Mind/body connections

In This Article

Not unexpectedly, questions of embodiment and connections with the mind and the brain constitute the most extensive section of the Proceedings; many incorporating simultaneously the other Proceedings themes in their discussions. Investigations into embodied cognition and practices from visual artists’ perspectives invite comparisons with dancerly explorations of connecting mind and body, further embedding transdisciplinary concepts. Notions of identity, becoming, stillness, sensory awareness, liminality, embodied knowing, kinaesthetic empathy, somatic and therapeutic practices all find a place in this section, opening up our understandings of mind/body connections in relation to creative arts practices and allowing us to gain insights into related and contrasting mind/body pathways.

How the mind/body works in pedagogy and theory is also explored in this section, which has parallels with papers in re-thinking the way we teach/make dance in terms of espousing knowing-in-action, reflective processes and accepting the holistic premise that dance ‘literacy’ encompasses dancing, teaching and scholarship, from a child’s earliest dance experiences through to adulthood and beyond. We welcome two papers which deal with clinical health and that assist our understanding of sources of physical problems leading to dance injuries as well as how arts-based practices can inform and be informed by therapeutic practices.

Within this section is a grouped set of seven papers under the sub-title of ‘Dance and Cognition’, led by Catherine Stevens. These papers form an ongoing investigation as part of an Australian Research Council grant into the latest research in this area. Revealing how dance and science can inform each other, these papers provide perspectives on the Global Summit themes from the viewpoints of dance, humanities, psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science.

This section explores neuroaesthetics, how software can effectively contribute to dancers’ creative decisions, how the brain engages in watching and evaluating dance and what that tells us about novice and expert observers’ experiences. These scientific approaches dialogue with case studies of somatic approaches in developing an effective youth dance project experience and the mind/bodily engagement through improvisation to create meaning in dance.

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Vivisection vision: performing the humanimal

With reference to my solo performance Vivisection Vision: animal reflections, I discuss the key theoretical and conceptual aspects with regard to Agamben’s identification of the problem of the polis in the distinction between human and animal, to arrive at the figure of the ‘humanimal’. Initially created and performed in Japan, I identify the theo-political rhetoric concerned with the notion of ‘evil’ used in the Iraq War 2, followed by an analysis of and reflection upon this notion through the images and movement I made in response. From program notes to philosophical interpretation, what ethical potential is to be derived from this performance? How can we take responsibility?

Neural signatures of the aesthetic of dance

This essay explores a scientific perspective for studying the mechanism that the human mind and brain employs to see and perceive dance. We will focus on a specific way of seeing: aesthetic perception. In order to better understand this process, we will briefly summarise what is known about how humans watch other people’s movements, and how this system is modulated by the expertise of the observer (here, expert dancers watching familiar dance movements). We will outline how these findings lead to our current research on aesthetic perception of dance. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, we investigate the neural correlates associated with watching dance movements that are subjectively considered as being beautiful. This research is part of the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. We furthermore discuss the potential use of this research for both the scientific and the dance community, and we speculate about possible future ways of communication and collaboration between the two disciplines.

Textiled becomings: making from scratch, moving, performing and reflecting

As an arts practitioner and reflective artist, I understand how different arts forms provide various ways of reflecting on the relationship between body and environment. In the context of the World Dance Alliance Global Summit 2008, I feel that there is a strong overlap between the visual arts and dance through the importance of movement. The focus of my paper is on the ways in which the movements involved in the making – whether making textile, sculptures or painting – offer ways-of-knowing that are unique to each material process. I use my art project, Textiled Becomings, to explore the links between movement, performance (or performativity) and material processes. Within this project the embodied significance of textile art is amplified through the process of making ‘from scratch’ in which I use raw materials such as cotton and barley seeds, to make my own yarns. These raw materials become performative as they grow to become both the woven material and the provider of the seeds.

Embodied cognition is a special type of movement

The aim of this paper is to consider cognition as a special type of movement or movement-within-movement. I argue that, by tracking the filigree effects of movement-within-movement across the boundaries within and between the body and the environment, the performative nature of our everyday actions becomes more accessible for study and transformation. It is my assertion that combining the perceptual sensitivities of artists with the experimental ingenuity of scientists makes it possible to dilate awareness of one’s own cognitive processes and thereby initiate a ‘practice of embodied cognition.’ I discuss two tasks that arise from attention to movement-within-movement: a contextualising task, emphasising the interdisciplinary efforts and first-person perspective necessary to address the explanatory gap between neuroscience and phenomenological understandings of lived experience.

The second is a coordinating task, which involves devising a practice that integrates movement-within-movement back into our engagement with the world rather than isolates cognitive processes from their context. Three of my own installation works from an exhibition I organised, the Reading Room: experiments in posture, movement and comprehension (2008) serve as examples of creative research that joins experimental structures from cognitive science and ecological psychology with sensory and experiential strategies from art. Such an approach to the study of perception and action would allow a first-person science or a practice of embodied cognition to emerge, integrating reflection and observation to optimise the performative process of making.

