Underscore Alchemy: Extending the Underscore for Creative Artists [original creative work]

Document Type

Original Creative Work


Contact Collaborations

Place of Publication

Northhampton, MA, USA


School of Arts and Humanities / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




McKenzie, V. (2015). Underscore Alchemy: Extending the Underscore for creative artists. Contact Quarterly, Winter/Spring 40(1). Available here.


Background: The work presents the results at the time of publication of my ongoing enquiry Underscore Alchemy that explores how Nancy Stark Smith’s model for practicing and researching improvised dance (the Underscore) can be used by other creative artists. The Underscore has been extensively practiced by dancers and other artists in the performing arts but it remains under-theorised. I recruited artists for a series of practice-led research experiments presented as workshops. My research questions were: can the Underscore be adapted for artists working in non-performance disciplines? How will they benefit from this collaborative creative model?

Contribution: Data indicate that the Underscore can be successfully adapted for artists working in other disciplines. The artists used my adaptation of the Underscore to work in their own medium to produce individual and collaborative works of art whilst practicing a transferable model for creative work. Artists worked in an inter- and multidisciplinary way regardless of their usual practice. Participants indicated they experienced something they can apply in their future professional lives. They drew attention to the physical preparation as an important part of their preparedness to improvise, create and collaborate.

Significance: The work expresses research findings for the key audience of non-academic practitioners who are familiar with the Underscore. Contact Quarterly is the peak platform for practitioners and researchers of movement improvisation. The CQ Contact Improvisation Newsletter invites international contributions twice annually in print and online. Edited by Smith (creator of the Underscore) it was significant for me to publish my work in the magazine. Whilst Contact Quarterly publishes work about the intersections between improvised dance and other art forms it hadn’t before published work about this in the context of the Underscore.

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