Dance Research Journal


Situated Dancing: Notes from Three Decades in Contact with Phenomenology

Ann Cooper Albright

I began to study philosophy at the same time that I began to study dance, at college in the early 1980s. Both of these choices surprised me at first, as I had originally planned to study politics and become a civil rights lawyer after college. I see now that these two areas of inquiry were routes toward figuring out how to bridge the divides between my academic self and my increasingly explosive physicality. Figuratively as well as literally divided into day and night, my academic experience and the club scene I thrived in were separated by geographic distance and differing class values—a study in the cultural bifurcation produced by the hierarchies of brain and brawn. But these body/mind boundaries were always porous for me, and they became increasingly so as I explored the epistemological origins of the Cartesian split in my survey of Western philosophy course while also taking my first modern dance class. My desire was to become both verbally and physically articulate, and I savored those moments when vague impulses or ideas found the right expressive gesture or crucial wording. By the time I was a senior, I was choreographing a quartet and writing a thesis on Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (1962). Somewhere along the way, philosophy and dance leaned into one another, beginning a duet that would lead to a life spent thinking and moving.

(Online publication February 09 2012)

A performer, choreographer, and feminist scholar, Ann Cooper Albright is professor of dance and theater at Oberlin College. She is the author of Modern Gestures: Abraham Walkowitz Draws Isadora Duncan Dancing (2010), Traces of Light: Absence and Presence in the Work of Loie Fuller (2007), and Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary Dance (1997), and she is co-editor of Moving History/Dancing Cultures (2001) and Taken by Surprise: Improvisation in Dance and Mind (2003). One of her latest adventures in writing and dancing and dancing and writing is Encounters with Contact Improvisation (2010). Ann is currently working on an interdisciplinary project entitled Gravity Matters, which looks at contemporary embodiment after 9/11.