Social Anthropology Conference Screening & Feedback
Five Ways In was screened in the Film, audio and multimedia programme as part of the annual anthropology conference of the ASA (the Association of Social Anthropologist of the UK and Commonwealth). ASA15 Symbiotic Anthropologies: Theoretical Commensalities and Methodological Mutualisms was held at the University of Exeter in April 2015. Our film was shown last from a number of multi-media presentations.
I was not able to attend in person but joined on skype to hear some feedback and receive questions about the film. I was particularly interested what questions social anthropologists would have of the film.
Here is a transcript of the questions and my responses:
(Q1) We are wondering about the community? Do they continue in touch after the festival? Do they know what happens to each other after they have had this amazing experience?
A good question. One thing that the contact community use very efficiently is facebook. So certainly through facebook people keep in touch. Another way, local CI communities. Once or twice a week people meet and dance together. There are also smaller festival and events. CI community is quite mobile. Does it constitute a community in the traditional sense? Probably not, because, they are not living together, although there are some experiments in Argentina where dancers are living together. Yes, I feel people are very connected outside the festival context?
(Q2) I was very curious about gender, in the film and in contact improvisation and in the community. There were a lot of old men and young women. Is that representative of the contact improvisation community as a whole? Is that just happening in your film, in that particular festival?
Your question is about particular gender stereotypes (old men, young women). It’s a good question, because it’s difficult to hide particular gender implications on screen but I don’t think those are particularly representative of the contact community at large. But that’s not to say that the same kind of gender relationships that play out in everyday society also play out in the contact community. But I would probably compare it with other dance forms or community based practices where the strong gender distinction, in the dance scene like salsa or perhaps in Tango, were that would be much stronger. In general the philosophy of the form to be polygendered and as Jess Curtis was arguing, to connect across ages, within sexes, across age barriers etc And as he said, there is a kind of ebb and flow, sometimes it becomes a bit more parallel to mainstream society and other times it doesn’t. But if you noticed that in the film I would need to address in my writing because that is not something I would say captures the community.
(Q2b) It reminds me a little of Five Rhythms dance, similar ideas of practice, the body and things but also quite obviously attractive for older men for young women?
Yeah, there might also be older men dancing with younger women but what is going on in their heads might be very different to what happens in Five Rhythms, I would suspect given the philosophy of the practice.
(Q3) I was wondering how you got engaged with this topic and if you are planning to continue your research and if you are still working with this.
The question of how I got engaged with it I thought about before the skype and I wrote a list of 15 points, I thought it would be important not to miss a single one. It is a combination of quite personal interest that evolved out of a desire that I had to find a particular scene outside of academia that satisfied my interest for a combination of embodiment and philosophy and community. Another was having taught visual anthropology for four years I felt there were holes in the visual anthropological output that related to multisensory anthropology, an attention to process, cinematography, working with a group, doing it collaboratively, participatively that I wanted to develop. I’m also a medical anthropologist so I was very interested in the transformative quality of festivals in taking people from one state of being to another, and I had written an article on efficacy, that also plays out in the film. The constitution of self with others in movement and what it leaves people with at the end of a festival. So that was another interest, perhaps slightly more intellectual one. Another is that I’m interested in it as a practice for building community and I have been working with a couple of intentional communities, one in Sweden and so I’ve working with introducing CI as a practice for learning about people’s interests in living in community, previous experience and how to learn about being in community. So I was interested in it as a praxis of community, but also I had been using it in my own teaching filmmaking. So I wanted to also make a film about what the students would be experiencing through my filmmaking courses.
I’ll stop there. In terms of taking it forward, in a sense it has just started because the film is the start of the research process now through the process of showing it taking it back to communities I’m now framing my more textual writing about it based on its reception within public audiences and academic audiences. For me, the film as research has started and now the more framing of it for an anthropological audience starts.
(Q4) Tom Rice- I wondered whether, Jashana, who was charged with finding the political implications of CI. Did she underplay the political. It seemed that it has a lot of political implications that she had not covered?
Definitely, and I think she was doing that as a result of the kinds of conversations she had in that particular festival in that year. By coincidence, if she had come the following year she would have left with a very different impression. The following year there were three intensive teachers who were very interested in the political implications of CI, much more so perhaps than Jess Curtis was. They were leading many discussions on CI as politics and exploring the implications of touch within European society. And Jashana has gone on to be even more of an activist that she had been before, based in Hawaii, had been campaigning against Monsanto and many other issues. So yes, she does underplay it and what we need to do is to create a visual or textual response with her involved to underlie how political CI can be both in the festival context and wider.
(Q5) I wonder if there are some experiences of the community with not necessarily white Europeans, the comment that was in your film, the criticism that the community has. So I wonder if by now if there are experiences with other communities and actually not same only about race and class but about bodies, who are not dance or people who are fat and like other practice I have been involved in like Aikido, chi kung, that are inclusive, so I wonder about this inclusivity of having a body and movement also.
