SHEETS-JOHNSTONE (2012) – From movement to dance

SHEETS-JOHNSTONE, Maxine. From movement to dance. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, v.11, n.1, p.39-57, March 2012.

  1. How does meaning emerge in dance?
  2. With respect to dancers having to “memorize” a piece of choreography, the announcement asked, “what are the cognitive mechanisms that constrain and control the acquisition and performance of dance?”
  3. Can a movement’s “quality” be related to observable movement parameters?
  • “the limits of cognitive science”— because being largely tethered to the lexical band-aid of “embodiment” and its derivatives, to a motorology, and to happenings in a brain, it lacks foundational grounding in experience, notably, in the actual experience of movement, which is to say in kinesthesia, a neuromuscular sensory modality common to all humans, thus the proper point of departure for investigations into cross-cultural universals underlying the art of dance. p.40
  • Indeed, insofar as Merleau-Ponty considered dancing to be nothing more or other than “a motor habit” and stated simply that “forming the habit of dancing is discovering, by analysis, the formula of the movement in question” (Merleau-Ponty 1962, pp. 146, 142, respectively), it would be pointless to cite him as having anything of moment to say about either the phenomenology of movement, i.e., the essentially dynamic structure of movement, or the memorization of a dance, that is, the kinesthetic challenge of learning and performing an extended movement dynamic. p.41
  • Bergson wrote, “A movement is learned when the body has been made to understand it”; Bergson 1991 [1896], p. 112). p.41
  • What this special issue on the art of dance as a formed and performed art provides us is indeed the opportunity to examine in rarified depth the phenomenology of the spatial, temporal, and energic character of self-movement, or, in other words, the dynamics of kinesthetic experience. p.41
  • Kinesthesia in particular is not just in the service of the perception of objects. It is a sensory modality in its own right, one that is experientially resonant in and of itself, thus one that can be phenomenologically investigated and analyzed and its dynamic qualitative structure made apparent. p.42
  • Jeannerod’s treatment of kinesthesia occurs in the context of “conscious knowledge about one’s actions” (Jeannerod 2006, p. 56) p.42
  • in light of the insuppressibility of kinesthesia—we do not have to wait until something untoward occurs that awakens us into awareness and deters us from continuing on our way. On the contrary, precisely because movement is a dynamic happening and because the dynamics of our everyday movement have become habitual and are within our repertoire of what Husserl terms our “I cans,” we can consult them at any time. p.43
  • any time we care to pay attention to our own movement—our own “action” — there it is. Not only this, but as intimated, we all learned our bodies and learned to move ourselves as infants and young children (ibid.). From this pan-human ontological perspective, the idea of starting with “action” is actually adultist; movement obviously comes first. There would indeed be no action if movement were not present “from the first day” and before, present and there to be honed and perfected. In learning our bodies and learning to move ourselves by attending to our own movement, we forged an untold number of dynamic patterns that became habitual. Familiar dynamics — tying a knot, brushing one’s teeth, buttering one’s toast, writing one’s name, pulling weeds, sweeping, typing, playing a Bach prelude, and so on — are woven into our bodies and played out along the lines of our bodies; they are kinesthetic/kinetic melodies in both a neurological and experiential sense (Luria 1966, 1973). p.43
  • In sum, when we turn attention to our own coordinated dynamics (Kelso 1995; Kelso and Engstrøm 2006), we recognize kinesthetic melodies; they bear the stamp of our own qualitatively felt movement patterns, our own familiar synergies of meaningful movement (Sheets-Johnstone 2009a, b, 2011). p.43
  • It should be noted that the phenomenologically disclosed dimensions of movement are separable only analytically; that is, they are always integral parts of what is experientially a whole kinesthetic/kinetic dynamic. What greets the phenomenological observer first and foremost is indeed the fact that movement is a dynamic reality whose complexity far exceeds simple definition. Tensional, linear, areal, and projectional aspects of movement are qualitative aspects of movement that together constitute its dynamics. p.44
  • Tensional quality specifies the felt intensity of a movement, an intensity that may well change in the course of the movement, as in kicking a ball, sawing a piece of wood, picking up a suitcase, and so on. p.45
