• Maggi Phillips


Experiencing a young girl skipping down a university pathway provoked contemplation about physical experimentation and its actuality in the epistemological order of things. Why is this child the only one who knows how weight bounces in delicious counterpoint, how the bipedal regularity can be subverted and dispersed into an asymmetrical patterning, how movement interacts with earth’s felt inertia, and how a sense of freedom, desire, élan and power courses through her physicality as she skips? Skipping is a complex coordination activity in child development, signalling the potential for an inordinate variety of high order development skills and yet skipping is not usually included in the repertoire of adult knowledge pursued in academic parameters. That provocation led to speculations about the metaphorical potentiality of skipping as an action which could alter or provide a variation to the norm of bipedal thought, introducing at a fundamental level a notion of irregularity.

One embodied track of investigation circled back to Lakoff and Johnson’s metaphorical conceptualisations (2003) where they posit that the body provides patterns for use across other domains which accumulatively build into complex thinking. Another track moved forward to embodied cognition and current ideas about mechanisms of sensory processing and motor control that ground the mind. Both explanative systems make sense to the experiences of my once-dancing body but also highlight the silo effects of disciplinary knowledge wherein, for example, anthropology, cognitive science and dance, although concerned with the same puzzling phenomena about thought and consciousness, never engage in an exchange of what and how they know. I have the skipping girl to thank for thinking—across its multiple modes—that understanding might be otherwise.

Keywords: skipping—metaphorical conceptualisation—embodied cognition—dance—disciplinary silos.


‘Yes, the body can be unruly, profane, and at times is difficult to control, but so too can thoughts’ (Boyd 2007: 66). This is an argument that I have used, like a broken record, to postgraduate research students and myself over the years. But a recent experience suggests that, in certain perspective, the body is also capable of a lucidity that the strictures of research hide from sight. It goes like this.

A young girl skips down a university pathway, the da dum agility of her rhythmic lightness like some forgotten heartbeat. The action is totally natural and, yet, totally alien in this place where walls, time and those who operate within are saturated in an adult dumb-show of ‘knowing better’. I’m transfixed, thrown by this tiny and slight researcher into a mix of wonderment and loss. Why has this sophisticated movement been banished from an environment dedicated to knowledge? Why is this child the only one who knows how weight bounces in delicious counterpoint, how the bipedal regularity can be subverted and dispersed into an asymmetrical patterning, how movement interacts with earth’s felt inertia, and how a sense of freedom, desire, élan and power courses through her physicality as she skips? In terms of embodiment, this unacceptable skipping thesis—for of course she is too young to know and the small body is doing not thinking—is complicated (and here the messiness intervenes) by her unobserved spectator whose body cannot skip any more, even though it aches with sensed remembrance of having been able to accomplish that complex act with some sort of equivalent delight in exploring rhythmical intricacies. Loss pervades two ways: in adult prohibition—unspoken but consummately accomplished—and by means of physical disability such that, even though desired, replication cannot be achieved. Or perhaps it is a three-way loss because the most critical concerns a loss of trust in the very bodily knowledge of skipping. Thoughts, cluttered with anxieties of credibility, actually mess up the clarity of that young girl skipping.

As a commentator and advocate of embodied knowledges, this slight act of skipping engaged me, bringing unanswered questions to the skin of endeavour. Just imagine if skipping was introduced as a methodology, physically and metaphorically, within the repertoire of academic research. If I ask such a question, am I going to be crucified for naiveté? If I don’t have countless references to justify the act of skipping (much less rely on a young girl in a university environment) will my observation be disallowed? I suspect that, in most cases, the clear message of my skipping girl will be dismissed as frivolous, misguided or insufficiently researched. But just supposing that no one has ever ‘thought’ about skipping as knowledge before? It means nothing to the young girl who will continue, in moments, to explore through her skipping the dense understanding of being bipedal and what this might mean for countless other forms of knowledge. Or maybe it will take her a lifetime and disability to recognise—be conscious of—the potency of that action? If this witnessing experience is disallowed as research because it ‘skips’ procedures, what does this say about our pursuit of human knowledge in general?

