Content warning: this article makes reference to drug use. All views expressed are that of the writer.


I’m going to attempt a chronology of a body in motion. To track its trajectory from the first dance to the last. The body and the timeline in this case are my own. Or mostly my own: the question of discreet ownership is a blurry one, because all bodies bleed. All bodies belong to themselves but also to place, to land, to language, to the law, and most importantly to other bodies.

If you want, if you think that such a gesture adds weight, I can start by invoking the words of a French theorist. I could paraphrase Helene Cixous and say: I write myself, because my body must be heard. I have nothing against Cixous. But I wonder in this case if I agree with her. Or rather, I wonder if I want my body to be heard on her terms. I wonder about the bind of logocentricism, and eurocentricism on both my writing and my dancing, and yet I persist with both.

And so I say again: I am going to attempt a chronology of a body in motion. I write myself, because my body must be heard.

I am going to attempt to map my body’s motions In Exstasis. To speak my body as a codex of ecstatic experience. These fragments form part of a much larger volume. Not all of these movements are voluntary and not all of them are beautiful.


Any movement that a body makes might rightly be called a dance. I am not interested in the cyclical labour of defining of what dance is or is not. Especially if that labour exists within the framework of artistic production as defined by Empires and their interests. I am interested in dance as both an architecture for the body’s containment as well as a technology of its emancipation. I am interested in dance as a thing that bodies do. All bodies, according to their varied morphologies. All species, according to their languages, their anatomies, and their relationship to time, desire and death.

Every creature does it. So does the wind, so does the ocean, even stones are dancers. The eccentric orbits of planets reveal their character as bodies in motion. Unsurprisingly, the synodic cycle of Venus is one of the loveliest. The mapping of her transit reveals the shape of a flower or a crown. We find these forms echoed throughout the mineral and organic universe, not least in our own oscillation.

Every creature does it. So does the wind, so does the ocean, even stones are dancers. The eccentric orbits of planets reveal their character as bodies in motion.

SJ Norman


Every dancing body is potentially a body in revolt. Ex Stasis—to stand outside of. The question being: outside of what? A dancing body might be—at least momentarily—fearless, and therefore, a threat. Every dancing body is dangerous. Every dancing body possesses knowledge of itself, and of its power. Every dancing body is a space where knowledge and pleasure might dangerously co-exist.

This is the real reason draconian governments shut down nightclubs. This is what saw the suppression of the Ecstatic cults of Mediterranean antiquity, such as the famous Dionysian Maenads, or the less famous Galli, the transfeminine priestesses of the goddess Cybele. The Haitian revolution began with dancing. Theocratic and militaristic regimes continue to ban their citizens from dancing to this day.

The dances of this continent you call “Australia” represent the centre of complex, agile, adaptive knowledge systems, which you tried your best to obliterate. Our dancing bodies are the great libraries you tried, and failed, to burn. I address a rhetorical “you.” Not because I want to make it personal, but because I refuse to address the coloniser in the past tense, or in the third person. I refuse to make this softer or less truthful.


When we speak of the dancing body, of the ecstatic body, there is no first and there is no last: its nature is ouribouric. Every dance contains the body’s beginning as well as its end. Every dancing body contains every other body that has danced before it. The first thing that a dancer learns to do is count.

And yet, the dancing body by nature exists outside of consensus temporality. Every dancing body is eternal. Gloria Anzaldua says: Through the ecstatic we come into relationship with our own wounding and our finitude, we come into relationship with death, and with rebirth.


I first came into this dancing body in 1984. The way it’s been explained to me at least, a new life arrives, really arrives, when the gestational parent feels the first kick. The first volitional gesture of a new organism as it emerges from the cellular matrix of the parent’s living tissues, as it dances itself into life.

The precise place where the parent is standing at that moment, will determine certain things. When the child is born, certain protocols are performed: blessings to cordon the threshold, to ensure that when that body dances, it does so freely and in full possession of itself. I don’t know where my mother was when she first felt me kick. My umbillicus and placenta went with the others into a hospital incinerator. But I do know that I drew my first breath and shook my limbs for the first time on Gadigal country. Specifically, I was born in Darlinghurst.

I will say that it pleases me that the place where first entered my dancing body as the newborn infant of a Wiradjuri mother, is the same place where I re-entered it as an adolescent queer. Sydney circa 1999, in a place which at the time was, if you can believe it now, a world capital of ecstasy. Nothing of this place belongs to me but I belong to it: its teeming sticky life, and all its histories.