  • Linear quality describes both the linear design of a moving body and the linear pattern of the movement itself. Both qualitative aspects are obviously spatial in character. p.45
  • Areal quality, like linear quality, has two aspects that again are obviously spatial. They derive from the moving body and from movement itself, areal design describing the former, areal pattern describing the latter. In quite general terms, the areal design of our moving body may be anywhere from constricted to expansive, its shape at the one extreme being predominantly small and inwardly oriented and at the other extreme being predominantly large and outwardly oriented. p.45
  • Projectional quality is apparent in the manner in which our movement unfolds, the way in which its tensional quality is kinetically manifest. Generally speaking, four different qualities are possible: abrupt, sustained, ballistic, and collapsing. p.46
  • it should be clear that the quality of movement derives from the qualitative structure of movement. The constellation of qualities inherent in movement imbues any movement with an overall readily apparent qualitative dynamic: its intensity, expansiveness, rigidity, unswervingness, suddenness, and so on are all variables—“observable parameters” of movement. Furthermore, and most importantly, the qualitative variables are not simply observable parameters but variables that are kinesthetically felt by the individual who is moving. The movement, in turn, has a qualitatively felt dynamic. With respect to dance, the dynamic is unquestionably complex, in part simply because a dance is incomparably more complex than common everyday movements or even a series of common everyday movements such as dressing oneself or drying oneself after a shower. p.46
  • What is observable from an audience’s perspective is already kinesthetically felt by dancers, “already” in the sense of their already being kinesthetically attuned to the qualitative dynamics of the dance they are dancing, and this because they have practiced, perfected, and rehearsed its choreography. p.47
  • how the dancer “memorizes” the dance, that is, to the so-called cognitive mechanisms that “constrain and control the acquisition and performance of dance,” “so-called” because to begin with, kinesthetic memory—like kinesthesia itself—is not a “cognitive mechanism.” p.47
  • To remember anything, after all, is to have learned it to begin with. Accordingly, what the dancer remembers is what she has kinesthetically learned. More emphatically put, since dance is a matter of movement, the memory of a dance by a dancer cannot be grounded in anything other than in her/ his kinesthetic experience of the movement that constitutes the dance. p.47
  • In The Working Brain, Luria discusses movement pathologies as disturbed “kinetic/kinesthetic melodies” and describes how they are constituted. He uses writing as an example, stating that “In the initial stages, writing depends on memorizing the graphic form of every letter. It takes place through a chain of isolated motor impulses, each of which is responsible for the performance of only one element of the graphic structure; with practice, this structure of the process is radically altered and writing is converted into a single ‘kinetic melody’, no longer requiring the memorizing of the visual form of each isolated letter or individual motor impulses for making every stroke” (Luria 1973, p. 32). He continues by noting that voluntary movement is a “complex functional system” and that “the perfect performance of a movement” is possible on the basis of four fundamental conditions: (1) kinaesthetic afferentation, (2) spatial coordinates that emanate from “the visual and vestibular systems and the system of cutaneous kinaesthetic sensation,” (3) a chain of consecutive movements, each of which must be denervated after its completion so as to allow the next element to take its place, and (4) a motor task, which at more complex levels of conscious action “are dictated by intentions” (ibid., pp. 35–37). Voluntary movement, he observes, is thus the orchestrated result of “completely different brain systems” (ibid., p. 37) that work together in such a way that a kinetic/kinesthetic melody unfolds. p.47
  • “In the initial stages of formation of any movement,” kinetic impulses are “isolated,” but with the development of skillful movement, “the individual impulses are synthesized and combined into integral kinaesthetic structures or kinetic melodies when a single impulse is sufficient to activate a complete dynamic stereotype of automatically interchanging elements” (Luria 1973, p. 176). Moreover, at a later point, he specifies that the construction and performance of any complex movement depend on: (1) an intact frontal lobe (an intentional “brain zone”); (2) kinesthesia; and (3) temporal organization (“a constant regulation of muscle tone…and a sufficiently rapid and smooth changeover from one system of motor innervations to another, with the formation of complete kinaesthetic melodies in the final stages of development of skilled movement”; ibid., pp. 251–253). p.48
