Dancing by Mel Deerson.
One is A and one is B,
A being the leader
B being the follower
as per convention.
A being the leader,
As per convention,
B can only sometimes speak.
a lesson learned by rote.
B can only sometimes speak
and she is cheating invisibly.
A lesson learned by rote
at a wooden table
and she is cheating invisibly
by writing on it.
At a wooden table
that is a page –
by writing on it,
the material is mastered.
That is a page.
It is spoken.
The material is mastered
& she is more gentle.
It is spoken
as a gesture of love and control
& she is more gentle
as B recites.
As a gesture of love and control
A looks away
as B recites
love and submission.
A looks away
B being the follower
Love and submission
One is A and one is B.
Something Like Dancing is an on-going, one-on-one performance work by Jacqui Shelton. The work is adaptable and can be performed in quiet spaces such as a home, a studio, a park bench, or a library, and is comprised of three separate hour-long sittings. Over the course of these three sittings, a participant in the work will be taught to recite three stories by heart.
I acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people as the owners and custodians of the land this project was developed on, along with all Kulin nations, and extend my respects to all First Nations peoples and their elders past and present. I honour the storytelling and art-making at the heart of First Nation’s cultures, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.
Many thanks to those who have supported this project, including Tim Royall, Mel Deerson, Zoe Theodore, Tom Nicholson, Jan Bryant, Daniel Palmer, Marian Crawford, Therese Keogh, Laura Couttie, Polly Stanton, Paul Mylecharane, Ruth Cummins, Bella Hone-Saunders, Sean Miles, Camille Thomas and Agnes Whalan.
SOMETHING LIKE DANCING,
“The aesthetic encounter is neither distance nor sharing, nor background or foreground, but is emerging precisely in the indivisibility of opposites.”
--Mårten Spångberg 
I don’t remember the day I found out my grandmother died. I have a terrible memory that tends to either focus on small insignificant details or come up completely blank. Sometimes, when I realised I’ve completely drawn a blank, I panic and sift through what memories I have hoping to uncover something, but usually come out of this stupor empty handed.
When I met Jacqui for the first session of Something Like Dancing, she jumped straight into storytelling. It was unnerving to see her facial expressions and body language abruptly change. She stared penetratingly into my eyes and her sentences jumped into unfamiliar rhythms. I regularly feel uncomfortable when people look at me too long, and noticed myself pretending to be more composed than I was.
When I was asked to repeat Jacqui’s story back to her, I felt the familiar feeling of anxiety simmering my blood and causing my face to become flush. I panicked and cursed my pitiable memory, whilst searching for the correct phrases. Before my blood reached boiling point, I caught Jacqui’s knowing and cooling smile and unexpectedly recalled the next sentence of her story.
The next time I met Jacqui, I noticed I felt much more comfortable. I remembered thinking it was because this time we were sitting side by side, looking over the Yarra Bend Park. This meant I didn’t have to witness Jacqui’s unwavering eye contact or notice her reaction to my stumbling over each word.
I grew up by the sea and have a patch of freckles on each of my shoulders to prove it. I now live far away from the salted ocean breeze, but regularly find myself longing for the feeling of floating in salty water or for salt to form a thin crust on my brow.
I know this is a common longing for anyone who is fond of the sea. There is something universal about the ocean. It has a familiarity to it and comfort can be found in ocean breeze and sea water—the same comfort can be felt which ever sea you are visiting.
Whilst the process of reciting of Jacqui’s stories made me anxious, listening to her sentences also comforted me. There was something personal about them, and I could empathise with what she was saying. When she spoke of lemonade cooling her insides, I too long for lemonade and imagined my bodily reaction to a cool liquid rushing through my body.
Each of Jacqui’s stories has a sort of familiarity to it and is littered with expressions of embodied subjectivity. We experience the world primarily through our own body, but Something Like Dancing offers us a kind of intersubjectivity or an experience through another subject—maybe Jacqui herself or possibly even an anthropomorphic sea. And as I recited the line “I decided to go to the pool” I too saw the brightness of the day fade to purple.
I started dancing lessons when I was only three years old and continued them well into my twenties. I am still very comfortable learning a dance routine; mimicking movements and counting sequences within music.
But I’ve hit a road block trying to recite Jacqui’s stories. I find myself getting stuck on each word and its place in the sentence and that sentences place in the story. I think to myself—this must feel something like dancing to a novice? The act of learning, the process of being led, the rhythm and repetition, but most importantly the expected obedience transports me back to ballet lessons.
I want to approach Something Like Dancing, like dancing. Like a port de bras—ensuring I reach second position before I move onto fourth—but maybe each word or step isn’t essential? And instead of reciting each sentence word by word, maybe getting the gist of the story is more important?
Exploring the tyranny of unattainable accuracy, our teacher leads us towards the emancipation of estimations. Only experienceable within the work, Something Like Dancing has a committed indifference to the need for a fixed outcome. The work remains open—open to new receivers, new settings, new possibilities and spontaneous decision making. Its openness “is to be found in play and in labour, where who and what are to be are forged in thick and deep times and places.” 