Tracking down the evidence

Intriguing slides or ‘skips’ in semantic schemes occur when the action of skipping is translated into words: noun forms tend to pick up on the action of rhythmic regularity (though essentially couched in that counterpoint of changing the bipedal, the 2/2 into a 3/3 off-beat modality), while verb forms tend to favour a basic concept of irregularity—of avoidance, missing, evasion and oblique horizontal jumps, as in skipping stones, truancy and missed musical tracks of laser and vinyl technologies. Curiously, the action seems to preempt so-called ‘abstract’ words/thought. Do a Google search of ‘skip’ or ‘skipping’, and it is obvious that the action, in print and in the pervasive information age, has been elided by the idea of avoidance (and hence to the neurological domain of abstraction/symbols). Switch back to dance, and skipping might represent an absolute positive action, an originating prism that literally bounces thought off into multitudinous variations and manipulations.

On the other hand, if an etymological-type search were pursued for the physical origins of the ‘skipping’ unit, where might it begin and on what etymological formation would that search precede: a step and a hop as a readjustment for a misalignment of a regular step, or in that irretrievable moment when humans became aware that a-step-plus-a-hop could not only be repeated in a pattern but could actually be subdivided into further patterns, or folded, twisted and spun. This speculation is further complicated because a dancing skip can fit into many rhythmic patterns: the body simply adjusts its dynamic intentions for the frame. My skipping girl, not pressed by any sort of conformity, probably ‘thought’ in terms of a one-and-a-half consciousness on a regular 2/4 beat structure, but embodied skipping can just as easily adjust to the slow and dignified 3/4 movements of the Scottish strathspey, the speedy 6/8 of Central European folk dances like the Czardas, and the 4/8 of the Korean Farmers’ dance. Furthermore, complexity occurs when irregularity becomes regularity over long time scales, as in musical sequences of subcontinental India and the Baltic States, or the skipping unit transformed through plays on scale, shape and momentum into useful transitions or random insertions of skills. Unfortunately, because of the vanishing nature of movement as a time-based phenomenon, which historically shapes its undocumented and thus devalued nature, little is known about the experimental sequencing of simple to complex of those who move, or more particularly, of those who dance. This observation in no way dismisses the now considerable research literature on dance, particularly delving into embodiment and its vanishing as is evidenced in the work of Livet (1978), Banes (1983), Daly (1994), Thomas (1995, 1996), Foster (1996), Parviainen (1998), Burt (1998), Melrose (2003), Lepecki (2004) and Copeland (2004), just to acknowledge a few. What intrigues me over and above these informative investigations is how little attention has been given to the nuts and bolts of movement, as in the foundational pattern of skipping.

Within the limited array of visually recorded dances, examples of skipping proliferate though, to date, that sort of knowledge may be locked away in dancers’ muscle memories. For example, a child learns a skip to perform a tarantella or fairy dance; then, as he/she grows, this may be translated into a Czardas or a sleek jazz dance move or even hiphop. These translations are not necessarily simple because apart from changed rhythmic structures, there are muscular tensions, spatial organisations and specific torso/limb co-ordinations to re-align. A dancer may not even be conscious that his/her body is grappling with changed conditions of the original tarantella action. However, I do remember an occasion when I consciously resorted to bodily memory of a mazurka in Swan Lake, which enabled the execution of the same skip plus swish action in a contemporary dance situation. By this stage, I was old enough to recognise that I could draw on a reserve of experiential knowledge spanning some 20 years. Time not only accumulates and processes tacit bodily knowledge but also, potentially, in terms of the current discussion, forms an analogy to linguistic elaboration and change through intricate interconnections, weaving the unknown into the known.

