Breaking Free: On the Limitations of the Dancing Body

red rope still


Project Lead:

Alice Baldock, DPhil Student

Faculty of History

Wolfson College


Partner Organisations:

Café Reason, Butoh Dance Theatre





Alice Baldock, Faculty of History

Ayala Kingsley, Café Reason

Cath Blackfeather, Café Reason

Dr Juliet Henderson, Senior Lecturer, Oxford Brookes University, Café Reason

Cecilia Macfarlane, associate dancer, Café Reason


About the project:

Breaking Free is an online, collaborative dance project involving butoh dancers and a DPhil researcher from the University. Butoh, a dance form originating in 1950s Japan, involves ‘the formation of a question inside the body’. As a dancer tries to answer it, the question becomes deeper and more complicated, leading to more dancing, questioning, and searching. It is a useful medium to interrogate many of the questions faced by the humanities, including how we perceive and relate to our bodies.

Running over the course of several months, the artists collaborating on this project will be producing and discussing their responses to different themes.

  1. The gendered body– what is the impact of societal constructions of sex and gender upon one’s sense of self? How does the performance of genders become complicated as you dance it?
  2. The impeded body – what different obstacles can dancers face in terms of how they are able to perform?
  3. The aesthetic body – how do our internalised notions of societal beauty shape how we see our bodies when we dance? How can we break out of the obsession with needing to ‘look like’ a dancer to create meaningful work? Can dancers makes dances that are not beautiful?
  4. The isolated body – in response to COVID-19, this session addresses the impact that the pandemic has had upon our movements – as dancers and in daily life. Do we move differently now? Have we been affected by dance starvation, or by moving in spaces too big or too small for us?

The creative responses to each themes are brought together into a collage-performance, available to view online. This initial performance is intended to be a starting point towards a larger-scale project at a later date.

Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the

future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.