She is talking, she is confiding.
I am listening, I am reciting.
It was created to be embodied, to be present,
to be fleeting.
From autobiographical stories, to a one-on-one game, to a tool for exploring the myth of singularity versus the desire for multiplicity, Something Like Dancing posits a series of ephemeral exchanges between artist and receiver as art making.
The transitory nature of the work reminds me of dancing again. Dance theorists have long been concerned with accounting for what is enduring in dance. Common questions are: where is the work? What is the work? What becomes of the work once this temporal phase has passed?
In Andre Lepecki’s essay ‘Choreography as Capture’ he asks, “how does one make dance stay around or create an economy of perception aimed specially at its passing away?”  His answer to his own question is that while dance is ephemeral, the apparatus that is enduring is the choreographic. In other words, while the body is the formal element of dance, choreography becomes the work. For me, Something Like Dancing utilises an equivalent apparatus of capture as choreography to achieve the performance’s potentiality.
Something Like Dancing has self-determining potentiality that can be only realised through its dynamic use of time and space. Each time the work is performed, or occupied, it is never the same as the past iteration, and it can be only realised through the activation of a new subject—the receiver—who generates a new and unique realisation of the work. It is co-created and digested in situ with the receiver, and over time the shared experience between the receiver and the artist is what becomes the work.
To sit or walk with Jacqui and to follow her stories is to explore your own delimitations. To follow her stories is not about repeating information for the already archived future, but to activate your memory for our disappearing present. As each line is recited one after another, and each memory makes way for the next, a new reality replaces the future and an unrealised present is revealed.
- Mårten Spångberg. 2017. Gerhard Richter, Une Pièce Pour Le Théâtre: Program. Brussels: Kunstenfestivaldesarts. http://www.kfda.be/assets/4249
- Donna Haraway. 2010. “Staying with the Trouble: Xenoecologies of Home for Companions in the Contested Zones.” Cultural Anthropology. July 27, 2010.
- Andre Lepecki. 2007. “Choreography as Apparatus of Capture.” T DR: The Drama Review, Volume 51, Number 2 (T 194), Summer 2007, pp.119-123
SOMETHING LIKE DANCING,
(Elena Betros López)
Before I undertook Something Like Dancing (2018), I didn’t know Jacqui. We knew of each other in that way it happens in this city; you dance around familiar faces, pretending you don’t recognise or notice the other when in fact, you really do. Before Something Like Dancing, yet after the initial social dancing, I met Jacqui at a party that a friend had taken me to as a date. I felt a kind of strange out-of-body social experience—I grew up in this city, in fact not far from the party. I knew almost everyone in the room, yet felt estranged as I wasn’t invited, I was the date and therefore in this context there as a friend of a friend.
Within this feeling, some fissure fused or formed with Jacqui. From memory, it felt like we spoke for hours that evening, but I can’t be sure. What set us in motion was Jacqui’s interest in the work of Mette Edvardsen, a Norwegian dancer who I had lived in the same city as. I had seen her work and attended her seminars with the philosopher Bojana Cvejić at the prestigious dance school P.A.R.T.S.
I have friends in the other city, who are dancers with that type of institutional training, who are interested in the performative operations of written text and who examine its sociality, similar to how Jacqui does in Something Like Dancing. Something Like Dancing is not unlike what Edvardsen does in her ongoing project Time Has Fallen Asleep in the Afternoon Sunshine (2010), wherein the artist and a group of her ongoing collaborators each memorise a book of their choice by heart and recite it to an audience member one-on-one.
This is something like how Jacqui’s work unfolds, yet with a role reversal. Us, that is I, the one-on-one audience, is asked to memorise a text that Jacqui does not give in written form, rather she speaks or recites it, during the work itself.
Two things come to mind instantaneously:
- Mette’s performers memorise a whole book so the conditions of memorisation that Jacqui requests are rather premised on different conditions. Both in that no written text is given and that their length is rather different. Jacqui’s texts being comparably shorter.
- Two could be considered as a minimum for interpersonal relations.
Four eyes belonging to two people exchange a look which is so direct, its intensity feels hard to sustain.
Lisa Robertson, the poet, says:
‘Sometimes I see things and I know right away like looking someone in the eye.’ 
This is what Jacqui did to me when we started Something Like Dancing. I say we as I feel that this work only exists in the we, that is within the between: in the exchange between Jacqui and her one-to-one audience. Then, I barely knew her. We had met at the Union Hotel in Brunswick, a place I like to go to meet someone or to be alone as its unlikely I’ll run into anyone. So there we were, the spring was teasing us, we were sitting at a table out the back. Her with a pint of beer and me with a glass of white wine. Now that I am thinking about it, I think that when she did it, that is, turned her gaze to meet mine—this is when the work started. This gesture stopped time, and the polite hello kind of social exchange we were having before melted away, the temporality of our being there shifted into Something Like Dancing.
