Through this article, this dance, I attempt to describe my encounters with an object from my past: a rosary. I return to the rosary as the inspiration for my dance, a dance that maps out the making of my bodymind through narratives of race, queerness, disability, and madness. Through irrational jumps between time and space, but always from the rosary, I release the stories of my (un)belonging within the Philippine diaspora as a Filipino-Canadian settler on Turtle Island. And as I repeatedly encounter this object and meditate on my prayer—my panalangin—I find myself continuously (re)interpreting the gestures of stillness through which I begin to embrace my movements through depression.
I've poured out too much of me
and now I am spent
most days I can speak my truth
today, I simply can't
I pick up the rosary lying in front of me. I have retrieved it from the balikbayan 1 box that stores various objects from my past. I am uncertain of how to connect to it.
It holds so many memories—so much of a past life.
It holds so many stories that I want to analyze—that I want to unbox.
It holds so many stories of joy that I want to hold onto—so many stories of trauma, of anger, and of despair that I am honestly too exhausted to keep speaking through words.
And so, I offer a dance. I share my encounter with this seemingly ordinary object from my past. Beyond merely invoking a metaphor of dance, I engage in an improvised dance practice that inspires my movement through the act of writing this article. My encounters with the rosary become the impetus for my written interpretations of a prayer, and it is through these repeated acts of interpretation that my dance is released. As I begin to write of my touching this object, I return to the stories of belonging through which my gestures of stillness are performed. As I write the stories of my being touched by this object, I perform the gestures of unbelonging through which I am returned to my still movements through depression. And as I navigate the writing of my performance and the performance of my writing, I embody a dance that attempts to interpret my gestures of prayer, the gestures of my panalangin.
Through this article, this dance, I join dance artist and researcher Karen Nicole Barbour (2011) as I too share "a narrative exploration of embodied ways of knowing as a means of living creatively in the world" (p. 15). This dance is a repetitive and interpretive act through which I offer a different way of being in the world, a different way of being and learning within disability studies and within academic spaces. I engage in a form of study 2 that resists academic expectations of argument-as-knowledge. I instead pursue understanding as an unending task (Arendt, 1954/1994, p. 308). And it is through this pursuit that I share a narrative encounter with my gestures while simultaneously meditating on the narratives through which such gestures can be shared.
A Note on Form
The form of this article attempts to embody my practice of dance improvisation, a practice through which I perform, play with, and interpret the repetition of gestures. Each section, each repetition that I am calling a movement, begins with my narrative description of encountering the rosary. Through these narratives, I explore the stories through which I simultaneously choreograph and am choreographed into a performance of my gestures. And as I write these choreographic narratives and navigate how I describe my encounters with the rosary, I am also navigating a questioning of my own practices of creating and sharing dance.
This questioning of my practice is a response to disability studies' invitation to rethink the taken-for-granted grounds through which I come to perceive my dancing body. 3 In particular, I currently find myself being moved by Devon Healey's (2022) invocation of blind perception. 4 She suggests that "not accepting the world as it looks is blind perception" (p. 132). As I attempt to share my danced encounters with the rosary, my first instinct is to describe how my body looks. I find myself wondering whether I should share images to provide you, the reader, with access to my dance. Through this desire for you to see my improvised performance, I hear Healey cautioning me, inviting me to not merely accept the dance as it looks. I return to the site, the sight, of my encounters and wonder what stories are hidden within the tension of my muscles and the delicious squeezing of my flesh. Since so many of these encounters with the rosary return me to my gestures of stillness, to describe the sight of my dance would be to see a lack of movement—my body looks like it's not moving. To engage in the possibility that my stillness is not as it looks, I describe my encounters using a multiplicity of sensorial registers 5 through which I might access the movements that embody my still gestures of prayer.
Following each narrative encounter, I share a meditation through which I engage in a theoretical wandering amidst the stories that ground the possibilities of my movement. Through these meditations, I engage in an embodiment of theory through acts of wondering (Michalko, 1998, p. 157). It is through this wandering that my meditations return me to my encounters with the rosary in conversation with various critical and creative scholars, artists, and thinkers. And it is this meditative form of theorizing, this theoretical practice of wondering, that inspires me to encounter the rosary again and again through an unending dance of understanding, an unending performance of my panalangin. 6
I now invite you, my audience, to enter into this improvised dance in a way that moves you;I invite you to improvise along with me through your reading of this article. 7 You can engage sequentially from the first movement to the next until you reach the "end," you can start from the last movement and work your way backwards till you reach the "beginning," or you can leap from one movement to another in any (or seemingly no) particular order. You can read just the encounters, you can read just the meditations, or you can read the encounters of some movements and the meditations of others. You can encounter this article in one sitting, you can meditate on one movement today and come back to another at a later date, or you can just encounter and meditate with one movement and never touch this article again. You can experience this dance once, you can play with repetition and return to it over and over again, or you can exit the dance now and let its possibilities echo through your future movements. I just ask that you do not attempt to fix an ending onto my panalangin.
Movement I: Picking Up the Rosary
I pick up the rosary. I rub my fingers against its smoothness, the smoothness of its wood rolling between my thumb and finger. I feel each wooden bead, seemingly hand carved and certainly blessed with the love of community.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me.
Movement II: A Repeated Prayer
I hold this rosary. I rub my fingers against the smoothness, the smoothness of the wood that rolls from my thumb to my fingers. I feel each wooden bead, seemingly hand carved and certainly blessed with the love of a community.