  • As Luria points out, the degrees of freedom in human movement and a constantly changing muscle tone “explain why it is that, in the performance of a voluntary movement or action, although the motor task preserves its regulatory role, the highest responsibility is transferred from efferent to afferent impulses” (Luria 1973, p. 249). Kinesthesia is thus of maximal significance to voluntary everyday movement, and its significance for dance could in turn hardly be more transparent. p.48
  • They are what Luria terms “integral kinaesthetic structures” (ibid., p. 176), which is to say that they are experienced, corporeally resonant dynamic patterns of movement that we initiate and that then flow forth on their own with marginal rather than focal attention. The particular “integral kinaesthetic structure” that constitutes a dance is similarly a corporeally resonant dynamic pattern of movement that is initiated, and it too flows forth, but in a distinctly different experiential manner: it is focally attended to. Its dynamics are fully and finely experienced. They constitute an ongoing, continuously unfolding kinesthetically experienced present (see Sheets-Johnstone 1981, 1999a, 2009a). The so-called cognitive mechanisms that control and constrain a dancer’s knowledge of the dance, both in learning it — or “acquiring” it—and in performing it, are thus not (to borrow from Aristotle) “prime-mover” brain events but in-the-flesh kinesthetic experiences that undergird the dancer’s learning of the dance in the first place and in turn sustain her or his performance of it. In short, kinesthetic memory is a faculty grounded in kinesthetic consciousness (for more on kinesthetic consciousness and its phylogenetic and ontogenetic histories, see Sheets-Johnstone 1998, 1999a). It is important to emphasize the preeminence of dynamics in this context. p.48
  • The inherent qualitative dynamics of movement attest to the fact that movement creates its own space, time, and force. In other words, any movement has a particular spatial and temporal character that is dynamically created by the mover in the very act of moving, p.49
  • The inherent qualitative dynamics of movement come to the fore in dance: rather than simply taking place in space and in time, movement creates its own space, time, and force and thereby a particular dynamic that informs the dance every step of the way and in fact constitutes its uniqueness. p.49
  • Kinetic dynamics are thus of the essence of kinesthetic memory in just the way they are of the essence of kinesthetic/kinetic melodies. Melody and memory are indeed dynamic images of one another, precisely as Luria indicates in writing of kinetic melodies as “integral kinaesthetic structures.” In effect, kinesthetic memories are not vague, abstract kinetic phantoms. They are inscribed in and by the body in the form of specific qualitatively articulated dynamics. What a dancer learns in the way of choreography is thus a dynamic whose kinetic form is unique because its qualitative patternings are unique. In performing the dance, the dancer does not simply move through the form; the form moves through her. It moves through her with fluidity because the dynamics of the form are inscribed in kinesthetic memory and flow forth on their own. p.49
  • Learning and remembering certain basic techniques of being a body in movement are the foundation of the form of dance known as CI. The techniques are essential to the on-the-spot, spontaneous, and ongoing creation of the improvisational form. They are firmly rooted in the experience of self-movement, that is, in the pan-human sense modality of kinesthesia. p.50
  • In the process of learning, integral kinesthetic structures come to undergird a familiar kinetic melody whose kinesthetically felt dynamics flow forth ultimately without hesitation or doubt. In both instances, the sense modality of kinesthesia is basic. p.50
  • Dances have meaning—then such “meaning” emanates from the qualitative kinetic dynamics that constitute any particular dance. If this is so, however, then the relationship between affective and kinesthetic dynamics must be investigated and this because emotions—not “information”—are consistently linked with aesthetic objects. p.51
  • Moreover, both natural and culturally spawned everyday movement attest to a fundamental relationship between emotions and movement, as when one spontaneously widens one’s eyes in surprise or recoils in fear on the one hand, and extends one’s hand in a friendly greeting or slams a door in anger on the other. p.51