A researcher who is not a dancer with a fairly extensive cross-genre experience might, for our purposes here, have to rely totally on unfamiliar recorded materials to assess whether or not skipping is a generic action of crosscultural reach. The only way to do this is simply to trawl through dance tapes and DVDs, an archivist’s endeavour with few to no keywords or individual names to assist the journey through the labyrinth. In other words, even if a researcher were to ask the question of what evidence there might be of skipping in contemporary adult behaviour, he/she would have scant resources to follow in conventional terms. Labanotation specialists arguably have some computational mechanism to isolate the nest of marks that denote a skip (or a series of skips), and I suspect that folklorists of Central Europe and/or the Soviet States also developed a method of isolating skipping movements from their meticulous sets of records. However, both these sources have limitations: the former in keeping track of the movement in its various manipulations, and the latter in their geographical and genre specificity. From my perspective, the overall lack of any image/movement database constitutes the starting point of failure in conventional research.1

Bipedality, concepts and thought

Somewhere in the mists of evolution, bipedality became a signifying trait of the human species. Arguably, the basic premise of the bipedal action (and its binary interconnectedness and implications) acts as a building block of thought, something akin to a ‘this’ and ‘that’ metaphorical concept of succession, balance, equality and complementarities. Skipping speculatively emerged with a doubling of the 1 and 2 system into 1 and 1 and 2 and 2 which, in turn, forged grounds for the half and/or the ‘odd’ in numerical terms, both latter actions being potential blueprints for the concept of irregularity, of being and knowing that is not coded in direct correspondence with the basic walking pattern.

In childhood motor development terms, Kathleen Haywood and Nancy Getchell note that skipping holds pivotal significance among the ‘last fundamental locomotor skill[s] that children develop’, no doubt because although the ‘coordination between the legs is symmetrical ... within each leg, the pattern of movement is asymmetrical’ (Haywood & Getchell 2005: 108). ‘Skipping might not appear until the individual’s neuromuscular system can coordinate the two limbs as they alternately perform asymmetrical tasks’ (Haywood & Getchell 2005: 109).

In evolutionary terms, the bipedal action is curiously simple compared with the four-legged coordination found, for example, in goannas, horses and dogs. Symmetry still governs in the latter, but the action pattern follows a more complex distribution among the increased number of legs. Maybe the relative movement simplicity of bipedality, although counterintuitive in evolutionary terms, actually facilitates the emergence of human cognition? That speculation may be fanciful, but what I am grappling with here is the possibility that the body and, specifically, its movement may be a trigger for incipient language or, more pointedly, for ‘thought’. Moving may be the structural (metaphorical) womb to enable acts of thinking.

Thought/consciousness/cognition had to begin somewhere, and one series of explanations of the development of the brain and integrated nervous system arises from neurological mappings of the chemical reactions required to fire neural pathways from embodied sensations that, subsequently, form complex distributed interconnections experienced as thought. Though I am far from understanding the intricacies of chemical reactions, neural patterns make perfect philosophical sense, and tie into the basic metaphorical concepts put forward by anthropological linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

For a dancer curious about the movement/thought relationship and faced with fundamental neural complexities, motor development research seems to be a sound starting point. Jane Clark, like Haywood and Getchell, lays out the initial stages of life from late foetal development, through infancy and toddler physicalisation of grasping, rolling, sitting, walking and so forth, as tied to evolutionary necessity. Embodiment and its emerging senses, along with parental guidance, clearly act as the discovery module for survival. Clark posits that the subsequent foundational stage is where options surface, and ground future skill development:

The fundamental patterns period is distinguished by locomotor and manipulative coordination patterns that will serve as the basis (or ‘building blocks’) for later emerging culturally specific motor skills. Thus, the symmetrical interlimb coordination pattern of walking is elaborated into running, galloping, skipping, and hopping. Finger-feeding is expanded to include tools (i.e., spoons) and later into scribbling with a writing instrument. (Clark 2005: 40)

Carefully posited between biological necessity, the skill potential of the skeletal-muscular system and sociocultural situatedness, Clark’s perspective embraces the locomotor patterns that can be channelled to the aspirations of the individual involved, whether mountain climbing or circus performance. While skipping is dismissed in subsequent adult behaviours for unconvincing reasons like energy expenditure inefficiency, Alberto Minetti points to one literal ‘off-the-planet’ exception:

Astronauts from Apollo Missions tried many different gaits on the moon's surface and the most preferred one was skipping ... [Skipping] differs from pure walking because it has a significant flight phase, and from pure running because a double support period often occurs. (Minetti 1998: 1227)

His only other acknowledgment centres on the high speed that the action attains when pursued by adults. However, nowhere does academic literature explore what adult dancers have accomplished with the physical concept of skipping in a big-picture historical perspective.

