Encountering EKTD

by Rita Sousa Mendes

Writing can never be done alone. I mean, research. I mean, life.

Meeting the Embodied Knowledge in Theatre & Dance (EKTD) research group was like meeting a group I did not know I was missing.

Meeting is not exactly the right word. encounter is more appropriate. Encounter derives from the Latin incontra “in” + contra “against/counter.” It is curious to find that in a gesture of proximity – the encounter – its roots is an opposition against itself. As if one had to go against oneself to meet the other half-way. And maybe that is the first premise of an encounter - to go against to embrace then. Aren’t all encounters, to some extent, a movement against the “in” to further move “with”?

And by “against”, I do not mean only opposition, but also to face something for the first time that may bring friction. And friction creates energy and vibrancy. So, here,  “against” is used as friction and then merging.

My encounter with EKTD had this quality – the new and unfamiliar made my cells vibrate and created friction with some preconceptions. And, above all, brought more questions than answers.


My internship with EKTD starts with persistence. I’ll tell you how: a late decision to email, a few unanswered emails and phone calls. Call again later next month. Then, summer holidays. Finally, an email saying, yes, let’s talk. This internship took shape in my second year of the Gender Studies RMA master’s program at Utrecht University. I was troubled by the absence of the body in social sciences, and wanted to know about embodied knowledge so that I could bring such an approach to gender studies and theory.

Encountering Words

Language is unsettling. It is THE means to communicate, and seldom do other ways of communicating feel so good. At the same time, it fails profoundly since it is limited and limiting. In EKTD encounters, it was crucial to witness the desire to “stay with the trouble” (Donna Haraway, 2016) and dwell on the possibilities of language as “worlding” (Donna Haraway, 2016). Dissimilar to the idea of “travelling concepts” by Mieke Bal (2002), where concepts travel through different fields of knowledge and give different explanations to the same concept, at the EKTD research group, the quest is of another order. Playfulness underlines the difficulty of translating bodily experiences and the attunement in the choice of words. I name this methodology as “encountering words”. Let me give you an example: “Awareness," a critical component of embodied practices, is not understood or used by the group equally. Instead, some use “attention,” and others use “distance of attention.” The choice was linked with their mother tongue (for example, “attention” in French is a mandatory prerogative), the possibility of playing and attuning language to convey physical experiences, and the openness of staying with the trouble.

Encountering words plays with language plasticity, potentiating words to be done, undone, and inventing new ones.


Encountering Tools to Write / Tools to Theory

In “Writing Is Like Touch(2013), Lucy M. Candib speaks of touch as writing. Touching, for her, is “an action that allows your body to feel something outside it, to perceive the size, shape, texture, temperature, and hardness or softness of the object or being” (p. 44). In the writing gesture, those qualities are also present since it tries to capture the felt-sense movement.

In dance and performance where ephemeral writing gestures are inscribed in space-time to fade away soon, questions concerning the relationship between experience and language arise:

How to translate embodied practices and bodily experiences into words?

How to name things?

How does the politics of translation convey knowledge within a body and make it sharable?

How can knowledge be translated into other forms that rely not solely on textual materialisations?

What writings can emerge from the difficulty of sitting still and write?

How does writing in movement look like?

What happens, in content and formally, when writing is embodied?

What happens when one thinks faster and writes faster without using commas or dots that punctuate pauses and an orderly speech?

When one slows down and pauses, does a blank space convey the silence or a stop?

Which language elements emphasise movement and stillness?

How can other forms of writing, like experimental poetry, inform different ways of writing theory?


Usually, the content surpasses the form in theory-making. Commonly, the form has an established set of rules seen as standard and presumedly accessible to all that renders non-eligible other forms of non-academic and non-scientific writing. The potentiality of using other writing tools, such as “creative” writing to theory, can convey alternative ways of sense-making.


Encountering a Community (of Researchers) to Research

Research is a fragile and vulnerable process, filled with doubts because it is sustained in a not-yet-known. Research encourages us to build a “we” and to know who “we” are, where “we” are, and why “we” do what we do. Research requires material, emotional, and supportive conditions to do and maintain it.


