Drift-Walks

How can we trace the coming and going of our thoughts, of our internal projections in the spaces we walk in? Drift-Walkers are invited to invest themselves in an environment of sensations with a booklet created and provided by Julie Lebel.

You can download the Drift-Walk booklet here. The booklet is protected under a Creative Common License “Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported”

  • This booklet can not be sold. It must be printed as is.
  • If you would like to organize many Drift-Walks in your community, please come back to this site regularly for updates.
  • Print the booklet back to back, fold in half and staple. Pack a snack, a watch and a pen, wear comfortable clothing and go!

carnet_driftwalk_vs4_EN (pdf file)

Carnet de Drift-walk / Marches et dérives en français

Documentation of past Drift-Walks can be viewed here.

The article below can also be read in the booklet Ten Seasons, Ten Stories published by the Dance Centre in Vancouver, featuring articles written by artists for the dance Centre members’ publication Dance Central over the last decade. Read it online or pick up a free print copy in the lobby of the Dance Centre.

Drift-Walks: Acts of Poetic Resistance
By Julie Lebel, editing by Kaija Pepper.

I think of dance as a much broader concept than what happens in the studio or on the stage. What most interests me is to find ways to define and share different possible dance experiences with others. I set up experiments in public spaces, projects like Mobile Clubbing (when a group of people each listening to their personal music device gathers suddenly in a public space to dance), Échelle humaine (human:scale, a psycho-geography multidisciplinary community art project) and most recently Drift-Walks.

During my residency at The Dance Centre, I developed the Drift-Walk project through writing at home and working out ideas in the studio. So far, the latter has involved rehearsals and an open showing that took place in the fall of 2007. I also spent a month of active blogging, sorting collected data and writing short essays. The project has evolved in many ways with the help of both artists and community participants that I have found here in Vancouver, and elsewhere in places like Smithers, British Columbia and Nantes, France.

What is a Drift-Walk?

A Drift-Walk can take place in a park or any quiet place outdoors. The activity can take between 45 minutes and three hours to complete, depending on the landscape. Drift-Walk booklets are given to participants at a meeting point; they include questions and spaces to write or draw. The questions aim to awaken physical awareness: by looking, touching and listening, our minds will make associations tied to physical sensations, something that I ask participants to investigate. I believe that the first step in creative training is to widen our use of the perceptual senses through creative play.
The idea is not to fill the entire booklet, but to choose those exercises that mean something to each participant at any particular point in their walk. I invite participants to arrive, and then to begin exploring the environment by simply taking the time to settle in the space before getting on with any particular task. I suggest stopping and resting in order to write or draw something, to identify where their attention is drawn to and to be aware of the use of space. These “how to” suggestions are stated in the first pages of the booklet. During group Drift-Walks that I have led, I have noticed that participants creatively choose what they want to look at and hear by following not only external points of interests but also their own internal thread of associations. The process is like composing, and if there was a way to record and re-play perceptual memories we could revisit these walks like we listen to music.

As a choreographer, when I watch participants in a Drift-Walk I am fascinated by how their bodies responds to their choices. Even from far away I can see the tension or release when a participant’s attention is suddenly focused on a detail or when their mind wanders while looking at something vast like the sky. Their micro-gestures are the reflection of a “thinking body,” a type of physicality I am interested in when I work with professional dancers.

Much as dance artists can practice useful performance skills like “being seen” on the bus or in a park, the practice of “how to arrive” can be done just about anywhere. These ideas are drawn from my love of improvisation and are rooted in the art of American improvisers Lisa Nelson, Nancy Stark Smith, Nina Martin and others. Walking as a creative activity is also explored in other fields: sound, visual art, performance art and writing. In Vancouver, Hildegard Westerkamp and local collaborators have developed a well-attended Soundwalk activity through Vancouver New Music.

Sharing my Dance

When I dance, I do specific tasks like tracking my use of space or relating rhythmically to a texture or an image. These tasks are also called scores and are not necessarily complex movements. In other words, you don’t need to be a trained dancer to do them. The Drift-Walk activity is a format invented so that lay people can access these exercises. But like any new experience, inventing just the format is not always sufficient. With the help of other artists, I have found outreach strategies, such as the booklet, which is now published on my website as a PDF for participants to download and print at home. Licensed under Creative Commons, anyone can copy and distribute the booklet freely, as long as they cite my name, don’t change it and don’t charge others for it. Participants are invited to mail me the booklet once it is complete. I do not take authorship for inventing the tasks or scores, as they have been around for a good while in the dance community. However, I’ve developed some of the wording, the structure and the booklet itself – something I would like to protect.

The Drift-Walks have evolved greatly since they began. I first invented the Drift-Walk booklet and activity as a sourcing tool for Field Notes, a solo created in Sept-Îles, Québec for and by my company, Ensemble Indépendant. In 2007, while doing the walks with the community in Sept-Îles, and also later in Vancouver and during the St. John’s New Dance festival in Newfoundland, I noticed participants showing a sense of connection with their physicality, and an awareness and conscious use of space and time. I realized there was more to this activity than provoking a strong sense of “being here” and connecting to sensations; now I consider these walks like miniature performances, even when they involve something as simple as sitting in one place for a long period of time. Drift-Walks have become more than just a sourcing tool or research activity – though I now have a nice collection of booklets filled out by participants – and are an autonomous dance activity all their own.

A turning point for me was my participation in the Critical Response Process led by Laura Hicks at the Memelab creative space in Vancouver. The Critical Response Process provides a structure to support public feedback on artistic projects, and I was able to ask for feedback on what might be areas of discomfort for potential participants in my Drift-Walk project. The three main responses were: “What’s in it for me? Am I going to have to dance? I am not creative enough, I will feel judged.” These three fears could prevent many people from participating. To remedy the situation, the Drift-Walks are now described as a workshop where people can gain skills and practice their creativity. I also state clearly on my blog that participants are not asked to dance. Finally, sharing the booklet with me is no longer mandatory. People don’t have to fear being judged.

What I really like about Drift-Walks is that this type of community art allows me to practice my art in other contexts, and at lower costs! I also consider both Mobile Clubbing and Drift-Walking acts of poetic resistance; through these activities, participants are able to practice their creativity, get in touch with what dance is and cultivate a taste for new experiences.

Julie Lebel is a dance artist living in Vancouver. Julie proposes movement activities to the community, including performances and collaborative research projects. She has been artist-in-residence at The Dance Centre, where she furthered her research on the Drift-Walk project.

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