Choreography: lip dancing and beyond

The term choreography usually evokes a traditional image of dance and any dancing form associated with music. However, Mélanie Morrissette discusses about the absence or ignorance of discourse and film criticism on choreography in martial arts films.

Whew, I'm not alone. My works in sign language arts also inspected an notion of choreography in sign language.

lip dancing and hand dancing
Lip Dancing by Jolanta Lapiak at

The video Lip Dancing (2003), which I created for my art class, contains the visual-manual speaker myself and the vocal-auditory speaker. It has no audio.

One of the common comments I inevitably received in critique at an art college was that my signing was like "hand dancing" in their words. Initially, I was provoked, but with further thinking I finally came up with the title for this video "Lip Dancing".

The video work and the critique brought me to thinking further about what "choreography" means beyond "language-less dance" and how it can relate to language.

In the summer of 2003, I saw a videotape of the ASL performance of Lewis Carroll's poem "The Jabberwocky" translated into ASL by Eric Malzkuhn and performed by Joe Velez. He didn't simply stand and narrate the poetic story in ASL within the head to waist frame.

Rather, he performed it beautifully. What I noticed a striking thing about his performance was that he did not only use language but also used choreographic aspect in his performance. He fluently moved around with his whole body and the way he moved his legs in harmony with the way he uttered words in ASL in manual-visual-kinetic space-time.

mudras in nepali traditional dance
Zone Upside Down by Jolanta Lapiak,

In 2004, I took a private lesson in Nepali traditional dance called Manjushree in Nepal. As I danced "Manjushree", I realized there was some kind of a "language" (symbols) in this traditional dance unlike dances in the West (which is generally based on emotions).

Since the traditional dances in the East (India and Nepal) have some symbols which is a set of mudras, I envisaged a possibility to integrate choreography with visual-spatial language (that is, sign language) to the fullest. The ASL performance Jabberwocky is one good example.

Eventually, some of my works include some experimental choroegraphic elements in languages (Ameslan/ASL and English). Some also included choreographic element in English text, such as Lone Poetry (2006-07) and Dandelions.

During this period, I also explored a comparison of choreography using language and calligraphy beyond writing. I compared calligraphy (which means beautiful writing) with choreography in vocal singing and ASL poetry.

People see Japanese calligraphy somehow as dance-writing. Further, I see vocal singing as a form of verbal-vocal calligraphy (beautiful writing in the air) and a form of lip dancing.

In my works, I inspected the calligraphic element in ASL, which I called "verbal calligraphy", and related it to Japanese/Chinese calligraphy. Japanese calligraphy share the same visual-spatial modality with Ameslan language.

calligraphy in asl
"a splendid flash of concrete poetry",
Photospeaking and/or Photowriting
by Jolanta Lapiak at

Poetry Performance
Poetry Performance, Photospeaking and/or Photowriting
by Jolanta Lapiak,


Jolanta Lapiak.

Mélanie Morrissette. . August 31, 2002.

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