Sickness (Updated: 05/07/18)

“Butoh does not intend to scandalize but rather to show compassion for these frightful sufferers and to connect with them as definitive parts of our universe.” – Juliette T. Crump¹

Due to Tatsumi Hijikata, the sick or debilitated body is a major butoh motif. If you have worked with the sick before such as myself,* you likely have the capability of possessing deep sick body resonance. Through this sick resonance, we can show the shadow of self and the world in compassion. Both Grotowsky and Artaud held this ideal, and Artaud (like Hijikata) may have become its martyr. Shomit Mitter elaborates: “[Like] that of scapegoat, so too for Grotowski, Artaud had to ‘take society’s sickness into himself’ in order to purify the community through his release.”7 Butoh hence lends itself to shadow work and psychodrama.

Example Characters

1. The Sick Man Experiencing Crown Chakra Bliss

2. The Contracted Sick Woman Holding the Last String of Life In-between Her Tightly Twisting Ball of Hands

3. Snoop Dogg post-lobotomy or Snoop Lion Who Changes His Name to Snoop Dyin’

Physical Illness

Or more lightly put, the “differently abled.” Be keen to any form of physical illness or debilitation. Promising sicknesses to explore that may exhibit intriguing movement and theater: (1) narcolepsy; (2) Tourettes; (3) muscular distrophy; (4) stroke; (5) epilepsy.

Mental Illness

Or more lightly put, the “mentally unique.” We can also explore mental illnesses such as: (1) Drug addiction/withdrawal; (2) Schizophrenia; (3) Kleptomania; (4) Dementia (Alzheimer’s); (5) Anxiety disorder (panic attacks); (6) Personality disorder; (7) Hypochondria; (8) Sexual disorder (e.g. voyeurism, fetishism).

Common Psychiatric Issues

Figure 21. Patient with Catatonic Schizophrenia
(1) Depression (see psychodrama Blue Flower); (2) Anxiety; (3) Phobia (see psychodrama Phobia & Totem); (4) Obsession/compulsion; (5) Eating disorder; (6) Self-harm; (7) Schizophrenia.


Schizophrenia is the archetypal illness of insanity and a potent qualia for butoh. It is characterized by hallucinations (all senses) and delusions. Other characterizations involve disorganized speech (schizophrenese, incoherent or paradoxical), catatonic behavior, and negative symptoms such as emotional flattening, alogia (lack of speech), or avolition (loss of motivation). In history, it has been associated with demonic possession.²

Delusions of Control

These are delusions where one’s actions, thoughts, or emotions are thought to come from an external source and not actually from themselves. For instance: “It is my hand and arm that move, and my fingers pick up the pen, but I don’t control them. What they do is nothing to do with me.”³

The same idea can be found with the anarchic hand sign (AHS) delusion of control. The anarchic hand seems to have a mind of its own, opens doors, or scribbles on paper. Those with this affliction are not approving of such action and will claim the hand does not do what he/she/they wants it to do.³

Such a state is one that Tatsumi Hijikata encouraged his dancers to enter into. He once stated, “Even your own arms, deep inside your body feel foreign to you, feel that they do not belong to you. Here lies an important secret. Butoh’s radical essence is hidden here.”

Catatonic Schizophrenia

Catatonic Schizophrenia is a sub-type of schizophrenia heavily affecting the motor function. The illness contains the following symptoms.4 They are all listed with example butoh applications.

Stupor: decreased reaction or spontaneous movement (example relation: ash walk, stone walk.)

Excitement: Purposeless motor activity such as repetition (example relation: filler, idle & scribble.)

Posturing & Rigidity: Inappropriate posturing and/or stiffness (example relation: statue & freeze)

Flexibility: Twisting or out of place body parts (example relation: extremity rotation).

Negativism: Resistance to all instruction and/or being moved (example relation: rejecting thrown qualias).

Facial Expression: Inappropriate facial expression to the context, e.g. large grin (example relation: deterritorialized face, floor face)

Other: gesture or speech imitation, command automatism, weak will (example relation: deterritorialized soundmirroring).