Performance: meanings and connections in dance experiences for young people of all ages

In this paper Ann Kipling Brown presents an overview of the association and the place of performance at the triennial conferences. Following this discussion, three other daCi members, Kathy Vlassopoulos, Karen Bond and Jeff Meiners, whose work focuses on dance for young people, describe specific events and experiences they have created that reflect the aims of the association.

Firstly, Kathy Vlassopoulos describes the Children’s Dance Festival, held annually in Melbourne, Australia. The festival was initiated in1996 and creates a site-specific event that provides the opportunity for children to experience dance through a collaborative process with professional artists.

Secondly, Karen Bond gives an account of daCi’s 2nd Intergenerational Gathering, titled Out of many, we are One. Over an intensive three-day period, participants explored a progression of dancing and performing related to themes of self, community, and the future.

And thirdly, Jeff Meiners focuses on the creation of work for young children, spanning the years from birth to eight, and explores the nature of the work being created and the responses of the young children as active audience members.

The body observes

The key message of the paper is that while observing a person moving, somatic and sensory processes are elicited and these have an impact on both the observer and the mover. The recognition of these processes is important to assessment, observation and clinical therapy protocols. The paper describes embodied awareness, including methods used in Authentic Movement, Dance, Dance/Movement Therapy, Body Psychotherapy, Body-Mind Centring, Sensory Awareness and Jungian Analysis. Arts-based practices can inform clinical practices, and embodied interaction in clinical practice can also inspire artistic research. The methodology of kinaesthetic attunement weaves subjective and objective experiences and can inform clinical relationships, childcare and educational practices.

Improvisation—a continuum of moving moments in choreographic imagination and performance

To dance is human. Sensori-motor expressions are intricately evolved and sophisticated prior to communication with words: from birth bodies “speak”. Body memory supplies a deep structure for surface expressions in moving moments. Choreographic imagination is inspired by an extraordinary range of conceptual sources. However, that ability to locate movement from anatomically possible performative elements coded in dance genre vernaculars or elicited from novel improvised movement sequences is essential to spatial-kinaesthetic art or dance composition. Synergies between improvisation and these creative choices are revealed through the legacies of Gertrud Bodenwieser, Bodenwieser dancers and interviews with contemporary choreographers on intended or sculpted meanings that hang off dancers’ moves.

Changing repetition: a ‘practice as research’ study on dialoguing, drawing and dancing

What insight into the knowledge of the body can a study on dancing, dialoguing and drawing bring? This study looks at two teacher-artists undertaking a pilot project that involves spontaneous dialoguing whilst engaging in the process of drawing and dancing. The study firstly investigates the impact of the relationship between attention and intention in the execution of physical movement and applies it to the media of drawing and dancing. The study then explores questions about knowledge held in the body, intersubjective relationships and pedagogical implications which emerge as a result of lived experience. Written from the dancer’s perspective, this paper takes a non-dualistic stance in terms of mind and body and the writing style alternates between the conversational and theoretical. Two preliminary studies were carried out prior to this project. The first was a collaborative practical workshop between a fine art teacher at a secondary school in London and me. The second was another collaborative study, carried out informally in a practical studio setting with a life drawing artist and Tai Chi teacher who painted as I danced. The writing which follows has focused on the relationship and insights gleaned from subsequent work with this second teacher/artist.

Towards an understanding of liminal imagery in the digital domain

Many digital choreographers favour liminal imagery that aims to convey kinaesthetic sensation. I suggest here that this is not by chance. In the mid-nineties neuroscientists identified a collection of neurons named ‘mirror’ neurons. They discovered that the same neurons are activated when we watch and when we engage in an action. They suggest that it is through the ‘resonance behaviour’ of these neurons that we become attuned to the significances embodied in others’ actions and attain kinaesthetic empathy. In this paper I suggest that it is through such ‘resonance behaviour’ that the sensuous effects of liminal digital imagery might be generated.

Direct and indirect methods for measuring audience reactions to contemporary dance

Two different experimental techniques are reported that have been developed to capture psychological responses to contemporary dance. The first is a direct and explicit questionnaire method that can be administered after live or recorded performance. The Audience Response Tool (ART) consists of three sections: i) a qualitative section that explores cognitive, emotional and affective reactions; ii) a quantitative section with rating scales that assess cognitive, emotional, visceral and affective responses; and iii) a demographic and background information section. We describe data collected from 472 audience members using the ART immediately after watching either a narrative or more abstract live work. More than 90% of participants reported that they formed an interpretation of the dance work they saw. Cues used to form an interpretation included visual and aural elements, movement, and the use of space. More than 87% of participants reported that they felt an emotional response—individual cues, such as visual and aural cues, dancer characteristics, movement, choreography, spatial/dynamic elements, emotional recognition, intellectual stimulation, and relations between these cues, were reported.

