Mischievous Movement

Kinesthetic Conversations in Crowded Spaces

Mark and Noah taking part in my movement workshop

On Saturday, August 8, 2015, I taught an experimental movement workshop as part of the Sextantworks Placemaking Lab on Governor’s Island.

Every day in New York City we find ourselves interacting in urban space, on crowded streets and subway trains. Crossing paths with strangers, near collisions, conversations without words. How do we decode the grammar to these kinesthetic conversations? Learn how to inject fun, freedom, and a little bit of mischief into your everyday interactions and gain new insights for designing social experiences. This workshop will draw upon diverse disciplines including experience design, social science, martial arts, and choreography. Come ready to move your body. No dance or martial arts background necessary. All are welcome.
Workshop participants explore the perimeters of their personal space. Photo by Ida Benedetto
Participants navigate the room “animal style.” Photo by Ida Benedetto

Here are two short videos of the participants in action:

I wanted to explore ways to get strangers moving and conversing with their bodies without words.

Here is a rough outline of the material that we covered:

Everyone stand in a circle around the room
Self-Introductions — Who are you? Why are you here?
Structure of workshop — movement exercises and mini games first, then we will discuss in more detail at the end. Questions at the end.
Basic ground rule for all activities: Don’t touch anybody else, and don’t let anybody touch you.

Warm-up: Walking Variations
1. Everybody walk around a circle
2. Switch directions
3. Walk backwards in a circle
4. Switch directions
5. Face the center of the circle, walk in a circle
6. Switch directions
7. Face out from the circle, walk in a circle
8. Switch directions
9. Birthday on an even numbered day walk clockwise, otherwise walk counter clockwise
10. Switch directions

Circles and Perimeters
0. Spread out around the room
1. Spread your arms wide and twist in place, letting your arms swing
2. Twist more deeply, back heel comes off of floor
3. Arm circles — front
4. Arm circles — back
5. Arm circles — one arm front, one arm back
6. Arm circles — reverse of #4

Group activities around the room
1. Everybody circulate around the room with arms twisting to create a perimeter. Remember not to touch anybody or to let anybody touch you.
2. “Paint the room with your feet.” Pretend that your feet are paint brushes, circulate around the room trying to paint the entire floor
3. “Animal style” — Circulate around the room alternating between walking on 2 limbs and walking on 4
4. “Painting blind” — The same as #2 but with eyes closed. No peeking!

Mini discussion — what did you notice so far?

Exercises for navigating high-traffic areas
The key is to “swing” — balance through imbalance
1. Shift body weight left and right by bending knees(4x down the lane)
2. Shift weight front and back in a high lunge position (4x down the lane)
3. Combine #1 and #2 in a freestyle fashion (2x down the lane)

Pair exercises
1. Pair up with a partner. Circulate around the room with all of the other pairs, maintaining eye contact at all times (it’s ok to lose contact momentarily while spinning or turning around)
2. Discuss #1 — what did you observe?
3. Try #1 again with a new partner. Deliberately try to “communicate” and create a non-verbal language with your partner.
4. Get a new partner and find your own little space. The person with longer hair starts first as the “attacker.” Make your partner move using your body (slaps, kicks, eye contact, other gestures) without directly touching your partner. As the “escaper” get out of the way in response to your partner’s movements. (2 minutes)
5. Same as #4, but switch so that the person with the shorter hair now is the “attacker.” (2 minutes)
6. Switch partners again for the last time. Work with somebody you haven’t partnered with before. Now either partner can be the “attacker.”

Final discussion

Workshop participants pair up to improvise kinesthetic conversations with their partners. Photo by Ida Benedetto

The workshop was heavily influenced by my practice of capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art disguised as a dance, which is highly ritualized and technically challenging. For my workshop, I wanted to take the kinesthetic conversations found in capoeira and make it accessible to anybody, in under an hour and a half.

For a bit of compare and contrast, here is some actual capoeira:

Lee-Sean Huang is a New York City-based experience design and educator. He is the cofounder of Foossa, a community-centered design and strategy consultancy, and a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts MFA Design for Social Innovation. He also teaches capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art disguised as a dance, at the New York Capoeira Center. He is the author of The Thinking Body, a Wisdom Hackers dispatch published by The Pigeonhole (Berlin & London, 2014).