ouspe: to resist being contained

The University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand has decided to dump dance from the School of Physical Education:

https://www.odt.co.nz/news/campus/university-of-otago/otago-drops-dance-degree

I tried to write a comment on the ODT site but was restricted to 1200 characters. Here’s the full letter:


I attended the Otago University School of Physical Education as an undergraduate from 1987 to 1990, and then again as a Masters student between 1991 and 1993. Philip Smithells – the “father of physical education in NZ” – died in 1977, but even in the late 1980s, his remarkable vision was clear. At PhysEd school we were young kiwi adults being asked to dance, do gymnastics, live outdoors, research, study, play, and ‘figure stuff out’. His vision – as I now understand it looking back – was of human beings who learned to embody ideas and to tread carefully in the world. He understood that what we come to know is not only through our brains, but in how we move, how we perceive. In other words, as the philosopher Alva Noë says, that we think through action.

The great US choreographer Deborah Hay likes to joke (in all seriousness) that human beings are “choreographed up the wazoo”, and by this she means that our actions, work and ideas are always being contained, managed or held. This decision by Harlene Hayne and Richard Barker to strip dance from OUSPE is a different but sadly familiar kind of choreography that is devoid of any of Smithell’s risk-taking and vision: it is choreography driven by talk of “brighter futures” and “secure financial footings”. But make no mistake, Hayne and Barker’s choreography is ideological. Their ideology – grounded in the instrumentalist value of money and statistics – is really about control, and stripping Universities of other ways of being and understanding that are valuable because they can’t be measured, because they can’t be contained, and because they are slippery and uncertain. After all, if “what gets measured gets managed”, then dance’s work – it’s value – is to resist being contained, and to help build diverse ways of understanding and being in the world.

Philip Smithells knew this, and he’ll be turning in his grave.

Dr Simon Ellis
Choreographer and Senior Research Fellow
Centre for Dance Research
Coventry University
UK

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