Watching Dance

Taking a multidisciplinary approach to investigating Kinesthetic Empathy

Hi all - thanks to those who have already emailed me about the conference - maybe some of you would like to leave comments here. Also please feel free to start new discussions for issues arising from the conference that you'd like us to exchange views on!

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With the conference freshly over, I feel a bit like the monkeys in Dr. Keysers videos - my brain audibly buzzing in response to the barrage of events from these last two days, truly a dance in the original etymological sense of "tanzen", suggesting a stretch. This conference definitely stretched me to the limits, bringing into focus the whole concept of embodiment from the simplest and most fundamental concept of connectedness and resonance to the most complex levels of social, cultural, and ethically empathic support. The gathering of performing artists, movement practitioners, scholars, and scientists was itself a creative enactment of connectedness and resonant engagement. What I learned from the body of impressive research was that the mirror neuron system (MNS) is an important piece of understanding the basic nature and degree to which we are plastic in our patterning as human beings. That first stimulus, a burst of neuronal fire, an 'itch', if you will, in the perception-action loop that evokes/provokes a basic choice - to bond with or to turn away from the stimulus -- is fundamentally empathic. I learned so much about how simple stimulus-responses become more complex behavioral layers - prediction, inference, aesthetic preference, judgment, and the important distinction between sympathy and empathy in the emergence of the self. The many elegant, collaborative projects between dancers/movers and scientists illuminated how enmeshment reveals so much about the complementarity of what is shared (resonant and empathetic) in our sensorimotor systems and what is preferential. I was truthfully exhausted after two days of dense, crystalline, cortically-rich discussion and sparkling interchange. Rapt attention began to give way to a longing for recuperative 'down' time - literally on the floor, allowing for rest and recuperation. The conference demanded a generative and generous spirit, shared mutually by the group, so that by day two, I was bulging at the cortical seams! I kept hearing Bonnie Meekums' words from her workshop to "take care of yourself" first and foremost. Well, now that it is over, I'd love to continue dialogue on several topics that come to mind:
1. How can the mirror neuron system be engaged to re-educate/re-train postural and movement habits, particularly for performing artists/dancers? what would that kind of training look like? What kind of activity(practice):rest (mental practice or observation) ratio would one see?
And to the contrary, how can one avoid a "chameleon effect" of taking on someone else's movements/gestures, when it is important to maintain boundaries of self?

2. What is the connection between the cortical level of the mirror neuron system and lower levels of motor control?

Just a few ideas. I welcome thoughts from others and thoroughly enjoyed meeting you all. Thanks to Dee, Katie P, the rest of the team at Watching Dance for giving us much food for thought.
Glenna Batson


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