In contrast with motor development research, cognitive science—a relatively new disciplinary specialisation—moves into experientially-removed investigations focussed on the neural processes of the brain. New technological means of investigation in tandem with an intensified focus on an ever-increasing atomic (and internal) level of investigation has undoubtedly shaped this shift. Currently neurology, a descendent of cognitive science, is said to be divided between those willing to explore the sensory/environmental situatedness of neuronal behaviour (embodied cognition), and those who hold fast to notions of disembodied abstraction, mental thought that acts, it is argued, as a system unto itself. Paula Niedenthal’s account of embodied cognition encapsulates the promise of this sub-branch of cognitive science which focuses:

On the brain’s modality-specific systems, not only on muscles and viscera. The circuits in modality specific brain areas are fast, refined, and able to flexibly process a large number of states. These states can be reactivated without their output being observable in overt behavior. This account is ripe, therefore, to generate research that can further the understanding of learning, language comprehension, psychotherapeutic techniques, and attitudes and prejudice, just to name a few psychological phenomena. (Niedenthal 2007: 1005)

While these are admirable objectives, the quest to link the potential of the whole-body action of skipping promised by motor development researchers to that internal and miniaturised domain of neurons appears to miss a beat or to confound the link between the two systems of knowledge.

Issues of specialisation: the silo effect

Knowledges, in the unacceptable plural, challenge the singular assumption of ‘truth’ and make human experience too complex to assimilate in a single sweep of scholarship, my own to start with. I note here admissions from Marie Banich and Molly Mack who observe that:

gaining access to knowledge within a new discipline can be complicated not only because most scientific writings are geared to a reader trained within a specific domain but also because each traditional discipline has its own implicit assumptions and specialized vocabulary. (Banich & Mack 2003: xi)

Interestingly, non-scientific disciplines are, even in this consideration of knowledge breadth, simply discounted. Juliana Goschler’s observation on the interrelationship between psychology and cognitive science stresses the same mistrust of non-scientific explanations of human behaviour:

Empirical evidence from child developmental psychology, psycholinguistics, and Cognitive Science in general should be considered. To make valid claims about the psychological reality of basic experiences, one has to go deeper than analyzing metaphors in language. (Goschler 2005: 49)

As an unwitting commentator of dismissed knowledge, François Lyotard has pointed to the partial, local and unavoidably subjective parameters of knowledge investigation, due to the human inability to examine any form from outside his/her own experience (Lyotard & Thébaud 1985). Objectivity can be an aspiration but, no matter how stripped bare of interference that rigorous and scientific scholarship may be, absolute attainment is bound to fail. Commitment to perfection is understandable and may be ‘psychologically’ necessary but where might it lead amid the messiness of life/living?

My purpose here is not to deny the benefits of scientific knowledge, but rather to question the wisdom of intransient specialisation. Unfortunately, rules of management within disciplines and institutions, as distinct from the substance of thought, can be taken for knowledge, inadvertently causing disciplines to operate as silos, impervious to experiences outside themselves. Recognition of knowledge limits is not a recent phenomenon. Just look at the pantheon of diverse and argumentative gods and goddesses of most cultures, and the competition and fallibility of knowing is clearly demonstrated as an ageless issue. In some ways the ancients were much more discerning about the webs of contradiction in which humankind is implicated. 

A timeline sketch of the growth of the neurological discipline may illustrate ways in which knowledge becomes siloed. Early sources of environmental integration into thought processes include the view of 19th-century psychologists who argued that there was no such thing as ‘imageless thought’ (Goodwin cited Wilson 2002: 625). Jean Piaget picked up on this idea with his ‘developmental psychology ... which emphasized the emergence of cognitive abilities out of a groundwork of sensorimotor abilities’ followed by the ‘ecological psychology of J.J. Gibson, which viewed perception in terms of affordances—potential interactions with the environment’ (Wilson 2002: 625). Wilson then reiterates the linguistic explorations via metaphors, derivative from physical concepts, of Lakoff and Johnson (1980).