Unlike Social Sciences, artistic research is subject to more mistrust regarding academic funding. funding artistic projects is common, but there are few funds for research within a larger community. To contradict this tendency, ATD Research Month is an initiative to show teachers, potential researchers, and students what researchers from several departments do. This initiative underlines the need for financed research that cannot be continuously sustained in people’s free time and willingness.

Neoliberal universities foster an appraisal of competition: a fast pace on applying for calls for papers, publishing articles in high prestige rank journals, peer reviews, book reviews, attending conferences, doing posters, teaching classes, supervising students and finally being accepted as a research scholar. I recall Sara Ahmed's “citational chain” and how knowledge is constricted in some bodies and excludes others - the same that name institutions or design infrastructures to some bodies. Since scholarships are so scarce, teachers and practitioners consider research a luxury. Research is done throughout the whole life of an artist/professor without being paid because it is “part of the job”.


Encountering Neuroatypicality

Erin Manning tells me that: “neurotypicality is not something that someone is. It is a systemic baseline for which self-presentation and knowing modes are policed. Neurotypicality is a mode of knowing and sensing that is systemic and akin to whiteness”. This affirmation does not erase the spectrum and singularity of neurodivergent. In her understanding, there is only neuroatypicality.

Acknowledging neuroatypicality in higher education demands one to “invent all modes necessary, [rather] than segregated modes” (Erin Manning), which demands employing multi-modal learning approaches that go beyond written and spoken language, including and acknowledging visual, tactile or auditory experiences.

Artistic research and creative tools are a medium to escape the rigidity of (social sciences) academia and create other learning tools and spaces for students. It is urgent to rethink the classroom by rearranging the physical space or developing strategies that embrace different learning timings and presentations.


Encountering the Risk of Being Otherwise

In Rose Akras’ somatic movement research classes in which I participated, it was fascinating to witness non-identification and unfamiliarity with one’s movement expression after the invitation to move from a specific part of the body (bones, lymph, fascia).

Besides provoking discomfort, staying with the unfamiliar demands a reorganisation of oneself. As Foucault (1982) proposes: “The target… is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are” (p. 216). somatic research invites for what we (in collaboration with Rose) call a process of recognition.

Processes of recognition occur under the invitation to recognise the familiar movement and the very unfamiliar. to experiment bodily what is to move with the conscious brain in a quality/part of the body and to be open to what emerges.


Encountering the Body Archive

In fields like dance, characterised by the ephemeral of the happening, the question of how to archive movement is unresolved. Archiving puts into question several stances: how, where, what, for whom and for what reason. when an archive is not only a sum of texts or audio-vidual mediums but the process of knowledge transfer that often dance notation does not encompass the process, it demands other archival tools.

Thinking of the body as an archive and having Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological take on embodiment as a process of becoming – sedimenting experiences – rather than an inert material existence supports the argument of the archive as an embodiment of stories and lived experience. to think of the archive as a lived body that materialises historical psychical contours over time expands the notion of a (dead)archive.

Julietta Singh’s (2018) take on the embodiment and archive greatly supports understanding the complexity of archival tools for fields that rely significantly on the body: “The body archive is an attunement, a hopeful gathering, an act of love against the foreclosures of reason. It is a way of knowing the body-self as a becoming and unbecoming thing, of scrambling time and matter, of turning toward rather than against oneself. Furthermore, vitally, it is a way of thinking-feeling the body’s unbounded relation to other bodies.” (p. 29)




Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a Feminist Life. London: Duke University Press


Bal, M. (2002). Travelling concepts in the humanities: a rough guide. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press Incorporated

Candib, Lucy M. (2013). “Writing Is Like Touchin Fam Med; 45(1):44-5.

Foucault, M. (1982). The history of sexuality. Volume one: An introduction. New York: Vintage Books.

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble. Durham: Duke University

Manning, E. (2021). “Neuroatypicality.” Webinar Doing Academia Differently: In Conversation with Neuroatypicality, hosted by the University of Missouri, the University of the Western Cape, and Ghent University, October 2021–July 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcaCx83aj-0.

Nørgård, R.; Aaen, J. (2019) “A University for the Body: On the Corporeal Being of Academic Existence” Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 1:3.

Singh, Julietta (2018). No Archive will restore you. California : Punctum books - 3Ecologies Book


Rita Sousa Mendes // 2023