(MP) That’s a really good question. It’s a question that the contact community is often asking itself and CI dancers who are politically oriented and move towards inclusivity particularly in the states often say, hey this film doesn’t represent. It’s a very good point. There are two responses, one which is a knee jerk response, which is they are pretty inclusive already in terms of the diverse personalities, personal histories, class backgrounds of people who enter into CI. One response I make is to celebrate the ability of the community as they managed to achieve in the last thirty years rather than critiquing if for not doing something and not help do because people who are ‘hugely’ fat haven’t approached the community. But then having said that there is also a more nuanced response which is ethnographic which is actually within many CI communities even within the festival of Freiburg, there are many spaces for people who are not conventionally bodied to come and participate. So for example, at Freiburg there was a lady with cerebral palsy who was very active. There are others in communities who are deaf and blind who also participate. Within the US certainly the community is very aware or race issues and inclusivity issues and have their own dedicated inclusivity officer. I think the community is profoundly concerned with about these issues and outside of perhaps the most famous and global festivals there are many initiatives and many inclusive practices that include a much wider spectrum of bodied people than you saw on screen.
(Q6) Another question about audience. We saw if from the point of view of the practitioner, right. Is there an audience of dancing and watching? If this distinction of practitioner and audience arises in this form of dance?
(MP) So is observing with the festival and wider practice something that is widely practiced?
(Q6b) What I meant is there ever an audience for this dance or is it exclusively an audience for practitioners? In other contexts, does the question of audience arise? And if there isn’t an audience how do you deal with this difference of watching and doing?
CI as a teaching practice is used in most dance schools in Europe. Whereas CI in it’s most pure form probably is not performed infront of dance interested audiences very frequented, although it does occasionally it is integrated into many dance performances where the form is used to sensitise dancers to each other and performance where bodies come into contact with each other. And dance practitioners would always be able to see that there was CI influence within those performances. So yes, it comes into a lot of dance performances. Within festivals there and teachers conference there are always spaces for performance evenings which sit in an ambiguous position because the form is not necessarily meant to be performed because it is about interior states but at the same time a lot of people recognise to transmit the form and to gain wider interest in it that it has to be performed. So it would be a rare festival where there wouldn’t be some kind of improvised performance as you saw in the film in the scenes where Jess was dancing with a young lady [look back to previous questioner], where there would be a selection of people trying to communicate some aspect of CI.
(Q7) I was curious about how five people were chosen, and if you started off with five people, or narrowed it down at the end? And how you selected them methodologically?
I was slightly inspired by a film I had seen on a sharing group in an intentional community in Sweden called “Three Miles North of Molkom’ where they had 6 people in a sharing group through a two week festival. I was concerned because of the nature of a CI festival and the lack of being able to be there a week beforehand that we wouldn’t find five people, two of the people (Johan and Lior) I had actually consulted with before and invited them to become two fo the five, partly because of their qualities partly because I was confident that they would be able to speak honestly and to camera over the five days of the festival. And Johan I had made a few films before, so we had a bit of a filmic history. A bit like Jean Rouch. Johan was actually a very good friend as Lior also became. The three other individuals, Jashana I had met in a professional CI teachers meeting and I thought her perspective, her age, her engagement was really interesting, so we invited her when we realised she was at the festival. Raquel was a friend of a friend who represented the volunteer experience and also the Latin American growth of CI. And Camille was also recommended to us by a friend because we felt we needed someone who was a bit of a beginner. And in that process we came across many other individuals I would say another five who we met in the day before and the day the festival started who we interviewed and talked to who we then felt either they were attracted because they wanted to promote themselves or there was a slightly uncomfortable dynamic with one of my co-directors. The decisions were made in collaboration between myself and my two co-directors, Alyssa Lynes and Sonja Bruhlmann.
(Q8) Tom Rice: So I went through a phase where I was really interested in surfing and I used to go every weekend for about four years and I was really struck gradually by the clash of ethoses between the best surfer is the one having the most fun and the absolutely extraordinary levels of hierarchy within the surfing community and the deference that had to be paid to people who were only slightly better in surfing to you. And I think that is present here, isn’t it? I got that feeling from Jashana, the idea that she might be a bad dancer even though technically, there is no such thing, ideologically. But then there is the hierarchy of the teachers and the pupils. I just wondered how hierarchy played out here.
It is definitely there, and it is something that people who have watched the film have said, mike you haven’t dealt with it adequately enough. And it’ sa realy interesting question because it touches, at the heart, as you implied, of the ideology and to what degree the ideology is played out in practice.One thing before the festival there is a dedicated teacher’s meeting to prepare people and the volunteers to hold the space and in that meeting they have many discussions about how to make sure that teachers and people of a high level will dance with beginners or people who have just come to the festival for the first time. There are many initiatives, they make agreements like ‘ I will dance with ten beginners at a Jam’ and some of the teachers hold to that or others get carried away with dancing with all their friends and people who they love dancing with. There is a concerted festival structural element to encourage more fraternisation between …Then it also depends on the indivisual personalities of people, the degree to which they project judgement of their own ability into people who are dancing at a level that implies they have been dancing for a long time. Some people project more that judgement and therefore feel inhibited. Others come in and because of their own personal experience and fresh with a feeling there is no hierarchy jump into dancing with teachers and teachers readily reciprocate. The hierarchy is there in the structure, there are teachers and participants but it plays out in very particular and interesting ways in dynamics of individuals with other individuals. So perhaps again, perhaps comparing to other dance scenes I would say that the hierarchy is much less defined as say the salsa scene or a Tango scene where someone who is very good would just not on principle dance with a beginner.
Tom Rice: I think we might wrap her there. Thanks very much. We enjoyed the film. I’m glad the skype link worked so well.
(MP) I really appreciate you setting up the skype link and all your questions. I have recorded all of them and they’ll be going into my publications as anthropological responses to the film.
(Tom Rice) Thanks a lot Mike
I look forward to expanding on my answers above and giving more examples and expansive explanations in the future.