Lakoff and Johnson argue that all human experience, including thought, is embodied, constructed into the architectonic complexities of consciousness through the ‘natural’ presence of metaphors (2003: 117). Metaphorical conceptualisation enables relationships between the various domains of experience by way of ‘cross-domain mappings, in which a target domain inherits the inferential structure of the source domain. For instance, the concept of an argument maps on to the concept of war’ (Anderson 2003: 105). According to Lakoff and Johnson, this mapping, modelled on mathematical patterns, embraces the puzzle of imagination:

Metaphor is ... imaginative rationality. Since the categories of our everyday thought are largely metaphorical and our everyday reasoning involves metaphorical entailments and interferences, we can see that the products of poetic imagination are, for the same reason, partially rational in nature. (Lakoff & Johnson 2003: 193)

Such descriptions remind me of James Fernandez’ (1986) proposal that African philosophies are constructed from and transmitted by a complicated network of nesting riddles, seamlessly interconnecting metaphysical concepts with natural occurrences and personal experiences. A riddle is, of course, an altered form of metaphor that typically interconnects a known domain with unexpected orders of experience. Anderson’s reading of Lakoff and Johnson’s metaphorical transference gives some weight to my interest in the connection between bipedality and thought when he claims that the mapping relies:

not on specific experiences of particular modes of movement (the feeling of walking is like this) but the more abstract experience of moving through space. Concepts will often be grounded in these higher-order derivations of experience, in this case the experience of motility itself, rather than the (generally unconscious, but potentially attended to) feelings which accompany the particular mechanics underlying that motility. (Anderson 2003: 114)

This interpretation differs slightly from my speculations above where the actual mechanics of walking, conceptual states of motility as well as the experiential sensations of that motility, do have meaning potential. The fundamentals of walking and skipping until placed in a danced perspective might seem too prosaic for ‘rigorous’ investigation but, just as I might not understand the basics of chemical or neural interactions, another investigator might not appreciate the infinite and complex variables that emerge from bipedal walking and subsequent choreographic play.

Social scientists Raymond Gibbs and Nicole Wilson of the Metaphor Analysis Project approximate my position when they observe that:

bodily metaphors taken as a group, form a coherent system that is supported by a few image schemas such as containment, source-path-goal, balance, in-out, and front-back. These image schemas are combined with other basic bodily actions such as touching, eating, grasping, throwing, etc. to provide the conceptual foundation for many aspects of thought and language. (Gibbs & Wilson 2002: 525)

However, I still maintain that interpretations of Lakoff and Johnson’s preliminary insights are experientially limited. Worded language still gets in the way of embodied conceptual understanding. 

In ‘Afterword 2003’ of their seminal 1980 text, Lakoff and Johnson acknowledge that, though neural patterns may have been found to be characteristically diffuse, they hold fast to the view that the conceptual blueprint is the metaphor, intimating to my mind that the significance lies in the pattern of metaphorical thinking, rather than in a specifically ‘named’ conceptual metaphor. Thus the skipping unit, as it tinkers with the fundamental bipedal/binary concept from a dancer’s perspective, is already a conceptual metaphor in the form of a physical action. Word patterning, as such, encounters difficulties in explanations of this embodied thought, although skipping, like the word tree, stands in for an incredible multiplicity of manifestations (enabled by metaphorical thinking) for those who understand what the idea of skipping-ness or tree-ness might signify.

