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  • Diana Thielen

activism, dance & yoga

"Gender in Contact Improvisation" w/ Kristin Horrigan, 2015

What do I mean by Movementactivism ? How do I define this field of interest, action and research? What is my approach, what are my methods? This blog post is an attempt to answer questions about my work and to clarify my field of research. I am writing this mostly for myself – but also to make it possible for others to witness my process.

My work is mostly in the field of (hatha) yoga and dance/performance. The body is the main instrument in both of these practices, although their objectives may be considered fundamentally different. I use two different lenses to analyse these movement practices. One is the Axis Syllabus, which is mainly about reflecting and applying knowledge from anatomy, biomechanics and physics. The other is what I call body politics - an approach to the inquiry into the human body using tools from critical social theory. By looking at physicality intersectionally, I attempt to respect the body in its political aspects and in its diversity.

In what follows I will take a body politics approach to yoga and dance, but also illuminate and contextualize body politics by relating it to these movement practices. I will structure my exposition using the sociological concept of ‘levels of analysis’. In my version of this idea, large-scale processes in society as a whole are conceptualised as taking place at the ‘macro-level’; institutions, networks and communities are analytically located at the ‘meso-level’; while the beliefs and behaviours of individuals and small groups belong to the ‘micro-level’.


This could be understood as the point of departure. I begin with the radical critique of social structures which construct oppression and exploitation and prevent people from having control over their own bodies. This entails an investigation of practices and policies through which societies regulate the human body; practices and policies structured by social relations of domination and exploitation such as 'race', class, gender, age, dis_ability and sexual orientation.


Institutions, networks and communities, analytically located at this level, expressing relations and dynamics of power and exploitation, connect large-scale social processes of the macro-level with the micro-level. With the intersectional analysis of macro-level social processes in my mind, I bring a sensitivity to power and exploitation to my inquiry into diverse yoga and dance situations. In terms of pedagogy I ask:

  • Who is teaching?

  • Who is attending the class?

I try to be aware of own privileges, and to avoid manifesting normative behaviour, concerning body image, cis-normativity or ability (to mention only a few possibilities).

At a socio-political level I'm interested in how yoga and dance classes / workshops / festivals as well as performances are embedded:

  • Which institution is offering which class / workshop / festival / performance?

  • Who is the audience?

  • Who is the performer / teacher / professional?

  • Who makes decisions about the program?

  • What is the relation of the festival / class / workshop / to the neo-liberal economic system?

So one example of an investigation of how meso-level processes function as connections between micro- and macro-level processes would be the critique of white people teaching yoga within a neo-liberal economic system.


How do we embody "all that" and how do we carry it with us in our daily life, and therefore also in training situations? Taking as an inspiration Simone de Beauvoir’s famous quote “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”, bearing in mind that being a woman is not a consequence of anatomy, but of the situation of woman in contemporary society, I ask:

  • How do we perform our gender in a contact improvisation duet? How does our cultural habitus - the deeply ingrained habits, skills, and dispositions that we possess due to our life experiences - inform our body in movement?

  • What about dis_ability? How do social and political decisions regarding dis_ability determine different people’s different participation in social spaces and therefore directly influence human bodies?

  • And how does that affect our perceptions and constructions of health?

edited by Daniel Mang

This work and inquiry can't be done by one person alone. I am grateful to be able to work with so many inspiring humans and activist friends, to create a network and deepen the research on multidimensional levels. To mention a few, as there are Daniel Mang and Aurora Westfelt, who are challenging and enriching discussions in and around the 'Radical Contact' creation-process (And all the RC-participants and contributors). Vincenz Kokot, with whom I'm co-facilitate the 'Reflect your practice' series. Kristin Horrigan who invited me to assist her classes of 'Gender in Contact Improvisation'; Sri Louise who is constantly engaged in the critique about white-washing yoga and cultural appropriation. The queer-community in Berlin, which is supportive in creating several queer contact gatherings; and Sarah Bouars and Alisa Tretau for exploring feminist perspectives about body, sex-positivity and motherhood within a perfomative frame. I am learning so much working and being with you all.

pic by Patrick Beelaert at the Contact meets Contemporary- Festival 2015, assisting Kristin Horrigan at the Intensiv-Workshop "Contact Improvisation- What's Gender got to do with it?"


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