Circle & Figure 8 (Upd: Nov 30, ’22)

Try connecting with the circles and figure 8s in a 3 dimensional way.

Both the circle and the figure eight can be used to open the sensorimotor channel of the body and appears to be a common conditioning tool in butoh workshops.*

If we wish to go beyond just making shapes, we have to embody the qualia that is driving us to make the shape.

Every part of the body can be used to experiment with circles or figure eights. The movement can also be contained in the specific body part, but the entire body can be made to react naturally to movement. For instance, if I draw figure eights from my pelvis and relax my entire body to allow it to react in whichever way it pleases, what other movements come out of the body? Especially do this exercise on often neglected body parts like the face, eyes, or abdomen.

Contemporary Metaphor Theory

In terms of contemporary metaphor theory, circles and figure 8s fit the image schema of CYCLE. Image schemas to Lakoff and Johnson are “recurrent patterns in perceptual-motor experience that derive from our bodily interaction with the physical world.”¹ According to SIL International Glossary of Linguistic terms, a cycle schema entails events that are repetitious or a series, which have a (1) a starting point; (2) a progression that does not backtrack; (3) a return to the prior state. Examples involve: days, weeks, years, sleeping and waking, breathing, circulation. ²

Like so many other image schemas, we are bombarded with this schema at all moments of our lives.


In Julie Becton Gillum’s Noguchi Taiso classes, she makes reference to Ensō which is a Japanese art of painting a circle or half circle. A perfect circle, to the Zen Buddhists, represent enlightenment.³ We can try to work on our circle, to make it a perfect circle.

Spheres, Topological Movement

Once we got the planes, we can finally begin to lose the training wheels and get into more 3d visualisation. A circle in 3d is a sphere. A figure 8 involves two spheres side by side. Utilising the circle or figure 8 is one way in which to cultivate graceful movement when working with chaos. Because both the spheres go in all directions (and so does chaos), we can utilize them to at any point connect one location to another smoothly and effortlessly.

Exercise 1: Alternating Rotation

We pick two body parts that can rotate in the same direction such as: (1) ankles and head; (2) tongue and eyes; (3) wrists and head; (4) left ankle, right ankle; (5) hip and head. We can use the body mirror technique to help execute these movements, so the ankles for instance can act as what the head is mirroring. Once, one gets this, one can experiment with a form of mirroring where one body part is in a different position or in different timing, yet the movement direction is not affected.

Exercise 2: Rotating String Pathway

Imagine that you have a belt around you with a string that has the capability of rotating completely around you and pulling you in whatever direction. Travel in a circle around in the space while keeping the chest facing forward the entire time. At every moment, the string will be pulling from a different part of your waist. When exhibiting any rotational movement, you can imagine this rotating string.

Exercise 3: Roller Coaster

Travel in the space like a roller coaster. Roller coasters have many loops and many breaks from loops, but they make use of rounding. The roller coaster can also happen within the body.

Exercise 4: Moving Sphere (Intermediate)

Draw around the spheres as the spheres themselves move in space. Bring the sphere visualisation together so that many spheres are touching each other (such as the above picture). Effortlessly shift in multiple planes or curves planes from one sphere to the other. Keep the shape of all the actual spheres, unless they are growing or shrinking, and if they grow or shrink, they all grow or shrink together.

Exercise 5: Fractal Figure 8 (Intermediate/Advanced)

Because a spherical figure 8 is merely just two spheres, one can visualise that they are actually two spheres inside one sphere. The one sphere, of course, is 2 times larger than the two spheres inside. That sphere can connect with another sphere of the same side beside it. An even bigger sphere then can encircle these two spheres. Practice traveling back and forth these figure 8s that are within each other like Russian dolls.

Exercise 6: Cat Scan**

Take axial slices of your body from head to toe by rotating in horizontal circles. Each slice contains an inch or so of the anatomy within that slice. After, you can also do the reconstructions which give the other views of the body in circles, such as the sagittal plane (side slices) and coronal plane (front to back slices), and tangental view. Basically, we are working with the sphere but with visualisation of the anatomy within it.

Exercise 7: Spiral

A spiral can be viewed as the rotating from one part of a sphere to the other. The spiral can be placed on any type of the body. It can be used a way to shrink or grow spheres, and is a pre-requisite for the next exercise.

Exercise 8: Contact Back Spiral

This can also be viewed as a contact improvisation exercise. Place your back on the wall, then at the center of your back the spiral gradually grows. Keep smooth contact against the wall and fluidity of movement going with each distinct part in the spiral. You are drawing a spiral with your back. No sliding.

Exercise 9: Hypersphere (Advanced)

One can study the 4 dimensional sphere translated in a 3d space, and in result, one can learn many other ways of traveling in space. For instance, one such type of hypersphere (translated in 3d world) is the Clifford Torus which involves the shifting from the torus (donut) to the sphere. The rim of the donut is constantly shifting in size, shifting toward one whole sphere. See the Clifford Torus here.

Exercise 10: Dizzy Spheres/Topological Movement (Advanced)

Any of the above can be attempted while we are in a state of dizziness after spinning for one or more minutes.

De/Reterritorialized Circle/Figure 8

We can deterritorialize the circle/sphere or figure 8 by adding noise or scribble to it much like a butoh string. From the outside perspective, the movement can be so edited/remixed, that a circle or figure 8 is not perceived, but underneath, somewhere, the essence of the circle of figure 8 remains.

¹ Johnson, Mark (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, University of Chicago. Page 119-121.
² SIL Glossary of Linguistic Terms. Blockage Schema. 2020.
³ Seo, Audrey Yoshiko (2007). Ensō: Zen Circles of Enlightenment. Boston: Weatherhill.
* I was exposed to figure 8 conditioning while taking part in workshops/classes by Yumiko Yoshioka, Tadashi Endo, Ken Mai, Julie Becton Gillum, Holly Chernobyl, Yuko Kaseki, and Rhizome Lee.
** Off and on since 2005, I have worked in the field of radiography, and much of this time involved taking cat scans. A cat scan takes various small axial slices of the body, which are horizontal slices. These slices could then be reconstructed to find all the other planes one wants to find. The imagery has been used as an inspiration for rotating the body in various planes.
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