I received this object as part of a welcome package during my participation in World Youth Day 2008. This rosary could not have been hand carved as it, along with its multiple replications, welcomed thousands to Sydney, Australia for this gathering of Catholic youth from around the world. Although its origin remains uncertain to me, I feel certain that my holding of it connects me to a community that I no longer belong to. This is an object that haunts me. It is the object that connects me to a self that I once knew so well. This past self was so certain, so sure of his prayers for the future. These prayers embodied the certainty of his faith, and this certainty is slowly unravelling as the remembering of forgotten truths inspires me to gesture toward the uncertain.
I am uncertain of how to connect to this object. I am uncertain of how to release the stories held within each bead. I long to unravel the stories braided through string. I long to unravel the knots holding each bead in place, ready for the specific prayer of "Hail Mary" or "Our Father" that it expects me to recite. I am uncertain of how to begin my dance with the rosary. And still, my fingers inch their way around the loop of beads to its base. Here, a short trail leads to a wooden cross. Feeling my skin rubbing against the smooth t-shaped surface, my thumb knows that this is where I must begin. The memories held within my muscles gesture to the cross as the starting place for a prayer I know well—the beginning of a ritual I have not taken part in for many years.
As I gently allow the weight of the cross to rest between my thumb and my index finger, the trail of beads flows down my palm, threatening to pull the cross to the floor. I apply more pressure with my thumb and feel the echo of tension reverberate up my arm. As this echo reaches my shoulder, I take a deep breath. I inhale and smell the sweet scent of melting wax as my shoulders roll back and my body melts into space. My thumb still holds the rosary firmly, not allowing it to be pulled down by gravity. Yet this firmness is different now. This firmness comes from a place of delicacy. It attends to the gravity of holding onto this sacred object and the grave consequences of dropping it. As the trail of beads cascades down my palm, I close my eyes and imagine the melting red wax trailing down the side of the candle.
My mother has just lit this candle in preparation for our praying of the rosary. My knees feel the soft, yet rough, carpet below us as we kneel in front of a statue of Mary. The flame flickers, dancing with the wind, making her shadowy presence seem almost ghost-like—ethereal and haunting. I feel a sense of calm as my lips form themselves into comfortable shapes. This movement of my lips allows me to fall back into the familiar pattern of reciting this prayer with my mother. I fall back into a familiar moment of our shared stillness.
My body is still.
I prepare to open my eyes. I am prepared to see the red candle and my mother praying beside me.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance of trying to hold this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. As I take part in this dance, I find myself being choreographed through my encounter with the rosary.
The uncertainty of my gesture returns me to the space of my memories. As I make contact with this object, I make contact with the past that holds me in my present being. This is an object through which I navigate my Filipino roots in relation to the queer routes that bring me into my present performance as a Filipino-Canadian settler on Turtle Island. 8 I engage in a repetition of lessons passed down to and through me: I repeat the rituals of prayer that have been passed to me by my mother; I repeat the ceremonies that connect me to a diasporic community; I negotiate the repetition of expectations placed on me through my simultaneous belonging and unbelonging within Canadian multiculturalism; and as I take part in this dance, I am not being choreographed by this object—I am being moved by all that haunts this moment of encounter.
I move through and am being moved by what Rosemarie A. Roberts (2013) calls the social ghosts that shape and possibly even choreograph my dances with the rosary. Encountering her own experience of confronting the social ghosts of racism through narratives of white privilege, Roberts moves with Avery F. Gordon's (1997) understandings of such hauntings as "the ensemble of cultural imaginings, affective experiences, animated objects, marginal voices…and traces of power's presence" (p. 25). And as Roberts (2013) invites me to "walk with, rather than away from, social ghosts to theorize embodiments as a production of knowledge by examining everyday and dance gestures, postures, and movements" (p. 5), I simultaneously crave and fear all that haunts my movement through prayer.
Even within the seeming stillness of my panalangin, there are so many social ghosts that haunt my encounter with the rosary. There are so many stories moving me within this gesture of stillness. There are the stories of my mother teaching me how to pray, the stories of her mother teaching her how to pray—these stories that connect me to a lineage of multiple generations practicing such stillness within prayer. There are stories of coming together as a family and in community to engage in a communal gesture of stillness, a collective spiritual connection. Imbricated within such lineages and traditions of finding belonging within communities of prayer, there are also the histories of Spanish colonization through which the rosary has become the object of my panalangin, the object through which I am expected to access my spirituality within Catholic rituals of prayer. Entangled within these histories, there is my repetition of this colonial form of spirituality—a colonial imposition of prayer that sought and seeks to eradicate any connection to Indigenous spirituality. Every encounter with this colonial object, this object seeping with colonial meanings, entangles me in the perpetuation of its violent legacies. As I hold onto its beads, the reverberations of evangelization pulse through my tense muscles as my being is held up through the colonial subjectification of my body and its movements.
Rather than moving away from these haunting echoes of coloniality, I heed Roberts' (2013) call to walk with such social ghosts. I return to my gesture of picking up the rosary to find a connection to community within the Philippine diaspora; I return to the gesture of my holding onto the rosary as I navigate my queer performances of the colonial rituals of prayer it expects; 9 I return to my being held by the rosary's expectations of how to understand my desires for spirituality; and I return to my dance with the rosary in the hopes of releasing a panalangin that honours and respects the knowledge and sovereignty of the Huron Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit—the Indigenous peoples and nations who continue to care for, protect, and defend the land and waters through which I navigate the constellations of my prayer. I am returned to my gestures of holding onto and being held by the rosary to recognize that such a desire for a spiritual connection to community, to my queerness, and to the land and its caretakers can never escape the social ghosts of coloniality through which I encounter my being. And as I am returned to the stillness of my gestures, I recognize that I am not merely walking with these social ghosts. Instead, I am taking part in a dance of resistance and connection as I rest within and wrest myself from their choreographic hold.