A person dancing in a club obscured by the dark

McKenzie Wark


I am asked in an interview to recount my earliest memories of embodiment, and the first thing I see is a flower opening. Specifically, a Fortnight Lily, also known as a Wood Iris, though they are neither. Iriodes is its own family of severe, Antipodean plants built for rugged living. They will grow wherever they are planted. They are far too ordinary to be considered beautiful: it’s giving median strip, it’s giving shopping mall, it’s giving council housing.

In this memory, my finger extends towards a clenched white bud which, at the precise moment I touch it, splits. Unfurling mauve and saffron, a silent explosion of life. I must have been four: an age when the body’s surface still shimmers and blends with all it perceives. In this moment, I know everything there is to know. In this moment I am holy.


Yo la imagino esta tarde/ que soy santo (I imagine today / that I am holy) wrote an Andalusian faggot in a short, spare poem about walking on a sky made of flowers, written a decade or so before he was shot by fascists at the age of 39.

Holy, a word in Modern English with a Proto-Indo-European root: kóh₂ilus, meaning: whole, healthy, complete. The Diccionario de la lengua Española attributes at least 16 different meanings to the word in Castillian: Santo, from the Latin root, sanctus. Santo: saintly, free of sin, consecrated, etc. But also: lucky. Also: a type of picture in a book. Also: said of something that is generated. This last definition has an uncanny ring. Some high-context meaning has been lost in the word’s passage from Spanish into English, producing a phase delay. The silent count before the drop.


I imagine today that I am holy. When I—a solitary, self-harming smalltown freak—first encounter the poet, Federico García Lorca at 14, that line ruptures time. I cannot remember what first drew me to Lorca but I remember that poem popping me open, and I remember seeing that flower again.

I have no affinity for flowers at this age. I am Goth. I am serious. I am a nocturnal lover of hard, cold things. I am reading poetry on a night train. Just passing Campbelltown maybe. The windows black with bush-night, a refracted picture-plane in which I see my face, and I see that flower. That Lily which was not a Lily, that Iris which was not an Iris, that flower which never had or needed a name.

This body is always new here—at this school, in this town. This body holds too many ambiguities—of class, race, gender, all the metrics that might determine its value.

SJ Norman


For my teenage self, poetry approximates a kind of motion my body aches for but is denied.

The body of my early childhood, by contrast, was robustly expressive and lyrical. It was body born dancing, as all bodies are. But in adolescence, I do not dance. My body—the body, an indefinite article—is an intolerable predicament that I have tried to slip from more than once.

The first time (age 4): was not purposeful, not consciously at least. A virulent strain of meningitis, a strain which made the news for killing several other children of the same age. My Blak mother—structurally traumatised and chronically distrustful of many things, but especially healthcare providers- refused to admit me to hospital. She’ll sweat it out she said to the doctor. And she did: wrapped in blankets on the floor by an oil heater for days, my brain swelled and the datastream glitched.

The second time (age 6): was in water. A motel swimming pool, specifically. My father was watching me, and it remains a mystery to him how I could have lost my buoyancy in 6 feet of still water, when I could swim confidently in Pacific surf. I don’t remember drowning, only a cool blue line rising, splitting the light into diamonds.

So yes, I drowned once—but in spite of this, the water remained my only home for years. Until pre-adolescence and its attendant horrors arrived.

At this time, the body is subject to relentless and vicious bullying. The usual kind: First of all, this body is “female,” and this is a mistake. This body occupies space in a way that leads to punishment: physical magnitude is a grave error for girls, or those perceived that way. This body is sickly and abject: regularly out of school for weeks with asthmatic bronchitis, wheezing on a nebuliser. Or scaly with mysterious skin complaints. This body finds ways to protect itself against any kind of touch.

This body is always new here—at this school, in this town. This body holds too many ambiguities—of class, race, gender, all the metrics that might determine its value. This body is cryptically racialised in a way that angers people. It has a single, brown mother. A cook and a dressmaker who makes her own money working long hours, white-knuckling her way towards respectability. Its school fees are paid for by an absent white father. Occasional guest appearances by suspect step-dads, none of whom stick around long.

Its class is spurious: is not poor, but somehow still smells that way. It lives in a rented house right on the railway line, and in a town where there is a right side of the tracks and a wrong one. No, it’s not not poor, and this ambiguity is damning. But not well-bred, either: a fact evidenced in a million small ways from what it eats to how it speaks to the company it keeps and especially, how it moves.

