2010–2023 Writings
by Michelle Margaret Fajkus

An Indigenous Way of Knowing

Written in


Movement is a way of knowing. Movement is a way of connecting to the body, from the body. Movement is a way of relating, to the body, to other beings, to the landscape.

Dance, in its simplest definition and application, is movement.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a workshop at the Talking Stick Festival presented by Full Circle First Nations Performance who offer workshops in communities and schools.

Full Circle’ evokes many images: inclusiveness, wholeness, a full gathering. It is both a traditional symbol of completion and of continuous movement – action with no beginning or end. – mission statement of Full Circle

It was a workshop in Indigenous Contemporary Dance in the Studio with Troy Emery Twigg and Justin Manyfingers who describe their work as follows:

… an introduction to Indigenous ways of knowing the body and its relationship to landscape, environment, living organisms and other bodies. Similar to to other techniques, they have devised a way of working on exploration of form, and conditioning in ways that relate to ancient knowledge particular to the Blackfoot peoples, recognizing a diverse way of acknowledging a universal commonality which is the body, in stillness and exertion. Troy and Justin will be working with form and movement leading up to and exploring the idea of ‘stories evolving from the body.

I’m not indigenous. Nor am I “a dancer.”

But I’ve always enjoyed moving. In my youth and young adult years, I was mostly involved in competitive sports. There was always an object to chase, rules to follow, a time or opponent to beat. Now, I prefer yoga and hiking to athletics. Even then, I’m guided, to an extent, by an instructor or trail. Moving intuitively within a group of people was a new experience for me.

But I signed up, showed up (thanks to dance anthropologist and friend Lori Henry) and for two hours, I moved on my own, with partners and sometimes even with an audience.

It was terrifying. Awkward. And liberating.

I made imprints on the earth from the story of my body, and what the experience imprinted on me is that everybody, every body, every part of the body has a story to tell.

What is one of the stories your body has to tell?
I find it easier to listen with my eyes closed and when I am standing still. Simply notice any thoughts, emotions or sensations that arise. What is one way that part can express itself? Imagine taking that message from your body and releasing it into the air or onto the ground. Congratulations, you are a dancer.

3 responses to “An Indigenous Way of Knowing”

  1. I get excited (that’s an understatement) when people begin to shift from “head” learning to “embodied” learning. It goes so far beyond the concept of “muscle memory.” The knowledge we hold in our bodies, that moves within us, that filters through our very being, has been learned by us over the years. We carry with us past joys, sorrows, pain, love, memories and sensations our mind has forgotten or buried. What are those stories? How can we bring them back out so that we can celebrate them, cherish them, or finally let them go? We must MOVE in order to unlock them, to release them, to remember that we KNOW them.

    Dance is just a word made up by the English-speaking Western world – there is no definition of it in many other cultures around the world. (How can the Tiwi, an Aboriginal group in Australia, define “dance” if they do not separate their own physical “bodies” from the environment around them, for example? When does “dancing” start and movement end? Why do we need such a limited label?) Most people will not identify themselves as dancers, even feeling aversion to the idea of dancing themselves. Fine. That’s mostly a cultural thing. But what if we shed the “dance” label and instead valued the power in moving. In expressing through movement. In telling stories through movement and hearing others’ stories through movement. We all move, everyday. Why not listen to the stories we are telling each other and try to understand them through more than just our intellect. We already know so much: we just have to remember to unlock it.

  2. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing your insights, Lori. And to continue to remember to unlock it… no matter how many times or how much we forget, we can always remember! I look forward to learning more about your “work” in your future books and projects.

  3. I didn’t know that about “dance” — so interesting. Here’s to embodied learning and movement.

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