Movement III: Stuck in Stillness
I hold the weight of the rosary. I rub my fingers against the echoes of its smoothness, the smoothness of the wood rolling between thumb and finger. I feel the impression of each wooden bead, seemingly hand carved and certainly blessed with the love of community.
I open my eyes.
I feel the weight of the rosary. Its weight returns me to my stillness.
I look down at my hands and recognize that its smooth surface no longer lies on my palm.
I find myself in a different kind of stillness. I am stuck in the stillness of my body, glued to the chair below me. My hands reach down my sides as my fingers grasp the edges of the cushion on which I sit. My palms attempt to push the cushion away from the base of my spine. The stronger I push, the more I find myself in my stuck-ness; a layer of sweat adheres my skin to the leather skin of the chair. The more I will my body to leave this seat, the more I feel the weight of what brought me here; something, some sense of authority, forces me to remain still in this space.
I feel the presence of this authority, an audience watching my seeming stillness. The psychologist observes me from behind his notepad. He perceives my stillness—a still presence in this room, my body as still present. This stillness defines both my physical and temporal embodiment of movement in this space. It is a physical movement that suggests to my audience a lack of movement. It is a temporal movement that gestures to my continuous presence in this space—my still-ness here.
I am still here—I do not move in his presence.
I am still here—I am stuck in this chair.
This definition through stillness is not one that I place on myself. Rather, it is a performance I take part in, a dance that I interpret. I seem to be still, to be void of any movement. Yet, there is a frenetic rhythm pulsating within me. Blood courses through my body, a rushing river of dread and fear.
This definition of stillness is marked onto me as I am made into a depressed self. My stillness becomes known to me through late night internet searches on health websites, through a "Free 3 Minute Depression Quiz," through a psychology test next week on "mental health disorders."I am made into a self that can only be knowable through its being touched by symptoms of depression. I come to understand this depressed self through my inability to perform a dance choreographed for me. I cannot embody the dance that expects me to…
Enter the room,
a wide-toothed grin.
No need for a spotlight
with a radiant smile.
Keep those corners up,
No room for any tremble,
you must put on a show.
and gazes drop.
and your body is seen.
or else look down and confront your nonbeing.
Dissect every limb,
all the fat.
No one can love a body like that.
A body like what?
One that does not belong:
skin kissed by the sun for too long,
muscles not sculpted like an Athenian god,
mind that cannot escape and is lost in the fog.
No one can love a body like that.
A one like who?
One that does not belong:
the one cannot be you,
it cannot be you,the one from my dreams,
all the pictures of muscles from forbidden magazines.
a sin to be loved by you.
Cast away queer urges.
Cast a leading lady instead…
married with kids,
a romance for the age,
the romance of the ages.
Too much thinking,
start shaping your body to fit.
If God messed up your measurements,
a smile should alter,
should fix it.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. I feel the weight of the rosary. The burden of carrying this weight forces me to remain within my gestures of stillness. Yet as I open my eyes, I realize that the rosary is no longer there in the palm of my hand. The weight of the rosary is replaced by the weight of expectation placed upon me, forcing me to remain in the psychologist's chair. The burden of enacting my prayer becomes entangled with the burden of facing a pathologizing gaze.
As the psychologist directs his pathologizing gaze upon me, I find myself trapped. I further trap myself through my own diagnostic gaze. My self becomes fixed through the identification of my body's failure to conform to the behaviours expected of me. I feel trapped in what La Marr Jurelle Bruce (2021) suggests to me as the place of madness, a place he maps through a fictional encounter between Michel Foucault's (1961/1988) "ship of fools" (p. 7), and Hortense Spillers' (1987) description of the Middle Passage slave ship (p. 72). I join his simultaneously unimaginable and radically imaginative reverie, encountering the turbulent waters of madness and memory through which we are made "to endure a cruelty in motion that is also a cruelty of stillness" (Bruce, 2021, p. 2). The psychologist forces me to travel through the space of my memories, and still I find my self being made and marked through my persistent presence on the leather chair, through the persistent pathological gaze diagnosing me as broken. I may be moving, but I am still trapped. I am still here. I am trapped here in the still-ness of my presence. My still-ness gestures to the continued being of my self in this strange place—a being that is fixed through my pathological subjectification, a being that is forced to endure the never-ending movement of navigating the making of such a self. I cannot escape my movement through this self.
My mind races to comprehend what has brought me here and what keeps me from moving out of this chair, from running out the door. My stillness, my seeming inability to move through the expectations placed on me, mark me as someone who needs the "professional" help of a psychologist. This is a marking that Frantz Fanon (1952/1986) invites me to understand as a form of nonbeing in relation to the gaze of the other. My still-ness in this space further gestures to my movement through the world of my nonbeing. This world of observation, still-ness, and entrapment is inscribed onto me as the psychologist's gaze dissects my being, as my own gaze joins in the constitution of my nonbeing—I find myself desiring to linger in this world.
