research in movement

Today’s guest blogger, Gabriela Sánchez Díaz, is currently a Master of Gender Studies student at Memorial University. A professional percussionist and a Body Mapping instructor, she came to MUN’s Department of Gender Studies interested in the intersections between femininity, bodies, embodiment, movement, and classical music performance.

Research in Movement
by Gabriela Sánchez Díaz

Besides pursuing a Master of Gender Studies, I am also a musician. In my research I am interested in examining the relationships between feminism, classical music performance, and Body Mapping – a method that helps musicians to reduce pain and avoid injuries. I am investigating how the social construction of femininity affects the body and its movement in women who perform classical music.

Weeks ago, I found a video of Barbara Hannigan with the London Symphony Orchestra, an amazing performance of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre.”

While watching this video, I was completely absorbed by the music — it has all the sounds that this percussionist likes — but I was also intrigued by that woman singing with such presence on stage.

Hannigan’s movements are electrifying. They display an energetic and confident character. Usually when I am analysing the movements of musicians I completely turn down the volume, so I do not get distracted by the sounds and can focus only on the body. I try to identify how much they include their bodies while performing and distinguish if there are places where the connection between the different body parts breaks, which normally produces muscular tension.

Hannigan includes all of her body in this performance: her feet, pelvis, wrists, indeed every part has an incredible connection to each other. High heels do not limit her; on the contrary, they are used to give character. There is nothing static in her body and there are no constricted movements.

The ways that a singer performs are different from how an instrumentalist performs. For example, singers do not have their hands on an instrument, so they can wave their arms and make hand gestures. They do not need to stay in one single place; they can explore the stage and some of their movements can be more extreme, like kneeling or turning around. Although this can be done also by some instrumentalists, for example the work by the University of Maryland Orchestra, I don’t think that it is frequently taught. Singers have advantages because they can express themselves more easily with their bodies, but instrumentalists too can develop a broader repertoire of body movements and benefit from this in their performances.

How is all this related with a graduate degree in gender studies?

I have been exploring if the construction of femininity affects the way that women move when they perform. Scholars such as Iris Marion Young, Elizabeth Grosz, and Simone de Beauvoir explore femininity when they talk about how women are educated differently, at a bodily level, than men. According to Young, the differences are not so much in muscular strength but in the way women use their bodies. She observes that women approach physical activities with timidity, uncertainty, and hesitancy; they lack confidence in their bodies (34). Therefore, they do not engage their whole bodies in physical tasks. In my research I have been trying to identify the relationship that my participants, women who perform classical music, have with their bodies and how their bodily movements have changed through the development of body awareness.

Hannigan’s performance of “Mysteries of the Macabre” brought light into my research because it is an antithesis of Young’s observations. While my participants and myself are on the path to developing confidence in our bodies and movements on stage, there is no hesitancy in Hannigan’s presentation; she engages her whole body in it. It is also an example of how the body can be the vehicle for creating a piece of art and not something blocking the paths of musicality with concepts of gender. She uses her body and its movements to support her interpretation and even with a short skirt and high heels, trespasses conventional ideas of feminine movements.

I understood Hannigan’s astonishing performance after reading her article “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…” What I watched in her interpretation of Ligeti’s “Mysteries of the Macabre” was also years of effort, challenges, and transformation. She comments about the impact that performing Alban Berg’s “Lulu” brought to her life. Her description of Lulu resonates with my perception of Hannigan’s performance of Ligeti’s piece: “Whether she wears high heels and a sexy red dress or gym clothes, she is comfortable in her own skin . . . She’s an enormously powerful woman” (Hannigan para. 2).


Beauvoir, Simon de. The Second Sex. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009. Print.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies. Toward a Corporeal Feminism. USA: Indiana University Press, 1994. Print.

Hannigan, Barbara. “Barbara Hannigan: no jacket required…”. The Guardian. 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2015.

Young, Iris Marion. On Female Body Experience : “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays. N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print


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