Dancing goose: moving with and moving like animals 
Veronique Servais (University of Liège)
Joanne Clavel (Université Paris 8)
Veronique Servais (University of Liège)
Moving bodies: Affects, Movement and Stillness/Corps mouvants: Affects, mouvement et repos
MRT 015
Start time:
4 May, 2017 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

The panel would like to explore how body movements (moving together and moving like) can affect the perception and the process of knowing animals and their mind. The question might be addressed with captive, free, domesticated or trained animals, from a scientific or an artistic point of view.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists have documented the mimicry and imitation of animals' body movements in tracking and hunting traditions. It seems that "becoming animal" is a significant part of hunting practices across the world. Beyond that, one could argue that the perception of an animal's living and moving body does something to the human observer, arguing with Gibson that the result of perception is not a percept but the transformation of the perceiver. In this panel, we'll explore what happens to the perception of animals when people move with and/or move like (free, captive, wild, trained or domestic) animals, i.e. when they create with animals a shared structure of action. What kind of self does emerge from these interactions and how does it change the way of perceiving other living beings and their mind? Does such a kinetic engagement promote empathy or make the perception more acute? Could the scientific study of animals benefit from this kind of approach, and how would the activity of science be changed, if the researcher accepted to be transformed by his/her animal subject? For example, would it help to better figure out the perceptual world of the animal? The panel will welcome any contribution to this line of inquiry, from ethnographic descriptions to anthropological or epistemological analysis; but most of all, the convenors would be pleased to welcome artists, dancers or plastic artist, who would be interested in sharing their practice of a kind of another of "becoming animal".

Accepted papers:


Paola Esposito (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Butoh dancers turn their bodies into forms other than the human, with their movements providing the main vehicle for the transformation. This contribution explores butoh's metamorphic movement, by focusing on an exercise which entails 'becoming a caterpillar'.

Paper long abstract:

This video-paper explores the phenomenology of 'becoming a caterpillar' through butoh dance, a dance style which emerged in postwar Japan but which is now considered transnational. Butoh's most distinctive trait is its being based on 'metamorphosis', by which dancers turn their bodies into forms other than the human. That is, by means of their bodies, butoh dancers transgress corporeal boundaries of being human into, for instance, animal, vegetal and elemental beings, with movement providing the main vehicle for the transformation.

This contribution explores butoh dance's trademark of metamorphic movement, focusing on a particular training exercise in which practitioners attempt to 'become caterpillars'. Based on evidence gathered at a workshop with the Japanese butoh company Sankaijuku, this video-paper illustrates the process of 'metamorphosis' as mediated by a reconfiguring of the practitioner's kinetic structures.

Although based on the researcher's first person perspective, as consistent with a phenomenological approach, this paper transcends the single point of view by arguing that 'becoming animal' or, as in this case, 'insect', through butoh, provides the ground for perspectival shifts that are imagined as well as material.

Moving from the empirical towards the general of an anthropology with art (cf. Tim Ingold), the discussion leads to a reflection on the potential significance of butoh as an anthropological research method. This way of moving, it is contended, can provide the basis for a non-verbal approach to observation and expression, which can help social scientists who are also movers to better relate to the world beyond the human


Charlotte Marchina (INALCO)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the situation of a drunk Mongolian herder riding a horse. The horse counterbalances its rider's uneven movements to bring him safely back home. Despite the very inharmonious form, this spectacular way of moving together entails coordinated movements between human and animal.

Paper long abstract:

The Mongolian art of horse riding is widely known. Until they reach adulthood, the life of young herders, especially boys, is marked by different steps linked to the horse. Galloping alone, taking part in a horse race and breaking a horse are all major stages in the learning of horsemanship. A young man is considered as an accomplished herder when he takes part in the herder games "aduuchin" (literally, "horse herder"), where humans and horses can be partners (games testing speed and agility) or opponents (capture, rodeo). When rider and mount are partners, both learn to coordinate their movements, while when they are opponents, e.g. during rodeo, it is mainly the rider who adapts to the horse's movements, which tries to get rid of him.

There is however another situation in which it is the horse that adapts more to its partner's movements, which is when the rider is drunk. Very often the drunk rider gets home thanks to his horse, which not only knows the way, but also redoubles efforts to prevent the rider from falling. It does so by counterbalancing the rider's uneven movements when walking, or even galloping, which makes both move together in a very uncommon way. This paper, illustrated with a series of pictures, will discuss this spectacular way of moving together which entails, despite the very inharmonious form, very coordinated movements between human and animal.


Marie-Aude Ravet

Paper short abstract:

The Kalbeliya community in Rajasthan used to live from snake charming. With the new difficulty to keep snakes, women have created a dance imitating the moves of the cobra. The paper will highlight the specific postures adopted to imitate the snake, as I saw them during my stays with the Kalbeliyas.

Paper long abstract:

The Kalbeliyas are a community living in Rajasthan, India, in the Thar desert. Formerly a nomadic community, they tend to settle down around larger cities though some of them do continue to travel from town to town. Originally, the Kalbeliyas were assigned the role of snake charmers. This included not only the charming of cobras in the street but also the skills of catching snakes in houses as well as preparing remedies.

However, in the past thirty years, their occupation has progressively switched to dancing. In fact, since charming cobras has been prohibited by Indian laws, the women of the community have overtaken the role of the animal, starting to dance publicly to the sound of the pungi, the snake charmer flute. An art long hidden from the general audience, Kalbeliya dance had to re-invent itself to achieve the transition from a folk dance to a show dance. Taking from their century-long cohabitation with reptiles, Kalbeliya women have added specific movements to the regular movements and postures of Rajasthani dances and created a new audience-oriented art form, as snake charming once was.

This paper will discuss how Kalbeliya dancers transformed their informal dance into a cobra dance by the use of specific postures and movements as I have seen them performed during my numerous stays in a Kalbeliya community near Jodhpur. As a professional dancer, I will round off the presentation by a performance with authentic music and costume.


Baptiste Morizot (Aix-Marseille Université)
Estelle Zhong

Paper short abstract:

From tracking animals to creating an artwork on the body experience of it - such is the trajectory of our inquiry: how tracking makes us access animals’ body-perspectives on the world in a non-metaphorical way? What philosophical and artistic modes of figuration would be relevant to convey them?

Paper long abstract:

How can we say, in a technical and non metaphorical way, that tracking animals makes us access other animal body-perspectives on the world? And what philosophical and artistic modes of figuration would be relevant to convey them? To answer these questions, we chose a specific trajectory of inquiry: from practice to philosophy, then to art history and aesthetics, and finally to artistic creation.

It is first as trackers that we encountered these questions: we experienced a transformation of the landscape that we begin to see through other animals' eyes: from a scenery for sport or conversation, it revealed itself as a complex weaving of shared habitats, preferred paths and daily routines. It is partly this perspectivist experience that has enabled Baptiste Morizot to imagine a philosophical approach to the living world, based on a sustained inquiry on the animals' body-perspectives on the world, that he calls "wild diplomacy". But accessing the body-perspectives of bees wolves or elephants requires inventing new modes of figuration to convey them: Estelle Zhong Mengual will argue that contemporary art can play a decisive role by creating renewed sensitive experience of animals' body-perspectives on the world through performance in situ or virtual reality. Drawing upon this idea, we will present the installation we are currently creating, which offers a glimpse of the transformations of the mind and body at work when tracking an animal (Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris, 2017).