the one experiencing through a flow of meaning, a blending between the authorness and myself in an embodied manner.

Embodiment is the human experience because without a body there’s no human being. Even though cognitivists [1]cognitive scientist who assume the mind is computer-like, and therefore, thought processes are computational could disagree, we’ve got to realize that our assumptions are based on western epistemologies [2] ways of learning:

Through Descartes, we’ve divided man in two: the subjective and objective. We’ve fragmented a human being and disarticulated our embodiment in conjunction to the world. For example, text is text and sound is sound. Postmodernism is really good at this, at fragmenting, but their assumptions are not sound: Text is my text if I wrote and read it. It is of the author. It is of the text. It is of semantics. It is about the structure. Let’s deconstruct. Thus, sound is that ‘other than myself sound’ even though I listen and feel it as mine. It is listened from the author. I am not the author. Thus, the author is dead. 

Is it so? But what if, text isn’t mine and sound isn’t yours. What if text is yours as sound is mine as you read it. What if there’s an indivisible and invisible blending and flowing of creative meaning we are unaware of? What if the poem I recite is not mine, but also yours as you read it, say it out loud, and even dance with it? Why can’t it become mine to transform it? It does, but we deny it due to basic assumptions. It becomes mine because as your sound enters my ears, it is no longer yours. It is irrevocable part of my experience, an experience has changed me and I, without crediting, will create new meaning because of it.

These ‘so called boundaries’ between us are assumptions that have been formed through centuries of agreements and disagreements between our ancestors. It is convinent to have these stark separations, but it is time for Western aesthetics to aknowledge that it is time to let modernism and postmodernism tranform into something that doesn’t resemble an -ism. The end of ideologies. The start the –esis[3] a suffix of Greek origin used to form nouns of action or process: ecesis, words that come from –esis are: enuresis, oxydesis, synthesis. See: , from  poiesis to beingesis, to whatever needs come that no longer seeds so much polarization from arrogant and egocentric assumptions. Why is it so difficult to disrupt the assumption of what is mine and what is yours?

As it is so complicated to answer the latter question, we’ve got to answer another question briefly: is our body our self? There’s a philosophical problem to illustrate this, is a ship a ship because of the wood it is made of? If so, what happens with the ship if some wood is replaced with new wood? In even simpler terms, what is first… Is it the egg or the chicken? [4] Francisco J. Varela, Eleanor Rosch, and Evan Thompson, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1992), pg. 65. Who knows? But that doesn’t remove us from the fact that I am what my body feels as it pulls me into action and my body becomes what I think I should do as I put it into action. If I lose an arm and I end up with a prosthetic, is the prosthetic a part of my body? I will leave that for you to decide.

However, I would say that whatever you decide it is doesn’t change the fact that when you use that prosthetic as an extension of your thoughts, for a moment, it becomes you as the food you eat when it enters your body. Maybe the fork you touch with your lips, for a moment, is being you as well. The boundaries between us and the so called “external world” are generally shaped in Western epistemologies as distinct, but what if there are shades of boundaries? It is not that the pragmatically whole world is you, but shades of it as objects permeate and interact with what I call myself.

If shades of me exist, then the poem in a page is not simply the text. It is also the sound. The sound is my throat. The throat is a musical instrument. The musical instrument provokes movement. Movement provokes dance. Dance provokes performance. Performance is what I am being. I am being poetry. Therefore, from a page to being. Poetry is an experience of sound, rhythm, energy, measures have shapes, an embodied math, walking step is a quarter note, instead of counting syllables I am feeling beats, and the anacrusic (unstressed syllable or note) prepares us from the release of image. We are playing tennis but with words and sounds, images and metaphors.

If we’re playing and learning tennis, there is no real opponent; rather we’re predicting another’s player movement as it arises. We’re trying to anticipate their next movement, but we can’t. It is like an artist trying to create a piece in his mind anticipating the audience’s reaction and interpretation. The first image occurs in the artist’s mind, but then their hands produce something somewhat similar and somewhat different. The artist cannot anticipate every interpretation, in the same way, the tennis player cannot predict another player’s next move.

However, what both can do is to create a model of the world and predict upon it what will be the next move. That’s what Dalcroze Eurhythmics is about. It is about learning to anticipate the piano player’s next crescendo or anacrusis. Dalcroze Eurhythmics is an educational method for learning music in an embodied manner. It is about treating the whole body as an instrument, not only the throat. [5] “Dalcroze Society of America – What Is Dalcroze?,” accessed July 11, 2017, It is not about verbalizing math as we count, but about feeling math as counts come into being. Dancers feel music, but musicians without dance training might have more difficulty in their careers because they can’t feel the beat. Dalcroze Eurhythmics would be an interblend of learning music and dance.

Lisa Parker, a teacher of Dalcroze Eurhythmics, explains how Dalcroze Eurhythmics is about playing with sound and beats to the point that math is embodied. It is about creating a mental model in order to anticipate the next note, but as the music is happening live… it challenges our assumptions of what will come next. Our assumptions need to be challenged in an embodied manner as a pathway to recognize cognitive dissonances. When we learn through an embodiment, we cannot help but leave the mental model and embrace our body as a whole. Parker even goes further than that and says that measures[6] a segment in time in which beats happen, for more information go here: have shapes. Thus, we could further her metaphor and say both have forms as a body, as a poem, does.

That assertion is so poetic, but it reveals how the boundaries between music, visual art, and text are illusory. You can have an unstressed syllable in a dance as well as in a page. You can go to a crescendo in a page as well as in a piano, as well as in the body. When we play tennis or bowling, these elements are also present but we don’t see the player singing. However, our bodies unconsciously fuse all the information we’ve learned to create the perfect crescendo when the pitcher is about to throw the ball. All eyes in the crescendo, did it actually become a home run? Did the poet actually achieve in your mind a sense of fulfillment or even awe?

We return to the question that brought us here, is dance and performance, poetry? Well, it depends and it doesn’t depend. Shades as an answer, not a clear cut black and white. It is poetry and it isn’t. It can be poetry, it can be poetic, and it can be whatever you are being in that moment as you dance.

It is up to us to defy our assumptions about what does it mean to be a dancer, a performer, and even a human being. Am I only what is under my skin or am I also my glasses because without them I can’t see? The answers to these questions are complex and have been in discussion for centuries. It is up to us to refine ourselves in face of our current problems. These are not modern nor postmodern any more. We must address our conundrums with creative solutions. What is creative? Where does creativity come from? Is there a boundary between what I create and what I am? Does creativity come from nothing or is it build upon flexible mesh of flowing meaning?

Our boundaries with the so called “external” world fixed black and white or are they permeable and in shades of grey, fusion of invisible colours? If so, then poetry is not a page but it is dance and music. The chosen as an answer will not be up to me, but to all of us, as we collectively dialogue about these ideas and create a new culture.

Carlos Sierra Lechuga. The Embodied Mind, 2015.
“Dalcroze Society of America – What Is Dalcroze?” Accessed July 11, 2017.
Dalcroze Society of America. Dalcroze Eurhythmics with Lisa Parker, 2014.
Varela, Francisco J., Eleanor Rosch, and Evan Thompson. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. MIT Press, 1992.

References   [ + ]