I join Fanon (1952/1986) as we share in the space of our nonbeing. We "burst apart. Now the fragments have been put together again by another self" (p. 109). For Fanon, his nonbeing is marked through his Blackness. His being is fragmented and reconstituted as nonhuman with reference to an ideal of whiteness, a supremacy of whiteness as the ideal. He feels the burden of "the white man's eyes" (p. 110), and the pointed gesture of the white child's fear (p. 112). For me, my nonbeing is marked through my stillness. I, too, feel the gaze of whiteness through the burden of the psychologist's gaze on my brown skin, and I feel the gestures of childhood fear pointing toward my own anxiety of being stuck in this space of my madness, of my being made mad—of my mad being. I am made to know of my self through the irrationality of my still body.
I embody my nonbeing through the irrationality of my stillness that responds to the choreographies expected of me, the choreographies through which I might be moulded into the ideal being of the human. I do not inhabit the smile that lights up a room. I do not conform to the features of white masculinity that shape me into the ideal body. I do not cast away any queer urges and pray the temptations away. I do not move. And it is through my stillness that I understand this lack of movement as my failure to interpret appropriately the choreographies of belonging expected of me—perhaps this failure is an interpretation that gestures to my dancing of a different choreography. 10
Movement IV: Trembling through (Un)Belonging
I feel the weight of holding the rosary's trace. I feel the smooth surface of its beads pushing up against my thumb and finger. I feel the seemingly hand carved cross press upon my palm, no longer a blessing but instead an intense burden of grasping for community.
I conform to the stillness of my panalangin, the expected stillness that intends this ritual of prayer. And still, even within the stillness of my body, there is so much movement. Desire pours out from the pores of my palms. The pressure of the rosary pushes against my skin.
Within the tension of my now-clasping hands, I feel my palms become moist. Sweat adheres me within this place of stickiness. Sweat adheres me to the surface of this rosary. I am stuck within a desire for belonging—a prayer to belong.
I feel my skin sticking to leather once more. But this time, it is my knees pushing against the leather cushion of the pew on which I now find myself to be kneeling. This is a place I know well. I have spent so much time in this church as a child. It is where I found community through singing and grieving, through eating and dreaming. This is a community I simultaneously yearn for and reject.
This community has rejected me while also yearning for me to return.
This me may no longer exist.
Who is this me?
I am never expected to question who I am. Instead, I am expected to know of my self in reference to the ideal human, the ideal subject, the exemplary Canadian citizen. As my childhood self raised his right hand and swore an oath of allegiance to the Queen, I became a Canadian citizen. As my childhood self stood still at attention during the singing of the national anthem, I took part in my first performance of upholding the multicultural nation-state of so-called Canada. And by playing this role, I push away the fear of my own decomposition, the decomposition of my identity as a citizen, as a settler. 11 If my thoughts or actions deviate in any way, I am made irrational. Any questioning of my belonging within Canadian citizenship marks my actions as irrational. Any desire to push away from these expectations of belonging mark my brain as broken. And so, I fight for my survival, for the survival of a me through a belonging in a we.
Where do I belong? Who is this we? I belong as a Filipino-Canadian. I am made to belong within my church family where we celebrate our culture, our spirituality, our community. We prepare a food stall for the church's international night celebration. I smell the frying oil residue that soaks layers of paper towels beneath the lumpia. I taste the bright acid of the lemon that garnishes the pancit. We sing songs in Tagalog and perform dances such as tinikling or maglalatik. I belong within this we of my Filipino community. I show this belonging not only through our church activities but through my own participation at school. I show off my "excellent" English. I explain why my name "sounds Spanish," even though I am "not from Mexico." I do not question why I can no longer speak Tagalog or why no one seems to know how the colonial history of the Philippines has shaped almost every formation of my identity. I do not question how my belonging to culture and to community is reduced to the tokenizing of food, song, and dance. I do not question my belonging to settler communities and my unbelonging to the land I occupy—my unbelonging to any land for that matter. I do not question any of this because this is where I belong. This is where I am told to belong through a narrative of multiculturalism imposed upon me, upheld by we.
"Why are you worried?"
I hear the faint echo of the psychologist's voice, as if a whisper from a memory—or maybe it's a siren calling out from a future in front of me. I hear this question asked of me as I reflect on my anxiety, as I confront my fears. I have responded to this question by describing the unsettling experience of coming out as gay to my friends, of being scared to tell my family. I recite my anguished prayers to not feel this way, to not be this way. I cry out that it feels like my life is crumbling and that I do not even know who I am anymore. I hear the scribbling of a pen on a notepad and feel the burden of the pathologizing gaze. I hear the question again.
"Why are you worried?"
My body trembles.
My mind is made to ignore this tremble. My mind has been made to ignore that this trembling has always been there.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. Returning to the stillness of my panalangin, I release the movements of desire that intend such a gesture. I confront the expected movements that gesture to a lingering fear of my being unmade into nonbeing. And these are the tense movements of belonging through which an understanding of my self becomes mediated through choreographies of multiculturalism.
This belonging within multicultural expectations of my being does not come from below (Walcott & Abdillahi, 2019, p. 33), from the we or even from a me. Instead, this belonging is granted through royal assent. It is given to me through the status of citizenship. The state allows for the we, while the nation forms the me. This me gives me a seemingly self-earned worth by erasing the settler colonial violence that is continuously perpetrated against Indigenous peoples. This we allows me to ignore that this is the very violence that is required for me to participate in my multicultural success (Thobani, 2007, p. 174). I find myself imbricated in the stories that organize my place within the space of the nation, and I fear any unsettling of the opportunity to inhabit such a place.
