Being formless: a Daoist movement practice

  • I-Ying Wu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study aims to develop a Daoist movement practice. Based on qi-energy, Daoism, a Chinese ontological study of being, suggests that Dao is the formless changing of in-between being. I explore how the formless nature of Dao informs my own creative practice. I argue that formlessness signifies an uncertain, unexpected, and constantly changing boundary of the self. Improvised movement emerges from within, and as an extension, of formlessness. The improvisational mode considered here is thereby experiential, an expanded way of being, rather than compositional. This thesis presents a somatic practicing process of embodying Dao in emergent movements.

Chapter 1 discusses a practice-as-research methodology, which relates the ways in which practice and theory intersect to the relationship of yin and yang from a perspective of qi-energy.

In Chapter 2, I discuss the somatic experience of improvised movement arising from qi and rethink the understandings of "practice" in the encounter between movement-based practices and Daoism.

In Chapter 3, I borrow Eugene T. Gendlin's theory of a felt sense and explore how the felt experiencing of qi is activated by a holistic awareness and gives rise to movement through the body based on the Daoist concept of the changing self.

Then I explore four diverse states of the in-between inspired by the Daoist philosophy of "light" through improvised movement in Chapter 4.

Furthermore, in Chapter 5 I develop a sequential transformation of in-between states toward Dao and discuss this process from a Daoist view of the self.

A boundary of the changing states is examined in a series of emergent movements as a process of practicing the self in Chapter 6.

I finally reflect upon Dao in my developed principle that focuses on an awareness of subtle emergences, and conclude formlessness, as it corresponds to Dao, is an emerging felt sense of being that is constantly changing before interpretation within the self in this movement practice.

DVD abstracts:

DVD chapter 1: Four states This series of edited videos offers the viewer a flavour of the four in-between states developed over the course of this research (see Chapter 4). Some of the videos are supported with poetic words. Filmmaker Lotti Gompertz's footage uncovers the subtleties of the energy and emergent movement in the four states.

DVD chapter 2: Sharing a practice This video consists of documentary material recorded by a still camcorder during a five-session workshop conducted during this research. The highlights of each stage appear briefly, in sequence, presenting the sense of transformation felt throughout the workshop. Footage of the participant and myself are juxtaposed to reveal the differences and similarities of the movement and energy emerging between us that helped me understand my self and Daoism during the workshop (see Chapter 5).

DVD chapter 3: Continuous transformation Drawing on footage shot by Lotti Gompertz, this video presents the highlights of each state of my emergent movement. It provides the viewer with a taste of the subtle transformation of the emergent movement and energy involved in becoming a wu-wei (see Chapter 5).

DVD chapter 4: Practicing the self This video documents a session in which the focus was on an awareness of subtle changes and emergences. Documented by a still camcorder, this edited video is composed of footage of a guest participant and myself working in the session (see Chapter 6), allowing emergent movement to unfold. The gradual transformation of a felt sense of the self during the session is revealed through subtitles that capture the words we spoke while moving.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorPatrick Campbell (Supervisor), Jane Bacon (Supervisor) & Vida Midgelow (Supervisor)

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