Watching Dance

Taking a multidisciplinary approach to investigating Kinesthetic Empathy

Hello! I am currently doing some research on how specific genres of dance affect an audience. My main theory is that rhythm heavy dances with intense emotional investment affect an audience more intensely than dances where technical control is key. So the main battle is Cherokee tribal dance vs. ballet or contemporary dance.  It seems almost obvious that more intense dances affect people more but is it right to distinguish the intensity of a dance by the rhythm and emotional ties. Obviously a performance of Swan Lake is very emotionally taxing. But is it fair to say that because tribal dances have such a specific purpose to them that ties into spiritual beliefs they have more of an ability to affect people in almost a hypnotizing way. My whole theory stems from the idea that, because technical precision isn't the main focus of tribal dances, the message and storytelling aspect of the dance takes root much stronger than other forms of dance. Obviously ballet and contemporary dance has a story but sometimes it is over shadowed by technical precision. Just wondering if anyone has thoughts or personal experiences to either help prove or disprove my theory. I'm writing a 4000 word research paper on this and will soon visit some Cherokee pow wows and monitor my own reactions. Thanks.

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Just a quick thought: in reading your piece, I was prompted to recall the notable audience reaction to the first performances of 'the rite of spring'....
Having danced West African dance and gymnastics & ballet I understand your theory in a very personal way. I would add a layer to your reasoning. Traditional dance often retains a visible sense of raw expression, even animalistic or spiritual. This is powerful for an audience to see, as it can be uncommon to be so uninhibited in our cultural roles. But I would venture to say that the distinction is not at all about technical precision. Look at traditional Kandyan Dancers from Sri Lanka or Indian Bharatanatyam. These dance forms are highly precise, each gesture carries a meaning and the dancer must train for years to have proper technique, yet the effect on the viewer is powerful. Thus, we have examples of the merger of technique and storytelling; emotion and precision.  A theory of dance would have to speak to these cases where the disctinction is blurred. In addition, you would want to consider the effect of form, pattern and choreography on the overall emotional body of the dance.

Fascinating question, Lauren, but I wonder if it wouldn't be fruitful to narrow and define some key conditinos and terms...

For example:

"people" -  do you mean any particular people?  An audience conditioned to expect and understand classical ballet v. one conditioned to percieve meaning and value in a traditional dance with a shared history and language of an identified tribe? 

"Contemporary"  - some contemporary dance is intentionally cerebral (ref. the late Merce Cunningham's work) while others is powerfully and directly emotionally affective by design (ref. the work of the late Pina Bausch).  Even within this spectrum, the question of conditioning (preparedness for the experience, recognition of the qualities of the experience, willingness to be affected by the experience) will still come into play. Also, without any knowledge or expertise in the question I would still be willing to venture that it is likely that different "tribal" dances have different intents as well, and these may need to be considered.


"technical control" you may find it is a bit patronizing to assume either that a tribal dance does not involve extensive training and preparation or that the performance of a ballet is exclusively or even primarily focused on 'technical control' (by the time one reaches professional level performance skills, technique is usually well in place and focus may be shifted to other concerns such as character or timing.)  So you it might be useful to narrow this term, too.  . 

To say that 'intense' dances affect people more is a bit circular (they are more intense because they affect people more intensely?).    So perhaps what you are looking for is some key markers that reliably stimulate responses.  For example if you are suggesting that a key component is rhythm, perhaps you are looking for the ways in which patterning, effort or emphasis within patterning, repetition, duration, and pace work in one dance v. another to synchronize an audience physically (heart rates, pulse, breath) or kinaesthetically (movement feeling, mirroring) with the dance? 


Great Karen!


Yes, very relevant points made there Karen and an interesting discussion started Lauren!


Perhaps Lauren, and this is something that I have considered in my research into kinesthetic empathy and screendance audiences, you could consider narrative as a key aspect of audience affect.  Ballet is narrative heavy and for some audience members, it is the combination of narrative and virtuosity that affect them.  Perhaps that could be a key marker as Karen suggested.


Reiterating a point made by Karen, different people bring with them differernt personal memories and different embodied experiences that affect their interpretation and meaning making of what they view as an audience member.  Nevertheless, this may result in having a similar experience to your neighbour, but what you bring to a performance is not the same.  In addition, audiences may have different expectations when going to watch ballet than watching traditional, cultural forms of dances.  


Food for thought! 

your writings made me think of Hofesh Shechter's dances

and do you know about this book:


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