In response to this fear, I am returned to the question asked of me by the psychologist, "Why are you worried?" Through the repetition of this question, the psychologist marks me as weak within my role of upholding "the national mythologies of white settler societies" (Razack, 2002, p. 3). I cannot play my role as the ideal multicultural subject. I have let my mind succumb to the trembling of my body, allowing myself to decompose into irrational nonbeing. The psychologist will try to talk me out of my irrationality through games of logic that attempt to figure me back into my religious community or my Filipino identity. He tries to help me reconstruct my body into the productive multicultural citizen who can get back to school and put on the smile that brightens up the room. I might not fully resemble the heterosexual, white male, but I can rehabilitate myself to fit into choreographies of whiteness and heteropatriarchy. I can further rehabilitate myself to fit into the compulsions of able-bodiedness and able-mindedness that ignore my anxious mind, my trembling body, and the stillness of my bodymind 12 (Kafer, 2013, p. 16; McRuer, 2006, p. 2). The psychologist rationalizes my momentary irrationality, as long as I can prevent such "deviant" thoughts from leaking out and shaping my actions.
This is enough for him, enough for school counsellors, enough for my family, and enough for my friends. This is enough for me to form my body back into a being, a being that can once again find belonging within his place as a "productive citizen." And still, it is a belonging that constantly crosses into unbelonging. Each time I think I come closer to approaching full belonging within the settler myth of the nation, I find myself stuck within the embodied gestures of my nonbeing. I once again hear the voice of the psychologist and feel the pathologizing gaze as I look down upon my racialized body and its queer performances. I bear witness to the still gestures that move me through depression as I navigate my place within spaces of (un)belonging. And as I listen to the rhythms of such gestures, I become inspired by the different registers of movement that have always and already been reverberating within my stillness.
Movement V: Rhythms of Irrationality
The weight of the rosary suspends me. I dare not allow the smooth surface of its beads to fall from in-between my thumb and finger. As it carves itself into my flesh, I hold on tighter to the pain, trembling through my hope to feel the blessings from community once more.
My body secretes the rhythm of my irrationality through the vibrations emanating out from my trembling. Sweat leaks from my pores and adheres me to the leather of the pew, to the leather of the psychologist's seat. A bead of sweat slowly falls from my brow. In my stillness, in my stuck-ness within this place of unbelonging, I exert all my energy. Each muscle contracts in the tension of my prayer. My mind focuses on a single desire: to belong. My body and mind become entangled in a swirling mess of memories and dreams; my mind and body are bound together, simultaneously reaching toward and stretching away from connection. I want to connect with the community who brings me closer to my Filipino roots. I disconnect from the community that prevents me from taking part in mad and queer routes.
I disconnect and find myself travelling once more to the leather seat of the psychologist's chair. I seem to still remain here, to be present continuously on this chair, yet my thoughts transport me to the past, to the future, and back again. I close my eyes. Perhaps it is through this movement of my thoughts that I search for my being elsewhere. I hope that when I open my eyes again, I might be anywhere but still here. I lean back, no longer feeling the support of the leather chair. The further I lean back, the more tension I feel in my abdominal muscles as they try to keep me from falling into the abyss.
I am tired.
I let go.
I release muscular control and allow myself to be engulfed by the sensation of falling. I exhale my breath. I was holding it in anticipation of this fall. However, I do not find myself falling.
I am horizontal. I feel the pulsating rhythm of my heart, attempting to recover from the fall that never was. I find myself supported by what feels like a bed. I have been transported to this bed. I lie on this bed—I am lying in bed, not wanting to move and not willing to get up and out of the covers. More than not wanting or not willing to move, I find myself sinking deeper into a cavity of sorrow, unable to escape.
The pace of my heart quickens. I desire to move and be productive. thump, thump. 13 I desire to be lifted from the weight of my body and to transcend this gravity of my nonbeing. thump, thump. I desire to start my day. thump. The burden of my everyday pushes me down into this space. thump. There are grave consequences to my movement within this place. thump. thump.
This place becomes known to me as one of depression. It becomes known by me through the question constantly asked of me: "Are you okay?"
I am not okay.
I am tired.
The muscles of my cheeks are strained from all the extra strength they muster in performing the smile that is expected of me—I force the smile that people often compliment me for, the smile that has been described as "brightening a room" through my channelling of the Filipino hospitality that makes it "More Fun in the Philippines." 14
I am not okay.
I am tired.
My thoughts muddle together as I memorize parts of the body for an upcoming biology test—I navigate my own body's inability to conform to the photos of these body parts, images of the ideal body that are never reflected back to me through any mirror.
I am not okay.
I am tired.
My thoughts muddle together as I memorize diagnoses for an upcoming psychology test—I navigate my own mind's ease in conforming to the symptoms listed in my textbook, behaviours of the "sick" mind that so easily reflect back to me through every mirror.
I am not okay.
I am tired.
I feel the heaviness of my heart, desperately trying to pump blood through my weakening body—I lose all hope of being strengthened through love, through support.
I am not okay.
I am tired.