  • What becomes apparent on the basis of both the empirical and phenomenological evidence is that a dynamic congruency exists between movement and emotion (ibid.). Dynamic kinetic forms articulated in and through the qualities of movement as they are created in the very act of moving are congruent with dynamic forms of feeling as they are affectively felt, that is, as they are affectively lived through. p.52
  • That we are able to feign emotions and to restrain our movement testifies precisely to their natural dynamic congruency: we may expressively mime na emotion but not experience it, just as we may corporeally experience it but not carry it into movement. p.52
    any qualitative kinetic form of an emotion is not identical with the emotion but is formally congruent with it. p.52
  • Whatever the dance, she or he is kinesthetically present in a thoroughgoing experiential sense to the unfolding qualitative kinetic dynamic that is the dance (see Sheets-Johnstone 1981, 1999a, 2009a for a descriptive analysis). p.52
  • Daniel Stern (Stern 1985), it has “vitality affects” throughout, and these vitality affects give it an affective resonance, which is to say that its kinetic dynamics resonate affectively. In Langer’s terms, it has “vital import,” precisely in the sense of having a dynamic congruent with “inner life,” with “subjective experience,” with “the appearance of feeling.” p.52
  • There may be connotative gestures, even denotative ones, but the dance’s qualitative kinetic dynamics carry the day. They are the “stuff” of the dance, its heart, and, for the dancer, its very breath. p.52
  • For the dancer, as indicated, there is no actual emotion that is either moving through her body or moving her to move. There is only the movement itself—the kinesthetic/kinetic melody etched in kinesthetic memory that she is bringing to life. p.53
  • all animate movement has both na inside and an outside (for a detailed description, see Sheets-Johnstone 2009a, pp. 194–199). It is both a kinesthetic and kinetic reality, a felt bodily dynamic for the mover, a visual bodily dynamic for the individual seeing the movement. p.53
  • The qualitative dynamics of dance as a formed and performed art are not reducible to brain events, whether in the form of neuron firings, blood flow, or whatever. Moreover any move to “codify them,” as it were, by way of popular present-day labels and terminologies such as “embodied movement” or “sensorimotor skill” would be to compound the problem of understanding them in their own terms, which are and remain a matter of movement, a distinctive kinesthetic/kinetic phenomenon. p.54
  • Indeed, we do not experience our skills motorically but kinesthetically, and moreover learn them to begin with in hands-on, first-person experience. Moreover, a label such as “motor embodiment” (Varela and Depraz 2005; Thompson 2007) exacerbates what are already egregious conceptual scramblings of the lived-through realities of animate movement. To add to such obfuscations are all too common misconceptions of movement. The phenomenological analysis of movement disclosed qualitative dimensions of movement that testify to its being a spatio-temporal-energic dynamic phenomenon, and, as noted earlier, being such a phenomenon, it is inaccurately described simply as taking place in space and in time. Moreover, kinesthesia is not uncommonly falsely specified in terms of sensations, which are spatially pointillist and temporally punctual in character (for a detailed account, see Sheets-Johnstone 2006), and hence lack precisely the ability to constitute and sustain that unbroken dynamic continuum that constitutes movement. Kinesthesia is in fact commonly and erroneously tethered simply to posture—a wholly stilled mode of being a body—the inadvertent result perhaps of conceiving movement and defining movement as “a change of position.” p.54
  • Cognition is thus not the ground floor of being, human being or any other kind of animate being. Animation and dynamics are the basic defining feature of life in all its forms. They undergird the progressive formation of fundamental spatial-temporalenergic concepts such as far, near, weak, strong, open, close, large, small, and so on, that is, concepts that are, to begin with, corporeal concepts, that is, nonlinguistic concepts (Sheets-Johnstone 1990, 2004, 2009a [Chapter 14], 2010).6 They undergird cognitive explorations, affective dispositions, progressively formed beliefs about the nature of the world, affective interactions with and knowledge about confrères, and so on. When we move from these basic understandings of movement itself in a quest to understand dance, we properly and effectively ground our understandings of the aesthetic realities of dance in the real-life kinesthetic realities that are the foundation of dance as both a formed and performed art. p.55

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