It is, once again: a girl. Not that this matters. But it is a girl. It is told this, every day, mostly by other girls. It is a girl, and it is very bad at girlness. So it stops dancing and swimming. It wears jumpers in summer. It find a home in language. It armours itself with a knowledge of words and their particular, potent magic.

That is also a mistake: girls aren’t supposed to know words. It’s neither-nor-ness in all matters of social hierarchy render this body anomalous, and eventually: a non-being.

It happens again and again: I try to un-body myself. Many times, in many ways. The big ways, sure, but the small ways are worse. The countless, un-bodiments that occur through negation. It starts to move less. Or it keeps its movements private. It takes them to the forest. Or it folds them into poems. It lives for music. It lives through music.

Warehouse buildings and telephone wires at night

McKenzie Wark


I found Lorca and Industrial Metal at about the same time. There was no radio signal where we lived. The television only picked up two out of the four free-to-air channels. One of them was the ABC. Watching its Saturday night music program Rage—running continuously from midnight to 6 am—was a weekly ritual I observed with monastic devotion. Touring bands were featured as guest programmers. All the usual ‘90s suspects: Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Marylin Manson, Skinny Puppy, White Zombie—they all hosted Rage, each selecting a line-up of their key musical influences.

I don’t think there is a single regional Australian freak of my generation who does not have a Pavlovian response to the sound of the Rage opening credits. If you grew up in the country especially, Rage might have been your only access to the kind of music you wanted to hear.

I caught the train to Sydney and went to concerts, always alone. I pushed my way to the front of many seething pits to be voluntarily and gleefully smashed. I never felt more safe or more free than I did in a mosh. Sobre el cielo de los Margaritas ando- It was a sky made daisies. A groundless swell of bodies moving as one kinetic field. Bodies that bled on purpose, and together, to a violent beat.


These regular escapes into the city were largely enabled by my Uncle, an old, cranky, Aboriginal queen with a place in Redfern, who kept his door open and in doing so, kept a lot of young people alive. Housos moved him around a fair bit. He had a place on Lenton Parade in Waterloo, a flat in the towers for a while, and eventually a place on East Street. In all three locations: Wood Irises, sprouting from the pebblecrete.

I believe he was the one who finally convinced my mother to move us back to the city when I was 16. We rented a house in Ultimo, right underneath the Harris Street overpass.

I still dream about that house. I believe that house still dreams of me. I transcribed Lorca’s Yellow Ballad IV onto the wall behind my bedhead when we moved in—a ritual which will follow me to many dwellings, for many years. I painted over it when we left, nine months later. My mother skipped town, gone to live with a relative up north. I moved into a flat in Darlinghurst.

It’s hard to explain to anyone who didn’t know her then that Sydney was a hot slut in the ‘90s. Decades of greed and conservative governance have exsanguinated the place so thoroughly, it’s become a glossy-eyed, undead city to me now.

Sydney in 1999 is a mulch of strange convergences. Inner city zones are still distinct ecosystems: most of Redfern remains a no-fly zone for white people. The Cross is still smacky and rough.

The intersection of King Street and Enmore road draws a smudgy line between the Punks and the Goths. Oxford street is still Oxford street—gay.

The bleak seams of dereliction that separate distinct territories are forever in rolling states of activation: the Broadway squats, Mortuary Station, all the fire-trap buildings of Regent street. Raves are popping off weekly, and every kind of freak can be found there. There is—and always will be—something strange and desperate about the place, but at this time it’s a different kind of desperate. Arguably: the sexy kind.

In in 1999, I am a weird country kid and it all feels pretty sexy to me. I dye my already black hair blacker, hack most of it off with a razor, and make clothes out of scraps of burnt rubber. My Industrial leanings mature into the more introspective and moodier sounds of Trip Hop, which lead, eventually, to techno.

I am 17 and the millennium is turning. When the clock strikes 00:00, the future will eat itself. The end of clock time threatens the collapse of the emergent digital frontier. Everything crackles with the charge of speculative endings. At midnight, all clocks will read 00:00, and time as we know it will cease to exist. Banks will collapse. Planes will spiral out of the sky.

Night, exterior. A railway overpass in the driving rain. It is an indistinct, in-between sort of place. It is a city, any city. A black car pulls up to the curb. The back door opens, revealing a woman in skintight black latex, who tells you: get in. You get in. A dyke with a platinum bleach job points a gun at you, and you are driven to a second location. You are in a city, any city of the Cybernoir imaginary. When you try to exit the car, the woman in the catsuit says: You’ve been down there, Neo. You know that street.