Overlapping Lakoff and Johnson’s inquiries, philosophers Husserl and Merleau-Ponty explored the implications of perception or being-in-the-world as framing knowledge pursuits:

experience, which after all consists of ongoing inputs from many different sources, is unified into a single object of consciousness by, and in terms of, our practical orientation to the world ... the subject which controls the integration or synthesis of the contents of experience is not a detached spectator consciousness, an ‘I think that’, but rather the body-subject in its ongoing active engagement with [the world]. (Anderson 2003: 104)

Similarly, Michel Foucault’s demonstration of the sociological constructedness of knowledge and Bakhtin’s literary dialogic investigations carry resonances of the central principle of embodiment. At the same time, somatic techniques like Feldenkrais, Alexander and Bainbridge’s Mind Body Centering explore mind and body interdependencies, predominantly seeking wellbeing and movement efficiency objectives. All this activity, physiological, philosophical, sociological and somatic, which is concentrated in one way or another on the body, by and large occurred in disciplinary isolation, while dancers skipped amid their own investigations.

Though I have not encountered texts recognising the influence, I would speculate that the attention given to ecological degradation/change, in combination with the needs of Artificial Intelligence and the detection of the mirror neuron phenomenon among other factors, has given rise to reconsiderations of the brain’s centrality in thought, and the emergence of embodied cognition as sub-discipline of consciousness investigations.

Recognition of embodied cognition is crucial for the skipping girl but movement itself is still missing in Wilson’s summation of the pertinent issues (2002). Cognition is ‘situated’ in perception and action; is ‘time pressured’ in terms of real-time interaction with the environment; is offloaded onto the environment by way of books, libraries, Google (and, for dancers, the teachers who transmit knowledge from one generation to the next); is co-dependent on the environment in a dense information flow between mind and world; and, perhaps the most promising in terms of understanding from a dancer’s point of view, offline cognition is body-based; that is, mechanisms of sensory processing and motor control ground the mind.

Wilson’s stance is countered by a movement towards ‘disembodying cognition’ (Chatterjee 2010; Mahon & Caramazza 2008; Fitch 2011) centred on the argument that the brain is essentially a mechanism of abstraction. This view correlates, intriguingly, with many knowledge pursuits that believe systems exist in total and ‘perfect’ abstraction. Mathematics is a case in point. Once concerned with the human world, mathematics is now focussed on an alternate world that is logical and flawless. This is the idea of an internal complete-within-itself structure (Saussure’s linguistic system and probably much of the medical/physical sciences arising when structuralism held cultural theory in its sway). Deep structure is an embedded value in many disciplines, and it is difficult to disentangle from the nature-culture opposition. Even my pursuit of skipping is haunted by the idea that there is this unit of movement, called skipping, which can be isolated and examined. Are concepts like truth, idealism or justice embedded in our neural capacity, or are they sociocultural constructions?

Apprehensions from a physical skipper

Apart from the already discussed disciplinary silo effect, my reading of the embodied/disembodied debate is surprised by simplistic experiments employed to determine the extent of the body’s role in cognition. Mirror-neuron speculations that posit an observer may replicate muscular engagement of the watched movement without actually moving makes sense for the young dancer/actor/musician who rehearses ‘performances’ before going to sleep, but what happens later when, debilitated, an individual views intricate choreographic moves that are kinetically comprehensible but physically impossible to perform?

Niedenthal’s account of a battery of tests measuring reaction time from the presentation of pictures indicates that switching from modality of input (image to movement, for example) tends to make reaction/processing time fractionally longer and less predictable. This overly scientific observation causes me to ponder whether artists (particularly performance artists) who constantly deal with metaphorical jumping might have developed a specific neural facility for moving faster between modalities—or a form of underlying pattern recognition that can adapt a one and a half skipping beat into experiences of joy and freedom or Escher’s tessellations. What happens in synaesthesia?

On the other hand, related testing by Santana and de Vega on the embodied responses to the linguistic mapping derived from ‘up-down’ motions indicated that:

abstract sentences sharing the meaning of metaphors also elicit body actions ... The meaning-action modulation was two-way: the comprehension of the sentences’ meaning modulated the performance on a concurrent motion task and the motion task modified performance in the comprehension of the sentences, suggesting that the motor component is a functional feature of metaphorical meaning rather than epiphenomenal. (Santana & de Vega 2011: 11)

