Somaesthetics Unit

Lilianna Bieszczad The Somaesthetics Unit at John Dewey Research Center in Cracow

The Somaesthetics Unit will be officially opened on 3rd September 2012, as part of the John Dewey Research Center, established at the Faculty of Philosophy of Jagiellonian University on the initiative of Professor Krystyna Wilkoszewska. The Unit, organized by Dr. Lilianna Bieszczad, is grounded in the American philosophy of pragmatism, which combines practice with theory, and thinking with acting. It centers on John Dewey’s notion of Body-Mind and Richard Shusterman’s somaesthetics, and its aim is to promote initiatives which problematize the tendency to draw dividing lines between the above-mentioned fields of human activity. The Unit focuses on the soma, the active body possessing the ability to move, and which, like somaesthetics, defies the dichotomic division between practical and theoretical spheres. On the one hand, somaesthetics involves reflection on discovering new abilities of the body, its active cognitive potential; and on the other hand, it relates to the actual taking care of the body consciousness and its physical condition, not just by testing the capabilities and limitations of the body and its mobility, but also through examining and developing the sensitivity of the body, useful in our everyday lives.

Among various kinds of human activity, dance demonstrates (like no other) the unity of body and mind, as well as providing the opportunity to explore the interaction between them. Theoreticians stand to gain a great deal by not only confronting their notional constructs with dancers’ experiences, but also by undertaking practical experiments, for example participating in workshops, which allow them to gain valuable “hands-on” experience of exploring the creative and cognitive capabilities of their own bodies and the psychophysical unity developed in somatic disciplines. Dancers, in turn, who exploit new dance techniques and promote a holistic approach to a human being derived from Eastern philosophies, call for a comprehensive philosophical discussion and analysis of these issues.

The sharp boundary typically drawn between the world of theory and the world of praxis, the absence of common ground between what concerns philosophers and what dancers actually do, should prompt us to follow Richard Shusterman and foster initiatives aimed at bringing these two perspectives together. Although the main goal of the Somaesthetics Unit is to encourage the integration of performing artists and academics, we will welcome any contribution from practitioners of disciplines that develop somatic awareness. Dance is just one example and by no means the only sphere which explores the creative potential of the human body. Somatic disciplines, such as the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method as well as Pilates or yoga all might serve as an illustration of the growing interest in the issues relating to reflective somatic awareness in recent years.

Since the Somaesthetics Unit’s primary objective is to explore the capabilities of the body, its program will include, apart from lectures and open discussions, workshops and presentations of achievements within the area of somatic research. We are planning to discuss such topics as contact improvisation, butoh dance, body-mind centering, the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method, and eastern meditation practices among others. The wide range of topics is intended to broaden the scope of discussion so that the representatives of diverse fields will be able to participate.

What gave rise to the Somaesthetics Unit and paved way for the future cooperation of performing artists and academics on the idea of somaesthetics was the event promoting Richard Shusterman’s book Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics organized by professor Wilkoszewska at the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy in Kraków (05/25/2010), which was accompanied by the dance performance by Teatr Tańca DF. Another time dancers and theoreticians met to exchange ideas was in December 2010 at the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy where the body self-consciousness “Know yourself through your Body” workshops were held. The workshops, which comprised 3 sessions 1.5 hours each, were attended by the members of the Department of Aesthetics and Eastern Philosophies of the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy. They were the initiative of Katarzyna Skawińska of Teatr Tańca DF, while Professor Krystyna Wilkoszewska provided support and assistance and Dr. Bieszczad and Anna Wańtuch organized the whole event.

At the inauguration of the Somaesthetics Unit at Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy in September, we had the honor to welcome Professor Richard Shusterman. After his lecture and discussion Teatr Tańca DF gave their performance. After the break Dr. Sebastian Stankiewicz gave a talk on Richard Shusterman’s notion of somaesthetics, followed by Dr. Lilianna Bieszczad’s lecture on philosophical understanding of the body in the context of dance. To conclude the one-day symposium, the panel discussion held with the participation of dancers. It included discussion of the body awareneness (or somatic self-consciousness) workshops run by Teatr Tańca DF in December 2010 and the analysis of their participants’ experiences.

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