And you do know that street. The Matrix was filmed in Sydney. That overpass, where that black car stops: that’s the intersection of Eddy Avenue and Elizabeth street. Right next to central station which was, for you, a portal that took you from one world to the next. A street you walked down many, many times late at night with aching feet, making your way back to your Uncle’s place. Right next to the park where you dropped your first pill, across the road from a couple of rabbit-warren squats where several people you know reside. One of the oldest tattoo shops in the city is right there. A few blocks in one direction is the hospital where you were born. A ten minute walk in the other direction is The Block, where Blackfullas still light fires on the street. Raglan street, where your mother was born, and the Eveleigh rail yards, and Wilson street, where your Grandmother was booked for soliciting in the ‘60s.

Night, exterior. A building, any building. You are taken to a dim room, where Laurence Fishburn appears in a leather trenchcoat and offers you a choice. A building, any building, in any city. Except that city is your city and that building is the old General Post Office, at that time a derelict rooming house.

Night, interior. A party, a thumping rave full of hot freaks. At least a few of them are your freaks: locals who all took jobs as extras on a major Hollywood franchise that is shooting in our town. Many of them will still be around years later. Many of them will be dead. Most of them will be simply priced out- pushed back to the suburbs or the regions, to all the small places.

A city, any city, where time does not pass. Except it does.

I never felt more safe or more free than I did in a mosh. Sobre el cielo de los Margaritas ando- It was a sky made daisies. A groundless swell of bodies moving as one kinetic field. Bodies that bled on purpose, and together, to a violent beat.

SJ Norman


The clock strikes 00:00. Nearly 2 decades have passed, and we are ringing in another Gregorian year. The year 2017.

Time is different now. It’s coded into our bodies by way of palm-size devices through which all known things, all histories, all languages, all nameable things, can be summoned from the fibre-optic rhizome. No one wears a watch anymore.

Time is different now. But the beat signature is unchanged. 120 bpm, the rhythm of a heartbeat quickened by fear or desire. I am in my habitual spot on the Berghain dancefloor: a doorway, between the DJ booth and the darkroom entrance.

I have been in this club for 10 years. My movements between my favoured spots are highly choreographed and intentional: this doorway is the place to be when my hours on the dancefloor have ticked into double digits, and I have eaten enough powders to put a less seasoned hedonist in hospital. This door is sturdy and always locked, and provides a frame for subtle, internal motion. It is deeply recessed into the concrete, a votive niche that makes a reliquary artefact of anyone who occupies it. I’ve had a sizeable bump of Ket—enough to soften the rocky coastline between one roll and the next—and retreated to this place where I can plant my hands into solid concrete flanks, stretch and flex and unravel, suspended between the known terrain of the dancefloor and whatever is on the other side of that door.

It’s Sylvester, and it’s packed. It has been an average night. Distinctly average, in a way that no amount of substances can recuperate. My wife is here, and her rhythm is different to mine—she’s already well and truly cresting the wave of the next pill. She’s hyper-verbal when rolling. She presses the … of my ear closed to cut the frequencies and leans in close to speak. She says: The girls are gone. The girlies are not here.

The girls she’s referring to are a cluster of regulars who are well-known to us and much beloved—a group of Turkish transfemmes, all of them sex workers, who cruise for trade in the back left corner of the dancefloor.

The girls are gone: this statement is a condemnation. This club is over, I confirm, RIP. My wife and I are both trans, and both of us know that the visible presence of transfemmes represents a key vital sign in the life of any club. Those girls are canaries. Their absence does not bode well for this coal mine. It’s over I say again. My wife nods. Where are they? Where are the trans girls?

With superb comic timing, the unmistakable faces of Lana and Lily Wachowski appear in the crowd immediately behind my wife at the precise moment she utters those words. They are both crouching and looking at their phones. I say their faces are unmistakable, and yet I do mistake them for several people at first, in that typical mode of drug-fucked paradoilia that summons lost souls- old friends, enemies, ex-lovers, living people, dead people, any and all ghosts from queer-space-time might briefly illuminate the faces of strangers.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen them around. The second season of Sense 8 is filming in in Berlin. I’m not saying the presence of a Wachowski production is a harbinger of the end times. But, in my personal experience, those two do have a habit of turning up in cities just as the cost of rent is about to go up. I nod to my wife, gesture for her to turn around but like, be subtle about it, ok. She does. Turns back, her face suddenly blank as an egg, and I say: time tobounce?

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