The inescapable dominance of word perspectives imply that an action has to have a name in order to be recognised. Researchers seem not to take into account that dancers are conditioned to recognise movements, most of which have no definitive name. This can extend to skipping, which can be detected in multiple manipulations without using linguistic terminology—call it kinetic pattern recognition, if you like. Such thinking, be it kinetic, sonic or imaginal, without the need to switch modalities via linguistic naming and back again, could arguably make a difference to the reaction time for neural networks. Could it be that the linguistic bias actually blinkers scientists from asking the right questions? Even when attention is given to specialised knowledge of other modes, as in some mirror neuron experiments, linguistic or measurement objectives tend to obscure more profound levels of discovery. The increased neural activity demonstrated when dancers watch a familiar dance genre, particularly performed by the same sex as the observer, amount to common sense, since certain styles involve gender specific movement (Grafton 2009). Details available to expert practitioners necessarily matter for viewing but, at the same time, classical ballet or capoeira dancers are not arranged in homogeneous groups. Rather, they are individuals who may be wedded to a single genre or fascinated by the diversity of human movement. Such distinctions must influence observational attitudes. The fundamental issue concerns inappropriate questions for the contexts under examination, because researchers are not aware of the knowledge intricacies available in disciplines other than their own.

Similarly, an experiment directed to learning dances via a computer game demonstrates inattention to how and what dancers know. Different styles not only employ different vocabulary with distinct calibrations of weight usage, coordination assumptions, postural alignments, breathing patterns and so forth, but even the same ‘vocabulary’ like skipping can be transformed by baseline framing of movement qualities and meanings. Sociolinguists have demonstrated the same variables with word usage. Why should movement be any different?

Scientists too express concern about an over-reliance on linguistic data, urging future research to probe deeper than the surfaces of language (Goschler 2005: 49). For the complexities and capacities of embodiment somehow to operate as a system, there needs to be an infrastructural potentiality within consciousness to comprehend (and make) patterns that are metaphor-like. Arguably, some form of mathematical formulae may underlie thought patterning,except that in metaphorical transmission equivalence is never exact or definitive. Indeed, the value of metaphorical patterning, as understood in literature, lies in its malleability for multiple interpretations, allowing in significant moments the unknown to become manifest as the known (Foucault, cited Rajchman 1988).

In my terms, the breaking of the binary by the skipping unit—the step hop action—does not generate a fixed or exact combination of moves but rather opens a fundamental physical idea to transformation. I see this as analogous to linguistic elaborations and, more significantly, to the human capacity to think, whether in words, marks on a page, sonic constellations or movements. I propose that the idea of irregularity radiates out of the skipping propulsion in any direction and through an almost infinite variation of rhythm and shape. The kernel identifier, the double action of the same body part (or side of the body), can be difficult even for dance-knowledgeable individuals to recognise. The infrastructural capacity that enables recognition only emerges when curiosity probes tacit knowledge, and points to what I consider to be the womb of thought.

Undoubtedly, bodily functions, neural activity and genetic disposition are all involved in forming that ‘womb’, although it seems to me that people who are immersed in movement, like dancers, might hold the keys to unlock some of the more profound puzzles of embodiment’s role in thought. Dancers discover an affinity with the as-yet-incomplete picture of neural activity as outlined by science because neurons suggest movement, vibrations and messy journeys, forming infinite interconnections that resonate with (or rebel against) the physicality of bodies in the cosmos. The idea of the cosmos in itself, even if involving incomprehensible quantities of time-space, relies on our limited understanding of our own bodies struggling for significance and purpose.

At this point, I am still bothered by skipping’s disappearance as a knowledge source. Why does this complex locomotor action disappear and, moreover, why are the proliferation of multiple forms of skipping in people dancing ignored? I am tired of pushing against the theory and practice divide, as much as the science/imaginative opposition. I’m interested in turning those conventions on their heads, interested in what might be acquired if the skipping girl is enabled to skip into adulthood and right into the centre stage of knowledge, collapsing a few disciplinary silos in her wake.




  • 1. I have since become aware of the ‘skipping man’ who apparently decided that skipping enabled him to explore an activist program by way of a movement that set him apart from his fellow US citizens. This is a YouTube/social media avenue that I have yet to explore.
Works cited: 


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