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Exploring Adaptation of the Underscore for Online Practice

I had early experience with the Underscore a few times while Nancy Stark Smith was developing it, before she found a name for it. Since those early days it has gotten a name and continued to grow, and it has become a practice for many, many groups around the world. I have been leading Underscores for the DC Sunday jam almost every month since the December 2013. I love how the Underscore works, love the sharing situation that it tends to foster. In recent days of the Coronavirus quarantine, a group exploring sharing of movement online has started to explore adapting the Underscore for online sharing. I've had the opportunity to try what others are doing, and an opportunity to adapt it for an online session myself. I wonder, can we arrive online at the often open and receptive shared presence if can foster? I'm not sure, but believe that something is possible.

Whatever we discover, I know it will be different from an in-person Underscore. Online meetings are different in crucial ways from in-person gatherings. While I do have something to try, I am not yet ready to call it an Underscore. Whatever we call it, the current plan is for me to lead an online session for it on Wednesday evening, May 27. I will lead a talk-through online the evening before, on May 26, factoring in the elements I mention below.

In designing this adaptation, I feel it is crucial to acknowledge the differences between in-person and online gatherings, rather than trying to deny it. Connecting with others in online meetings goes through the computer screen and audio. I think it's useful to respect this as a significant element of the situation.

Something I like about the Underscore is the way it progresses gradually from internal focus – the Skinesphere – to extending awareness to what's around you. I believe that encourages engaging with the world around you – the Expanding Kinesphere – without sacrificing internal awareness. I'm proposing to add a component to both the Expanding Kinesphere and Grazing phases, a new aspect of both, in which you gradually and intermittently include the computer screen and audio in your exploration of the space around you. As with the Kinesphere in general, it's useful to include it in your attention without abandoning a sense of your own interior activity and the space immediately around you. Like with regular Grazing in general, you can sample what's happening on the screen without holding it tightly, allowing yourself to include it when ready and then to move on – away from the screen, or to other people and places on the screen, according to what draws you – returning again when it suits you to do so. Eventually you might find a way to share attention among all these things, to mix and sustain them, and to include all that is relevant to you in your movement. This is the bridge I would like for us to explore.

I am not sure what will happen with this, but look forward to the opportunity to explore it. I am curious to see how it extends through the rest of the score, including the open score and moments of engagement, continuing to balance attention to what's coming in from others through the computer with attention to what's around and inside of me, aware too that what I'm doing, or that I'm just being, may be received and may be influencing others.

In my experience with online movement collaboration, the challenge of tuning in has been greater than when relating in the physical presence of others. (The may in part be because the situation is new to me. Maybe it will get simpler.) However, I feel that the skills to find attunement are not fundamentally different than the skills you need for in-person attunement. I suspect that the practice we do and discoveries that we make will convey to the in-person one. It's not the same as being in person, but I think we can continue to enjoy and grow in connecting and corresponding online.


Catarina Li said…
Beautifull, I hope I'll be there next wednesday!! Put in words and thoughts it's a hard eork for me, I'm glad you can do it! ;)))
Zach Pine said…
Thanks for this Ken. I'm looking forward to it. I share your thought that in online dancing it can be difficult to include both our awareness of self & the space around us along with awareness of our partner(s) and their space, as mediated by the screen and sound. For each of these two modes of attention, we ideally can access a full range from no attention to maximum, and mix in any proportion of the other mode. I think this is the "bridge" that you mention in your writing above. I'm looking forward to doing this in NossaJam. - Zach PS - this "bridge" is the subject of the score called "Spectrum of connection: Duo, Solo, and in Between" in the discussion of this event page: .
Ken Manheimer said…
Thanks, Catarina! Words can be useful and words can get in the way. I'm trying to find ones that are useful to me and others, and hope at least some of them are. Ultimately, the purpose is the moving, and I'm glad you might make it for the experiment, hope to see you there!
Ken Manheimer said…
Thank you, Zach, for your work and your thoughts and suggestions!

The bridge I'm talking about is that which connects us, whether it's through the screen and audio, or a memory of a connection, or an in-person physical point of contact, or a conversation, or whatever. While there are myriad forms such bridges take, I believe a common element is balancing the listening one does to oneself and to what is happening around oneself. While that balance is constantly shifting as the situation – inside and out – is shifting, too much of one or the other can preclude connecting. And, I suspect, the art of connecting involves the art of balancing and navigating the shifts...

Just as I want to not be so preoccupied with telling you my point that I fail to listen to the suggestions you offer – thanks for them! I found a permalink to the one score I think you were suggesting: . I believe I did this score when you lead it for the virtual NossaJam several seconds ago, I like how it surfaces the aspects and issues of in-connection and solo in a clear way. I also see other scores that explore other ways to consider connection that what I propose above, like the Zone of Contact one, So much to investigate, and it's very cool that you're convening a regular meeting to do so – thank you for that!
Hey Ken, is this something I could participate in? If so, I would like to. Let me know your thoughts. Buff Medb
Ken Manheimer said…
Hey, Buff! Definitely, all with interest in exploring the practice are welcome, please do join. I'm sending you details directly, via email...

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