I am exhausted. I lie in bed to escape the world through sleep. I am exhausted as I lie in bed, unable to rest through the pulsating rhythms of my irrationality. I am unable to rest as I hold these rhythms within my hands and feel the weight of the rosary's beads once again resting on my palms. I clench my fists around them, praying that I might one day be okay.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. Through each repetition of my encountering the rosary, I constantly come face to face with my stillness as a lack of movement, an inability to move through the expected choreographies of the ideal human. Yet by inhabiting this stillness, my body resists the demands of my participation in everyday life, an everyday life that expects me to move in certain ways.
Perhaps this resistance through stillness is an assertion of crip time that, as Alison Kafer (2013) reminds me, "is flex time not just expanded but exploded" (p. 27). In this temporal explosion, my gesture of stillness releases a rich movement that would still continue even if I were to pause the clock or slow it down. Moving beyond what can and should happen, perhaps my still gestures are inviting me to return to, and re-entangle myself in, what is already happening. Rather than just focusing on the time I need to do things, perhaps I might attend to what is already being done within the time I already have. While a move toward crip time might assert my need for more time, I wonder how a dance through crip time might also present an occasion to return to the richness of my doings through my gestures of stillness and my movements through depression. Rather than getting more time to get things done, I seek to honour my doings within the time already present. I am gesturing for my desire to return to crip time as an opportunity to question what we have the time for—what movements can inhabit time and possibly even shape our conception of temporality.
My stillness is not an inability to move. My stillness is an unwillingness to move and a resistance to take part in the dance of human expectations—I wonder, is this resistance not a movement? In mobilizing my non-movement, or what is identified and pathologized as my inability to move, I am asserting a time for my still gestures and inviting the time to move through depression. My stillness is a movement of refusal through which the question of time is centred not on what we have the time for, but instead is focused on how we need and desire to move through the time we have already been given.
Through my stillness, my body is in constant movement. This is not a movement out of bed. Rather, it is a movement deeper into my nonbeing. I move deeper into the rhythms of my pulsating heart. My stillness is a movement into my self, where I encounter the embodied being of my thoughts. It is a movement through what Bruce (2021) suggests as a "depressive temporality" that "allows aggrieved subjects to mobilize their sorrow, ironically by loitering within it" (p. 213). My stillness is a dance that loiters within the sorrow of nonbeing, a desire to move within the sadness through which I experience nonbeing in the face of the inevitable failure of my mind and my body to reflect the "rational" being expected of me. And still, I cannot help but feel the fullness of my being within this time of sorrow, this time of stillness—this time for stillness. For even if my body may seem irrationally still to an outside observer, the movement of my being is still present through my pulsating dreams for an elsewhere—through my acts of dreaming that catch me as I fall into the possibilities of an elsewhen. 15
Movement VI: Releasing into the Rosary
The rosary holds onto me. It rubs its smooth wood against my thumb and finger. Each wooden bead feels my skin, carving a me within the blessings through which I feel a love for my community of we.
A dull ache emanates from the base of my spine. I feel the support of the bed beneath me disappear and I worry that the arch of my lower back will collapse into the ache. I worry that I am too weak to hold up the skeletal architecture that is keeping me together. There is so little holding me together. I clasp my hands, fingers interlaced. I am attempting to keep all of my (non)being close to me as I feel the sweat secreting out from my pores. I hold my panalangin within this sticky space of my hands.
I close my eyes.
I hold on tight to the rosary. I let the rosary hold me as I dwell within the moments of stickiness. I close my eyes. I am still hoping that when they open again, I will see the red candle burning. Regardless, as I hold onto this rosary, I am held by my mother's presence as we share in this moment. I share in our panalangin of stillness.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. I am held by the rosary; I am held by the presences that haunt my encounter with its surface; I am held in relation to the gestures of stillness through which I have come to understand my relationship to this object; and I find myself trying to hold onto the prayers that spring forth through our dance, the panalangin that returns me to my movements through depression.
Theri A. Pickens (2013) suggests that "to unpack one's embodied experience is to wrest it from the historical, social, and cultural discourses that encumber it" (p. 23). As I attempt to reinterpret my movement through depression, and wrest it from the pathological gaze of psychology and psychiatry, I find myself confronted with the expectations that mark me as the racialized other while simultaneously forging me into the ideal (i.e. white, heterosexual, able-bodied, cis, and male) national body (Mohanram, 1999, p. 7). I am forced to (re)negotiate the ways in which my body is simultaneously shaped for me, and by me, into a space through which I navigate my (un)belonging within the settler colonial expectations of multicultural citizenship (Bannerji, 2000, p. 42).
As I find myself in the precarious position of having to hold this expected self together into a structure that intends my being, I begin to unravel any certainty of the borders that contain my body. Following Tanya Titchkosky's (2012) suggestion that "considering articulations of the body's end makes it possible to learn that we are not alone in our bodies" (p. 92), I am returned to my skin as the border that not only contains my body but also connects my body to the surface of the rosary. I engage with my skin as the affective point through which I touch and am touched by the social ghosts that not only echo through this object, but that reverberate within my flesh and bones. And these haunting presences are not just held within my body or within the body of the rosary. They pour out of the pores of my skin and out of the grains of the rosary's wood through each encounter with my prayers. It is through such "leakiness" that Margrit Shildrick (2002) invites me to re-encounter "the permeability of the boundaries that guarantee the normatively embodied self" (p. 1).
