Dances on Hooves: Embodiment and Interspecies Communication through Dressage to Music

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: Booth 66
Oral Presentation
Katherine DASHPER , Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, United Kingdom
Horses and humans have a long shared history, spanning millennia and continents. Once vital to the development of human societies via agriculture, transport and warfare, the horse is now predominantly a leisure animal, partnering humans in sport and other forms of physical recreation. Following on from popular success in the 2012 Olympic Games, dressage to music (DTM) represents one contemporary manifestation of the horse-human relationship. DTM is a form of interspecies dance. Combining the quiet, controlled power of traditional dressage with original choreography and musical interpretation, DTM offers an opportunity to consider some of the complexities of embodiment in action.

The ultimate goal of equestrian sport is to achieve “a oneness with the horse, a kind of fluid intersubjectivity” (Birke and Brandt, 2009: 196) and through DTM horse and rider try to achieve this mutual becoming as a form of dance. This paper draws on an ethnography of DTM, including participant observation, interviews and autoethnographic reflections, to consider how the horse-human dance is developed and performed.

If dance is a form of bodily education, then DTM is about training human and non-human bodies, and an attempt to decrease the boundaries between bodies and between species, albeit temporarily. In this paper I consider how DTM, as a form of interspecies dance, encourages human participants to focus both on their bodily movements and on their mental/emotional state, as they attempt to lead their equine partner through the complex dance routine. DTM is a form of competitive sport, which is judged for both technical and artistic merit, and the public performance of the interspecies dance offers an opportunity to consider how the musical interpretation of complex physical practices (dressage, in this case) is produced on and through bodies, human and non-human.