Once, something happened to me that left me rather perplexed. I was told that the dynamic I had with someone was too intimate. She said that she wasn’t capable of attachment. She didn’t know if this was the right word, yet she couldn’t do whatever we were doing at that time. Something that has puzzled me is that since this she has, in social situations, sought to meet my gaze and stares intensely at me. I wonder what can be transmitted or communicated or translated through a look? A minor digression from Something Like Dancing.
What I remember from that first sitting (the first of three that encapsulates the work), is how Jacqui left abruptly without the usual well-rehearsed goodbye ritual. This could, in any other social situation, be considered rude by some, yet she had given me prior warning. Nonetheless, it was still a rupture. In that first sitting I was, in a psychoanalytic sense, confronted with myself through a transference. Even though Jacqui had told me it was okay to not recite the text back to her verbatim, I was obsessed with getting every detail ‘right’ (whatever this might mean). Jacqui also commented on my tendency to substitute grammar for ‘and then’, which as I write this makes me laugh. I think at the time I said: ‘it feels like the thing I need to do as each sentence you (Jacqui) give me feels like an addition to the last’ (hence, and then, and then, and then…).
The second sitting was one or two weeks after the first. It’s further into the spring yet it is colder than when we last met. I arrive at The Union to find Jacqui sitting at a table reading a book on the small stage in front of a red curtain. I find the staging of this scene funny in its casual theatrics, given we are meeting to perform the second text of Something Like Dancing. If I have not yet made it clear, during each sitting of Something Like Dancing, we, or should I say I, tackle a different text to memorise and recount back to Jacqui. These sessions are mediated by intervals of one week(-ish).
The text for the second sitting felt more personal than the first. The writing seemed more intimate even though the language is descriptive, awkward and appears cold in its forensic details. The more I have thought about this since enacting Something Like Dancing, the more I believe that the text is somewhat superfluous to the performance itself. By this, I mean that we could really be reading any text. It rather feels like a conduit for the exchange between Jacqui and her one-to-one audience, who is also an actor/performer/generator of meaning within the work itself. The text is not the outcome, rather it facilitates or produces an exchange.
The third time we meet, the last sitting of Something Like Dancing, I either find Jacqui, or Jacqui finds me, sitting in a booth near the bar. This table is under the large pub menu, written in white chalk on a blackboard and it is even colder out then the second sitting.
We ordered some hot chips and chatted about housemates and the intricacies of sharing a flat one-to-one, and how this can facilitate unhealthy (yet sometimes funny) transferences of our everyday and (rather banal) anxieties, desires, dreams, hopes, particularities and fears. We discussed how important home is, yet how hard it is to find; I open up and admit that it has roughly two years since I felt at home anywhere. If I’m honest, I can’t recall if we really got to the text or at some point just gave up on it. This is an interesting question: ‘did we enact the last sitting of Something Like Dancing, in the end?’ What I do remember is that we admitted to one another our shared feeling of fatigue and how this brought a laziness to our last evening meeting. And, well, we gave into this laziness and we chatted about various things that were happening in our lives at that time.
Whilst Something Like Dancing was somewhat avoided or discarded in its third and final sitting, I wonder if in doing something other than the work, we still managed to enact some of it, in our one-to-one exchange. This is not to say that any one-to-one meeting could enact the mechanics of Something Like Dancing, but rather that for me, the framework of the performance facilitated, or sparked, the beginning of a conversation between Jacqui and myself. If I must admit it, I was curious about Jacqui’s work because I was curious about Jacqui, who she is and how she moves through the world.
Since what I could call our failed last sitting of Something Like Dancing, Jacqui and I keep running into each other at the grass circle, a mix of kangaroo red-led, silky-blue, windmill, weeping, wallaby and spear grass in a park in this city. We both live on different axis of the circle and once the season had fully turned we would find each other there surprisingly early in the mornings. Me in my purple shorts and Jacqui with her excited hound. The first time this happened, Jacqui was engaged in a conversation with a woman who owned a canine similar to hers. This woman was familiar to me, I often see her at the circle walking dogs with various human companions early in the mornings. I later learnt that Jacqui felt caught in the conversation and was wanting to leave yet too polite to do so. I said hi to Jacqui as I passed her yet did not stop to speak as it felt intrusive to interrupt. As I darted off Jacqui’s dog, Pepp, decided to join me on my run for quite some distance, jumping and playing with me, Jacqui calling after him, me laughing and his excitement. After this, when we would see each other at the circle, we would walk some laps together speaking of the things we had been reading, thinking about, our observations and recent experiences. One-to-one with the hound, we trace the circumference of grass circle, walking and talking around its edge, a threshold that vaguely marks the meeting point between the grass circle and the tan gravel.
- Lisa Robertson, 3 Summers (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2016).