As I attend to the sweat which leaks from the pores of my skin through my encounters with the rosary, I find myself once again stuck in the gestures of stillness that move me through depression—the gestures and movements of my prayer that desire a different relationship to spirituality. I wait with the stickiness, within my stuck-ness. In this place, my body and my mind meet to navigate and negotiate the rationality of my thoughts and the irrationality of my actions. I entangle myself in this still space between my clasped hands—the still space that is filled by the beads of the rosary. I return to a prayer that seeps through my interlaced fingers. I return to a prayer I have interpreted before. And I wonder how I might once again encounter this prayer beyond the normative and naturalized ways through which I have come to understand prayer within Catholicism. I wonder how I might dance differently through my prayers to release "my panalangin of hope" (Esteban, 2022c, p. 104).
My panalangin leaks into the words of Fanon's (1952/1986) own prayer, "O my body, make of me always a man [sic] who questions!" (p. 232). Perhaps this is a prayer of faith. This faith is not one of certainty, nor is it one made known to me through its (un)belonging within the realm of (ir)rationality. Instead, it is a panalangin that moves me through the leakiness of the rational and the irrational, of my being and nonbeing. It is a panalangin to return once more to my community of we with a more nuanced understanding of its construction of me. Perhaps this return might allow us to re-shape the boundaries of this we and allow us to rethink our collective (un)belonging within Canadian multicultural citizenship. Finally, my panalangin is a faith in all that speaks out and moves through my stillness. It is a commitment to continue encountering my stillness as a rich dance through alternative constellations of space and time, providing me with the possibility of honouring and even embracing my movements through depression.
Movement VII: Inhabiting My Repetitions
I pick up the rosary. I rub my fingers against its smoothness, the smoothness of its wood rolling between my thumb and finger. I feel each wooden bead, seemingly hand carved and certainly blessed with the love of community.
I pick up the rosary and am uncertain of how to connect to it. I take part in an uncertain dance with this object. I take part in a dance of uncertainty that forces me to confront the question of what it means to move with the rosary—what it means for the rosary to move me. Feeling my fingers rubbing against the beads of the rosary, I inhabit my gesture of stillness. And it is by inhabiting the repetition of this gesture that the memories of my prayer, my panalangin, become entangled with moments of being touched by depression. I navigate my movement through the moments of my mind being marked as anxious; I return to the movements through which my body navigates its being made intelligible through medicalized narratives of (ir)rationality; and I confront these memories to reveal the moments through which my bodymind has moved through the still gestures that mark me as, and make me into, a self that has been touched by symptoms of depression.
I have never been medically diagnosed with depression. I have only experienced the pathologizing gaze of a psychologist a few times and in those instances any identification of depression took a back seat to other "issues." "Depressed" has never been a label attached to my identity or outwardly adhered to my being. My movements through depression were labelled as situational. It has been hinted that my experience of "situational" depression was a momentary blip in my ability to cope in response to a traumatic incident. I have convinced myself that it was just a slip of my otherwise rational mind…I have convinced others that it will never happen again.
And still, I find myself repeating those slips as the memories within my muscles fall back into the same patterns of stillness. Perhaps these gestures of stillness are not just ones that I am returned to because of any biological problem or because of my brain's inability to control irrational thoughts and behaviours. Perhaps my stillness is gesturing to a practice I have developed in response to moments of experiencing depression, a practice of my being-in-the-world nurtured through my movements through depression. And this practice shares in the practices of prayer passed down to me from my mother—the practices of our panalangin that continue to pass on through me. As I make contact with the rosary, I am returned to my still-ness of nonbeing as my fingers once again inch across the beads of the rosary, as my lips once more shape themselves into familiar patterns. I return to the still place of navigating my (un)belonging within any place and every space.
I am just beginning to map out these practices. And still, I precariously wander within my repetition of a prayer entangled with movements through depression (whether diagnosed, defined, or identified as such or not). I wonder how such a wandering invites me to rethink how I might navigate my future movements through gestures of stillness. I wonder how I might release different movements through stillness—my still movements of difference. This difference has been manifested by the multiple repetitions of the stories through which I have encountered my stillness. And through this repetition, through these moments of difference, I continuously return to the space of my body as I navigate the expectations placed upon me through the performances of my panalangin.
I return once more to the weight of the rosary in my hand. I return to the possibility of revealing new gestures of prayer through different interpretations of my still movements through depression. As I search for these new gestures, Audre Lorde (1984) reminds me that "there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt" (p. 39). Responding to this provocation, I no longer seek to alleviate the weight and the burden of expectation that comes from my holding of the rosary. Instead, I lean into the weight of my body and attempt to feel a different relationship to my acts of prayer. I push against and am held by the gravity that shapes my holding of this object. I attempt to access the different affective registers through which I might perform a repetition of my still gestures. And it is in this attempt to feel differently within my prayers that I find myself falling into a dance of disorientation, 16 a dance through which I re-encounter my still dances—through which I might begin to navigate my own uncertain identification in relation to my movement through depression.
Through this dance, I join Ann Cvetkovich's (2012) exploration of the possibilities of engaging with depression as a political act of feeling. Rather than finding a productive force within my movements through depression, she suggests, "It might instead be important to let depression linger, to explore the feeling of remaining or resting in sadness without insisting that it be transformed or reconceived" (p. 14). Rather than finding a way of moving through depression that might transform my gestures of stillness into a political movement, Cvetkovich invites me to understand that within my stillness there is always and already a movement that radically gestures to "forms of hope, creativity, and even spirituality that are intimately connected with experiences of despair, hopelessness, and being stuck" (p. 14).
