The Highly Skilled Body

STREB: BilevelDancers, athletes and others elect to enhance their physical opportunities to optimally perform specific kinds of tasks. Various systems of training methods, of which dance training is one, are designed to increase strength, flexibility, speed, and movement fluidity or efficiency. Bodies that undergo such rigorous training systems over time to perform specific physical tasks not only tend to become highly skilled at these tasks, but are often altered in appearance through the development of muscle mass and tone; these bodies also connote, through appearance and function, such social values as health and physical fitness.


What kinds of physical tasks require specific bodily training systems?

In what ways can bodies that are trained to do extraordinary tasks be considered as altered bodies?

How are bodies that are highly trained to perform specific physical tasks viewed in current U.S. society?

How is the body like a machine?

Are there examples when the whole body functions as a machine?

Are there examples of specific body parts functioning as machines?

What kinds of machines does the body resemble?

How does the body differ from a machine?

Classroom Activities

Watch: View the footage of Elizabeth Streb’s Wild Blue Yonder.


Analyze: Think back over what you have observed in this viewing and generate lists of action words that describe the movement they have just witnessed. As a group, create a collective list of verbs and write them on a board or other surface visible to the group.

Discuss: What kinds of mediating strategies does Streb use to instigate the movement choices that the group has listed? How has Streb constructed and organized the performing space to evoke particular movement responses? What kinds of machines or apparatuses are employed in the work? Are the bodies manipulating these machines? Are the machines manipulating the bodies?

Experience: Having reviewed the kinds of actions characteristic of Elizabeth Streb’s movement vocabulary, invite the group to discuss their own physical, kinesthetic responses to observinSTREB: Gauntletg this movement:

  • Was it exciting?
  • Was the movement scary?
  • Was it predictable?
  • Did it resemble everyday movement?
  • Did special physical training seem to be necessary to carry out these activities?
  • Did students feel included or excluded as they watched this work? That is, did they feel inclined to participate in this kind of movement themselves or did they feel “put off” by or unable to participate in this kind of movement?

Write: Find three new examples of movement at home that are related to machines, and identify whether the body is primarily active or passive in each of these instances? Does the machine assist or incapacitate the body in some way?

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