A second indirect experimental method is discussed wherein eye movements from expert and novice dancer observers were recorded as they watched a dance film. Eye fixations and movements provide an indirect measure of cognitive processes without verbalisation. Eye fixations recorded by dance experts were significantly shorter than those of novices; novices scanned larger regions of space after just one viewing. We theorise that dance experts are adept at processing movement material, aided by acquired expectancies in long-term memory.

Measuring responses to dance: is there a ‘grammar’ of dance?

This paper reports on a series of experiments that measured the continuous, real time responses of a group of dance students to a range of different dances. Our findings invite a critical consideration of whether notions of ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ structure might be more deeply embedded in the students’ responses to dance than intertextual or poststructuralist dance analysis might predict. This paper will examine the implications of this idea for how dance students might learn to watch, interpret, and therefore to create dance, and how these implications might impact on approaches to choreographic training.

Still moving still

This paper discusses the findings from two research periods at the National Art Library of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and generates scholarly propositions for relationships between the body and the book: the movement of the eye, the spacing of thought, temporality and duration, and the choreography of the page. The ideas are predicated on the artists’ books viewed and engaged with during the residencies and are subjective responses to the tactile, experiential presence of the books combined with relevant theoretical and philosophical texts and concepts. How might a book dance? Is there evidence of the body and its actions, recordings of its choreography in space and on the page, traces of its ability to move and be moved, and ways of capturing its performance in the pages of a book?

Screening practices in dance—applying the research

Screening for dance readiness is an accepted practice used to identify risk factors to injury and minimise “down time” from performance. The results can be used to design and implement programs to help directors, teachers and choreographers better understand possible physical limitations rather than perceive technical fault. Screening is not considered to be a strict filtering tool for acceptance into companies or dance schools but rather to gain a baseline profile of an individual and a good opportunity to introduce the dancer to healthcare providers. This paper aims to arm dance practitioners with practical, research-based strategies to apply in the realm of traditional teaching procedures.

Dance, stillness and paradox

This paper is about stillness. Using a phenomenological hermeneutic theoretical framework and drawing on my Master’s research Dance and Stillness (De Leon 2005), the poet T. S. Eliot, philosophical writings of Heidegger, Milner, Smythe, de Chardin and others, notions of equipoise and hysteresis, and an underlying Christocentric philosophy, the potential therapeutic value of this stillness is discussed. The Masters research involved creating a dance work, Stillpoint, exampling this notion of stillness. Dancers and watchers were questioned about their experience. Information was sought about the essence of the danced, watched and felt stillness and what constituted the lived experience of it. The ‘Dance of Paradox’ could seem to encompass oppositional currents—flow and undertow—yet not only are these currents symbiotic, they cannot exist without each other. All movement is contained within stillness and stillness is the core of all movement. The dancer who embodies the ‘stillpoint of the turning world’ realises time that is timeless; ultimately transformative.

The cognisant body

Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990, p.73) writes, "Practice is…the linkage of inner knowing and action." Traditional university studio training with specialised vocabularies and techniques often focuses on "the material" rather than on what is "under the material." This paper focuses on the "knowing body" that creates and confirms knowledge through psychophysical experience—a body where symbols, signs and abstract thought are grounded in and through kinaesthesia. In the paper, we explore how in technique, improvisation, composition and choreography, artist-teachers can use reflective processing to honour the body in the mind and the mind in the body.

Why dance literacy?

Dance is a set of interconnected knowledges in which we can be fluent and about which we can be literate. Dance offers multiple opportunities for literacy, among them, fluency in the creative practices of dance making and dance writing and bodily and historical understanding of dance traditions. Throughout this paper, I answer the question “Why dance literacy?” envisioning what the concept might mean for the re-valuing of various ways of knowing and for integrating the body, movement, and dancing into education. I also situate dance literacy within current practice in dance, dance education, and dance scholarship.

The choreographic language agent

Initiated by London-based choreographer Wayne McGregor and arts researcher Scott deLahunta in early 2000, Entity is part of an ongoing interdisciplinary research project aiming to broaden understanding of the unique blend of physical and mental processes that constitute dance and dance making. One of the research objectives is to apply this understanding to the design of software programmes that can augment the choreographer’s creative process. The first of these programs, the Choreographic Language Agent (CLA), is being built to generate unique solutions to choreographic problems, offering McGregor an alternative set of movement decisions to consider in the creation process. The CLA carries on the tradition of other contemporary choreographers, e.g. Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and William Forsythe, in exploring the potential of formal procedures for generating unique movement material through their dancers’ interpretations. This essay discusses and contextualises the design work on the early CLA prototypes.

The integration of somatics as an essential component of aesthetic dance education

This study looks at how incorporating a somatic approach into dance training can provide an aesthetic experience that engages the whole person and establishes the concepts of feeling and artistry as integrated components of dance education. The research advocates for somatic education to be a feature of dance pedagogy by assisting dancers to differentiate between the tone and texture of feelings on a phenomenological level.