Epistemological Rigor

“Cvejić argues improvisation’s epistemological lack of rigor due to its reliance on the practitioner’s experience within the frame of the ineffable…” Bell, p.111


from Biba Bell’s review of Choreographing Problems: Expressive Concepts in European Contemporary Dance and Performance in DRJ 48/3 December 2016

Merriam Webster defines epistemological as “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity”.

By studying improvisation through the lenses of Ensemble Thinking, the Six Viewpoints, Contact Improvisation, & Action Theater, the theory of the nature of improvisation becomes apparent. I would therefore propose that Ensemble Thinking, the Six Viewpoints, Contact Improvisation, & Action Theater could be seen as epistemological rigor. The rigor already exists. The frame of the ineffable does not preclude epistemological rigor. The theories of the aforementioned improvisation practices are embedded (embodied) in the scores of each improvisational methodology. The scores of these practices could be seen as the theories that transcend the ineffable. These theories live beyond the moment that performing disappearance à la Phelan.

“The consequence of the “monopoly” of practitioners’ knowledge in the field is a lack of proper theoretical study, of a comprehensive systematization…” – Cvejic, p. 130

The bias against practitioner’s tacit knowledge is evident in Cvejic’s position. A comprehensive systematization of improvisational epistemology already exists in theories such as Ensemble Thinking, Action Theater, Six Viewpoints, Contact Improvisation, et. al, already exists in the practices themselves. It is her inability to recognize the theories, as a relay between practices with any of the aforementioned methodologies (Deleuze), inherent, embedded, and embodied within each improvisation method.


As to the idea that there is a “monopoly”, well, yes, of course there is a “monopoly”, and rightly so. Physicists create the theories for physics, because they are the ones who study physics. Economists create the theories for economics because they are the people who study economics. Linguists create the theories for linguistics because they are the ones who study language. People who study improvisation (as it relates to dance) create the theories of improvisation. To know it you have to do it.


Dance is Research

We can define science as the systematic study of the natural world through observation and experiment, yielding an organized body of knowledge on a particular subject. The human [body] is undeniably a suitable subject for scientific study, and one purpose of [dance] is careful observation of one’s own [body]. This observation reveals consistent patterns that [dancers] share with one another and with teachers who direct their practice. Master [dancers] weigh these observations against their own experience and knowledge passed down from previous generations of [dance] masters, thereby generating models of the [body]. Over thousands of years, [dancers] have tested, refined, and reworked their models of the [body] based on new insights as later generations developed new [dance] techniques. Thus, over time, an organized body of knowledge has accumulated describing the nature and behavior of the [body] at a very fine level of resolution. This is one sense in which certain forms of [dance] qualify as science.

excerpted and altered from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/your-brain-as-laboratory-the-science-of-meditation/