Bonding with the Earth
One of my most favorite group dancing experiences is called The Underscore. The Underscore is a long-form dance improvisation structure developed by Nancy Stark Smith. It has been evolving since 1990 and is practiced all over the globe.
The Underscore is a vehicle for incorporating Contact Improvisation into a broader arena of improvisational dance practice; for developing greater ease dancing in spherical space—alone and with others; and for integrating kinesthetic and compositional concerns while improvising. It allows for a full spectrum of energetic and physical expressions, embodying a range of forms and changing states. Its practice is familiar yet unpredictable.
The practice—usually 3 to 4 hours in length—progresses through a broad range of dynamic states, including long periods of very small, private, and quiet internal activity and other times of higher energy and interactive dancing.
There are 20+ phases of the score—each with a name and a graphic symbol—which create a general map for the dancers. Within that frame, dancers are free to create their own movements, dynamics, and relationships—with themselves, each other, the group, the music, and the environment. Each Underscore is unique, providing rich and often inspiring experiences of the human and artistic phenomena of dance improvisation.
There was one hieroglyph in particular, Bonding With the Earth, that forever resonates with me. It depicts, symbolically, a person’s kinosphere coming into the contact with the earth, and giving and receiving feedback to and from it.I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen a person somatically bond with the earth, before; it’s a beautiful thing, like a seed sprouting beneath the earth, or a baby reuniting with its mother. I have taken that symbol to representing my modality and wellness metaorganism.
A long while ago, I remember going to an Underscore with two friend of mine—CL and RK. About halfway through the score, CL and I began a slow, small dance—the first time we had ever danced together—and I was inundated with kinesthetic information. CL had been dancing without a break since she was two years old; she was a professional dancer in a company for two years, and a pilates instructor and dance teacher. Her body was so organized that I could barely think; I felt my own body becoming more organized just from light contact with her.
That highly organized contact reminded me of a quote from a video I saw featuring Emilie Conrad, Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen and Judith Aston—the quote was from Emilie:
“Another way of looking at certain things is the issue of cancer cells. From a movement point of view, the cancer cell is completely incoherent. If you looked at people going down the street, if they were cancer cells they’d be walking on top of each other. There’s no spatial relationship. There’s no anything, with a cancer cell. It’s all over the place. But, what is very interesting is—okay, get this—with a highly coherent system, guess what? The cancer cell can become coherent. So let’s just say, if there was a group of people who had a highly coherent field, and you had a couple of people who had cancer, the opportunity for the cancer cell to receive that level of coherency is extremely high. So we’re talking about a kind of community medicine…”
I felt that, in this Underscore in particular; that this was a kind of healing meadow; later on the majority of us would be patchworked on the floor, heads in laps, some people dancing more vertically like peaks jutting up from a fertile earth; we would be singing, toning, interchanging language and sensation; for sure this was the most organized my body has ever felt. A corporeal healing meadow.
For the moment, however, CL and I were back to back, and then rolling atop one another; RK caught one of CL's feet and pulled her to him; she held onto me and I came along for the ride. I ended up in RK's lap, looking up at him. RK had avoided dancing with me for a long time because he had felt that it was too charged, but lately we had been a little more open; I closed my eyes. RK picked up my braid and placed it over my eyes. I moved my head and it fell down. He placed it again and held it there. Then he slowly, slowly, pulled my braid from side to side and my head moved from side to side. We did that for a while, the movements getting slower and slower, until we stopped. My braid fell away again and I looked up into his eyes. There was no language there. RK's eyes were glinting like some animal in the dark, watching, sniffing, all hair and reflexes.
RK's eyes reminded me of the eyes of Fern, a pet wolf hybrid I knew. Fern’s owner told me that if anyone fed her raw meat she would turn completely wild and run away. Whatever bridge of obedience that had been built would be lost. She would be reminded of her wildness again.
It was so clear, then, that RK's neurodivergence—similar to but so different from my own—was not the source of his isolation, though it certainly compounded it; it was his wildness. This was for sure the wildest person I had ever seen.
A few days later I watched CL's dance reel on Youtube. I felt really sad watching it, and filled with love. I had been so out of my body my whole life, and here was a person, a body, who had been dancing her whole life. What a bittersweet transmission to receive.