I return to the embodied spaces of my spirituality within my still movements through depression by once more picking up the rosary and repeating my panalangin. In so doing, I take part in Petra Kuppers' (2022) suggested task "to unsettle myself, embrace my unstable way of being in the world and in academia, and prepare and offer nourishment, a place to be, breathe, and sense into connections" (p. 3). I enact a repetition of my still movements through depression as a different ritual of prayer—my panalangin of difference. Through this dance, I invite my repetitive gestures of stillness to become a spiritual practice of conjuring and communing with all of the stories through which I encounter this seemingly ordinary object of my prayer, the rosary.
Thank you to Dr. Tanya Titchkosky for inspiring this return to my gestures of prayer through interpretive disability studies, to Dr. Vannina Sztainbok for inviting me to encounter the spatial dimensions of my embodiment, and to Dr. rosalind hampton for nurturing the critical and creative space to develop and perform this dance.
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Balikbayan is a Tagalog word that translates to "return to country." It is a term used to refer to those returning home to the Philippines after living abroad, often as overseas migrant workers. The balikbayan box is a cardboard box used as luggage by many balikbayans. It is often filled with pasalubongs, presents for family members. These boxes are also sometimes used for home storage—for me, the balikbayan box becomes a space for returning to the gifts of my memories. For more explorations of my relationship to the balikbayan box as a space of return, see Esteban (2022c).
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I encounter my improvised acts of study through Fred Moten's suggestion that "[t]he point of calling it 'study' is to mark that the incessant and irreversible intellectuality of these activities is already present" (Harney & Moten, 2013, p. 110). Inspired by this orientation to study offered through Black Studies, I wonder how I might return to the intellectuality through which the repetition of my gestures is always and already embodying an act of theorizing.
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I have previously explored such taken-for-granted conceptions of my dancing body by returning to the "ordinary" grounds through which my gestures become meaningful—the horizons of normalcy through which disability is made to simultaneously appear and disappear within our "everyday" movements (Esteban, 2022b).
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My engagement with blind perception stems from a workshop Devon Healey and I developed, as well as the resulting performance we created exploring the possibilities of rethinking the sight of dance through the movements of blindness. An iteration of that work has been published as Healey & Esteban (2022).
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Elsewhere, I have explored how we might share and experience dance by "engag[ing] with multiple senses to affirm the diverse ways we perceive the world" (Esteban, 2022a, p. 35).
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Through this practice of wondering within the interpretive repetition of my encounters, I take up Tanya Titchkosky's (2011) invitation to engage in a "politics of wonder" through what she describes as "a restless reflexive return to what has come before" (p. 15).
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My invitation to engage in an improvisational reading of this article is inspired by Thomas F. DeFrantz's (2020) Soundz at the Back of My Head. As he invites the performer to rearrange the textual materials of his performance work (p. 72), I consider how rearranging the encounters and meditations of my dance might release different registers of meaning through which we understand my panalangin and its gestures.
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Encountering the making/marking of my identity through this dance, I gesture to Stuart Hall's (1996) writing on cultural identity in conversation with Paul Gilroy's (1994) The Black Atlantic. Hall (1996) invites us to engage beyond a return to our "roots" by returning to "a coming-to-terms-with our 'routes'" (p. 4). Responding to this invitation, I return to using Filipino rather than the more gender-inclusive Filipinx as my own coming-to-terms-with the routes through which I continue to understand my own queer (un)belonging to the Philippine diaspora.
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As I navigate my queer performances of prayer, I am held by Simon(e) van Saarloos' (2019/2022) suggestion that "'[t]hinking queer' means trying to find a way to imagine the world beyond or outside current norms and values" (p. 50). I return to my panalangin to release the gestures of stillness that might imagine a spirituality beyond coloniality.
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I find myself beginning to be moved by Jack Halberstam's (2011) suggestion that failure "may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world" (p. 2-3).
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I move with the work of Klaus Theweleit (1989) and his psychoanalysis of fascism through the writings of soldiers in the German Freikorps, suggesting that "the solider male's most intense fear is his fear of decomposition" (p. 40). Wondering whether this fear of decomposition shapes the affective experience of any soldier, I begin to encounter the militaristic registers that shape rituals of Canadian citizenship and that expect me to take on the role of Canadian-soldier-male in the defense of multiculturalism and the settler colonial nation-state.
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I move with Sami Schalk's (2018) suggestion that "the term bodymind can help highlight the relationship of nonphysical experiences of oppression—psychic stress—and overall well-being" (p. 6), emphasizing how this often-used disability studies concept may allow us to further understand the imbricated somatic, psychic, and affective registers of racialized experience.
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The thump, thumping of my heart's pulsating rhythm echoes the tic toc-ing of the clock through which Tanya Titchkosky has navigated the rhythm of her dyslexic "doing" of time (Healey & Titchkosky, 2022, p. 246).
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"It's More Fun In The Philippines" is a slogan that was created by the government of the Philippines to promote tourism and travel—it was even turned into a jingle.
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I gesture to Tricia Hersey's (2022) invocation of dreaming as a movement toward liberation from a life under capitalism (p. 113), and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha's (2018) suggestion of the possibility of dreaming through the "secret bliss of bed!" (p. 181).
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I gesture to Sara Ahmed's (2006) description of disorientation as the "bodily experiences that throw the world up, or throw the body from its ground" (p. 157). I hold onto the possibility of encountering such a radical and physical shift in orientation—a disturbance that shifts the stability of any orientation—as a methodological move to release my danced repetitions of/through difference.
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