History of Somatics

As an Erasmus Mundus Fellow and PhD researcher, I have investigated how the act of dancing is practically and theoretically put to work in 15th and 16th century alchemical, medical, and religious writings. I specifically work with writings from the ‘early modern period’ that probe dance’s position for its deeper connections to the world, the divine, to ethics, to health, and to questions of knowledge. My research begins by expanding the very notion of what dance discourse has historically included, I look for ways in which the image of dance and ideas of dancing are summoned to larger investigations of embodiment in 15th and 16th century book culture. From Parisian books of hours, to erotic and alchemical allegory of the Italian Renaissance, to medical analyses of dance by Paracelsus, I look for the ways in which the problems of internality and externality repeatedly conjures dance to the pages of books, and uniquely brings writing into contact with dance and relays between writing and dance a mutual investment in embodiment.

To begin my method of textual investigation, I use dance as a flagging device within texts. When dance is used in a text from the period, it is quite often used to exemplify a larger conception of embodiment. I take particular interest in investigating the methods such texts use to do so. Thus far, I have discovered that the ideas about embodiment presented through dance in such texts is often tied up with the approach the text makes toward readers—the very way each text is composed to behave as an experiential device to be taken in though the senses. In this way, I investigate texts not only as relayers of ideas about the body, but as themselves methodologically indicative of conceptions of embodiment. Thus, my work on the history of dance as relayed through book culture further explores how 15th and 16th century texts expressed writing as not only representative of— but also laden with— the problems of body, sensory experience, and practice. My research thus shows the mutual implication of writing and dancing as embodied practices which have through relationship to one another defined and redefined the very idea of the experience of being in a body.

The ‘history of dance’ I produce through my PhD is not merely one of dance as an artistic field— which is, anyway, a thing dance has been for only a few short centuries. Instead, I look into the history of dance which emerges beyond the bounds of its reification as an artform, and look instead toward its philosophical entanglement with the messy problem of being in a body, and for its recognizable drive toward mobilizing the body to therefore experience its meaning. Currently, greater attention is being turned toward histories of the body and philosophical debates on embodiment. To participate in this growing discourse, I consider a history of dance and its mediation in the rise of book culture with the invention of the printing press in Europe of the early modern period.