awkwardness, or wanting dance in a city of joggers

i’m often aware of how awkward i am. this awareness teaches me–those of us who learn kinesthetically might grasp the value of awkwardness more than, say, the value of just talk or vision. still, the sight of joggers in boston reminds me that before habitus became part of the structuralist toolkit, there was just marcel mauss’s chance observation of the nurse’s gait, the vague sense that one had seen that walk before and the moment of recognition. yes, it was in films, the starlet’s walk portrayed by nurse’s legs. was it studied or unconscious, this imitation? learned on the street or from the screen?

living between boston and a’tolan, a body picks up characteristic ways to move and be still that surprise me

i remember that dorrine kondo related a moment like this, seeing in the supermarket mirror a shuffling gait: can it be me? in a’tolan my friends have noticed the time it takes the walk to slow down and center of gravity drop. they still joke about the american man who was on the wrong frequency, the face padaka the moves southern taiwanese gangster. something i picked up somewhere that was a bit awkward in the new context. and although i’m an awkward dancer at best, it felt like a compliment when older men and women with whom i’d often sit at ci-amoy’s betel stand would correct my steps, saying that they could teach me now that my body had a little ‘amis flavor (and i remember what futuru tsai, as well as some ‘amis friends told me about ethnic chinese trying to dance ‘amis: proficient, but lacks flavor)

back in boston, i would feel hurried. and i’d miss dancing

one thing that always strikes me when i come back to boston is how many runners i see puffing away across the 364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear across mass ave bridge and along sidewalks throughout town. exercise seems to be a much less public activity in taiwan; around taipei one encounters joggers in school athletic fields and parks but never on the bridges across the tanshui river. in a’tolan, groups of cyclists either glide past the town on rt 11 or break for ac at the 7(-11), but jogging on the street is an unfamiliar practice. dancing in the in between space between front door and street, however, is an everyday event in a’tolan. that’s something that one would almost never see in boston, even in the fenway neighborhood, where the concentration of music schools might possibly lead to a little rhythmic movement on the street. mostly, i see conducting students gesturing to imagined instrumentalists and hands that move habitually to cover ears at the approach of emergency vehicles (a habit most of us pick up, it’s the diacritic of musicians versus muggles around here). dancing, it seems, is confined to spaces reserved for it; while jogging, like panhandlers or street performers, pervades and provides an urban ambience. does this spatial distribution of movement genres diffuse like a starlet’s gait? perhaps, but maybe not through the same networks or–and this is to say something similar–the same agents. i’m not expecting joggers to chuff across taipei bridge anytime soon, but the city government and the president, who encourage exercise as part of a good urban life, might build the necessary infrastructure

when did i realize that i missed dancing? a friend asked me to attend an event with the deliciously postmodern title “afro-flow yoga.” i think that after moving in unfamiliar ways in the familiar context of yoga mats lined across a hard wood floor, i was primed to see the public jogging / not-so-public dancing pair as peculiar. the teacher directed us to move in a wave like fashion. my waves surprised me. they resembled not so much the teacher’s model, but a typically ‘amis dance gesture that had been hiding in the shoulders, thighs, and torso. the movement caused me to wonder about the lack of dance in my life here. it might be cool, too, to encourage research about dance / habitus / movement in relationship to the configuration of public space in a city of joggers (or a town of dancers)

i’m still an awkward dancer and probably jogger, too. let’s hope that awkwardness of the physical and social type might teach us something


deej / caraw is an ethnographer and sound installation artist currently working in ‘atolan, taiwan. his research interests include indigenous labour histories, gender, and the ethics of locality

6 thoughts on “awkwardness, or wanting dance in a city of joggers

  1. Maybe you’d be up for some capoeira? I had a classmate in grad school whose thesis on capoeira was focused a lot on these kind of ideas…

  2. That reminds me of a similar experience, living in PNG where singing at any and all times was the norm, going to boarding school with a large group of PNG students – the same thing – then coming back home to Perth WA after a few years away – and the strange looks when one started singing …
    Is it something about singing and dancing – for pleasure – that makes it not OK in a public space here, whereas jogging is seen as something aligned to work – so that makes it OK?

  3. @john, @kerim yeah, i do feel that i might want to look at some of the work on capoeira (including that of downey, someone i knew back in the day); i’m not entirely sure how much on embodiment will go into the far ocean fishing work, although i’d claim that embodied knowledge is one of the values of ethnography

    @janine i wonder if the notion of jogging as a chore, like raking leaves, might be part of what’s up. of course, we’d have to do some ethnographic work in the u.s. to know. interestingly, ‘amis generally feel that people who cannot engage in musical practices are a bit deficient; however, they don’t always seem to think that music might be a job. neither is exercise. so the spatial distribution (exercise in designated places) still strikes me as a mystery. i remember, though, @kerim’s observation about the tricked out taiwanese bicyclists with gear of all description, which suggests one line of inquiry into the question

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