Dr Josephine Milne-Home is Teaching Fellow and Academic Psychologist, College of Arts, University of Western Sydney. She is Chair of the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists and member of the ARC research project team ‘Intention and serendipity: investigating improvisation, symbolism and memory in creating Australian 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.
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.