Personality “Disorders”

We can draw inspiration and build characters out of unaccepted or marginalized behaviors in society. This is not to say that these behaviors are truly “bad” or “unacceptable” but that this is the way modern western civilization views them or at the very least a select privileged, academic few. In other words, these are the shadows of modern civilization. I prefer to view these classifications as “misunderstood.” Anybody who has them are, to me, “mentally unique” instead of “crazy,” “mentally sick” or “maladjusted.” One behavior at one side of the planet may be viewed completely different at another side. Besides, if we were to clean the slate completely of all these “disorders,” perhaps that would create a perfectly crafted zombie. Ask your doctor if this numbness is right for you.

Nonetheless, here is a list of 3 cluster groups and the 10 personality “disorders” identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).5

The personalities are broken up into three clusters.

1. Cluster A

Viewed as strange, odd, bizarre, eccentric, and include the paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal “disorders.”

2. Cluster B

Viewed as dramatic or erratic and include the antisocial, borderline, histrionic, and narcissistic “disorders.”

3. Cluster C

Viewed as anxious or fearful and include the avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive “disorders.”

Now here we have the 10 Personality “Disorders.”6

1. Paranoid Personality Disorder

A pattern of distrust and suspiciousness where others’ motives are seen as mean or spiteful. People with paranoid personality disorder often assume people will harm or deceive them and are reluctant to confide in others or become close to them.

2. Schizoid Personality Disorder

A pattern of detachment from social relationships and a limited range of emotional expression. A person with schizoid personality disorder typically does not seek close relationships, chooses solitary activities and appears indifferent to praise or criticism from others.

3. Schizotypal Personality Disorder

A pattern of acute discomfort in close relationships, distortions in thinking or perception, and eccentric behavior. A person with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd beliefs or magical thinking, odd or peculiar behavior or speech, or may incorrectly attribute meanings to events.

4. Antisocial Personality Disorder

A pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, or may act impulsively.

5. Borderline Personality Disorder

A pattern of instability in personal relationships, emotional response, self-image and impulsivity. A person with borderline personality disorder may go to great lengths to avoid abandonment (real or perceived), have recurrent suicidal behavior, display inappropriate intense anger or have chronic feelings of emptiness.

6. Histrionic Personality Disorder

A pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking. A person with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when he/she is not the center of attention, consistently use physical appearance to draw attention or show rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions.

7. Narcissistic Personality Disorder

A pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others or lack empathy.

8. Avoidant Personality Disorder

A pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to criticism. A person with avoidant personality disorder may be unwilling to get involved with people unless he/she is certain of being liked, be preoccupied with being criticized or rejected, or may view himself/herself as being inferior or socially inept.

9. Dependent Personality Disorder

A pattern of needing to be taken care of and submissive and clingy behavior. A person with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others or may feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of fear of inability to take care of himself or herself.

10. Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder

A pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism and control. A person with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be preoccupied with details or schedules, may work excessively to the exclusion of leisure or friendships, or may be inflexible in morality and values. (This is NOT the same as obsessive compulsive disorder.)


¹ Crump, Juliette. ‘One who hears their cries’: the Buddhist ethic of compassion in Japanese butoh. Dance Research Journal (Brockport, NY) 38, nos.1-2, Sum-Win 2006. p61-73.
² Grohol, J. (2017). Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2017.
³ Frith, Christopher and Johnstone, Eve. Schizophrenia: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.
4 Bengston, M. (2016). Catatonic Schizophrenia. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2017, from
5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. 372-78. Print.
6 Parekh, Ranna M.D., M.P.H., What are Personality Disorders?, 2016.
7 Mitter, Shomit. Systems of Rehearsal: Stanislavsky,. Brecht, Grotowski, and Brook. Page 81.
* For about 5 years, I have worked at a long term acute center as an x-ray technologist with very sick patients, such as ventilator patients, those in comas, and those with end-stage diseases. I can certainly account for my experiences at the hospital for strengthening aspects of my sick qualia butoh dance.