A bulk definition: a state is a level of consciousness where body and mind are absorbed in the same physical experience.
In real life, as one is practicing an activity that requires his full attention, one enters a state. It can happen in the context of a sport (football, tennis, skiing, running...), or of a precision task (sewing, manoeuvring...) or of heightened sensations (pain, making love, being cold...). The state corresponds to the level of consciousness required by the context itself. As a matter of fact, a given context summons one to enter a given matching state. Therefore the state is fully and only defined by its context.
In a dance studio, we are using states as well. Obviously the initial definition remains applicable. We are still looking for a conscious self-absorption into a physical experience. However, the absence of a concrete context for the physical experience (an activity, a sport...) makes it impossible to find a proper definition of a state only by its context. We have to find another path of defining states for a dance practice. In this frame the question of defining states becomes the question of how to enter a state.
A first option is to create an imaginary context for oneself. To create imaginary surroundings or events will summon the dancer to enter the matching state. In this option, we can further describe the state by its virtual context, in the same way as real-life states. To do so, one can definitely call for memories or daily moods. However, the imaginary context can expand beyond the real-life fields of possible. It can be about imagining events/surroundings that don’t exist or that you never have experienced.
A second option would be to focus on how his immediate environment affects the dancer. For instance it can involve another dancer’s presence, or the proximity of a certain object, or a sound, a voice... As he is focusing on one or the other perception and his reactions, the dancer magnifies them. This magnified perception becomes the context.
A third possible option would be reading the body and where/how it stands at one precise moment. It is achieved by ‘rebooting’ the thoughts and the imagination so as to be able to observe inside the body at this moment. What can be observed is a quality, a position, a tension, an emotion. There is an ambiguity as the context is no longer a starting point here. The context might even remain unspecified all the way. In the end one can say that a state has been established only when one is able to define a context for it. This is the moment when the mind managed to connect with what is undergoing.
I am sure that there must be other options of how to enter a state. These three first leads are the ones that I can think of as a result of our experience in I&C classes.
Note: When an emotion is the starting point, there is no immediate explicit physical activity involved. The state of “being embarrassed”, or that of “being upset at someone”, or “being in admiration of something” doesn’t immediately involve physicality (but theatricality instead). In these cases, it is only at the moment that the emotion turns into a physical experience that it becomes a state: mind AND body are absorbed in the same emotion. And I also think that the work of the dancer is to explore alternative ways of making this experience physical. For instance I believe that a dancer should look for movement that is not merely theatrical. A dancer should also look for a dance.
Unlike real-life experience where states stem naturally from their context, in a dance practice we are able to artificially reach the same level of consciousness where body and mind are absorbed in one physical experience. To that regards the dancer is enabled to play with the scales (or gradation) of a state. Exploring the extreme ends of an emotion is a possibility (extreme pain, anger, joy...). But it also enables to consider the notion of soft levels for states. I see as a soft state the fact of being fully absorbed in one simple movement. I experienced it remarkably during the Dance Marathon we did in January with Stefan Dreher where some loops of movement had the power to pore my attention and to have me enter a state. These were not trances nor extreme manifestations of emotion. I experienced them simply as soft states.
When I am dancing, I can think of two possibilities of resorting to soft states. The first one would be to define as my context the fact of performing this dance phrase. The phrase would become itself the physical experience in which I am absorbed. The second possibility would be to add a soft layer of any imaginary context.
For my own sake, I am looking for soft states in my dancing performances and even in technical classes. It just makes it all nice and easy. And it just makes me enter the dance.