Guido Orgs

Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Andreas Larsson


Although he’s quite accomplished in the field of contemporary dance, Guido Orgs would never consider abandoning his psychology research for a fulltime dance career. Said research revolves around how we perceive movement, and in the lab he's usually his own guinea pig. His research is so much a part of his performance personality, the two disciplines have become almost indistinguishable. On stage, Guido's approach to dance is quite dry — systematic, you might say.

Danny: Did you ever want to be a ballet dancer?
Guido: Maybe… But I never grew up in the environment where, for instance, my mom would say, ‘Oh you seem to like dancing a lot. Maybe we should send you to a ballet class.’ The ballet world is much harder than the contemporary world, and it’s much more based on technique. You have to shape your body in a very specific way. Some people are born with it, but for most people, if you don’t start before adolescence, your body will never get to that point. I did do sports.
What was your sport?
I did gymnastics and then at some point I stopped because in Essen there were no instructors for boys my age. So I decided to try contemporary dance and I did it for a few years — like once, twice a week, sometimes three or four times a week. After I finished high school, I actually applied for dance at a university in Arnhem, but I wasn’t accepted because I had written a letter telling them I wasn’t sure if I wanted to become a dancer or not. Apparently, that was not a good idea.
And so did you give up dance to study neuroscience?
I did my year of civil service. In Germany, if you don’t want to go to the army, you have to do civil service. They have abandoned it by now, I think. And then studied psychology. But I kept on dancing and was really encouraged by other dancers. So when I finished my master’s thesis in psychology, I just thought I’m going to go for it, and studied dance at the Folkwang school for another four years.
So you got your degree in contemporary dance, and then you went back to neuroscience and got your PhD?
I actually did them at the same time. The whole academic system in Germany is more flexible than it is here. It gave me the opportunity to just work on it in the weekends or after dance classes or in the holidays.
So you’re a doctor of neuroscience.
Of psychology.
And did you never feel compelled to go down one path or the other?
The psychologists tell you, ‘you have to only do research otherwise you’re not going to get anywhere,’ and the dancers tell you, ‘you have to work at it everyday otherwise you’re not going to get anywhere’. And yet all the nice things that have happened to me in life have happened exactly because I have refused to make that decision.
Can you explain in layman’s terms what your research involves?
I work on how we perceive other people’s movements. Like how the brain interprets and analyzes other people’s actions. And I do that using dance because dance provides you with a system for movement. It has a vocabulary. Like with music there’s like…
Yes, there is a kind of notation. That’s very nice from a scientific point of view because it gives you a grasp on how to objectively describe movement. What I do is really about what happens in the brain when we see other people move and how the brain processes this. What makes a movement beautiful, for example? What qualities of the performer and what qualities of the observer make a piece aesthetically pleasing or interesting?
Give me a quick analysis of, say, moonwalking…
It’s interesting to look at this configuration of a person moving forward, while the actual motion is backward, no? For the brain, it’s a very interesting stimulus. You could say the same thing about robot dancing, where the movements don’t look quite natural because the kinematics are quite stiff. You see a human figure, but it doesn’t move like a human, at least not how you would expect it to move. A lot of dance, especially contemporary dance, develops around this idea that you want to violate people’s expectations of how bodies move. A lot of choreographers, without knowing anything about neuroscience or how the brain works, implicitly work with these expectations.
Even Michael Jackson…
Even Michael Jackson knew what the brain likes to see, and how to violate these expectations. On the other hand, something like ballet for instance, does not. Ballet tries to be very pleasing. It’s very symmetrical. It is more designed to please, than to violate expectations.
When you go out to a club, is your style of dancing a kind of contemporary dance?
Sometimes… I try not to, but it’s hard. Lately, I feel I can dance more natural again, like more casual, more pedestrian. But while I was studying dance, I was much more self-conscious, also much more conscious about what other people do, of course, which is not always good.
Do you have good gaydar?
I don’t think so, no. I think that gaydar depends much more on whether people want to be detected as gay or not. Often I am capable of telling if someone is gay, but that’s only because that person gives the cues, not because I am so good at detecting it. As a gay person, you have some motivation to show that you are gay. You want to meet other gays, have partners, etc. so it makes sense to have specific cues that tell the others, ‘Hey, I am gay’.
From a scientific point of view, how can you tell if someone’s gay?
There are a number of ways in which you could identify somebody as being gay. The most obvious would be a specific way of dressing or a specific way of speaking. Or there is this idea of — which I think is a very important one — the idea of the gaze. Like when you look at somebody slightly too long or the other person looks at you slightly too long. It has nothing to do with how the person moves or how the person is dressing. It’s just that you are checking and the other person is checking as well, and then you have that moment.
Body language can be a total giveaway as well, no?
People are in fact, very good at identifying very subtle qualities of movement. There is something called a hip-shoulder ratio used to identify whether someone is walking like a man or a woman. Men tend to sway their shoulders and keep their hips still, and women tend to do exactly the opposite. According to what the ratio is between hip and shoulder movement people might say, ‘Ah that’s a man or that’s a woman…’
How does the homosexual male factor into the equation?
Maybe, to the extent that some gays may use more hip movement, you might sense this is a gay man if he has added an effeminate twist to his walk.
A swish.
A what?
A swish…like a swishy walk.
Oh, I’ve never heard that. So you could try to identify a gay man purely from movement, but then many gays clearly have a very ‘masculine’ walk, and many straight men walk ‘swishy’ as well. So this will not help you. You may have the ability to detect other gays, but you better not rely on it too much because you may be wrong quite often. You will need to rely on the gaze…
Do you think there are exercises one can do to sharpen their gaydar?
No, I don’t think so. As I say, gaydar only works on people who want to be detected. If you really don’t want to be recognized as gay, you won’t be. Like if you’re in the closet, I’m sure you can find ways to not look gay at all.
Are you on Gaydar, the website?
Of course I am. Isn’t everyone?

What’s sexier than a guy with brains and balls? We couldn’t say, which is why we’ve invited Dr. Guido to CLUB BUTT on Saturday, November 26 to lead our crew of (let’s not call them) go-go dancers. Come down and stick a fiver in his pants. For more info on the party touch here.

Published on 23 November 2011