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

Dance ≥ Emotion

It could be argued that dance has its origins in emotions. Movement (dance) coming from the need for survival (Sheet Johnstone 1966). The need to move towards food, towards mother, away from danger, predator, fire, etc. Similarly food could be seen as the stuff that satisfies the need for nourishment.

Food, however, has ceased to be simply nourishment. Think of all the cooking shows, and kinds of food that people eat that have little or no nutritional value. Food as entertainment and enjoyment. Also the food geeks who research how to do different processes and aren’t directly interested in food as nourishment. Think of Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s first CTO, who made that huge cookbook. Food as a means of epistemology.

So why is dance still so heavily associated with movement’s origin, emotion, and seen less as a means of epistemology?

Seeking Change

“Improvisational performance in dance (like improvised performance in other media) fundamentally seeks to change the audience’s assumptions about what a dance piece might be.”  Sophie Lycouris BA, MA, Destabilising dancing:tensions between the theory and practice of improvisational performance, 1996, pg 177-8.


I would propose that was merely one goal for western white concert dancers early on, when they “discovered/invented” improvisation.

Such a “goal” could be said to be the first step for many dance-makers. “Oooh, look at me I’m improvising!” Great, now what? What about improvising are you going to reveal to me? What are you going to do with it? Is it a means? Then what are you meaning? Is it a tool? Then what can you show me about the tool?

I think many people use an improvisational approach to time and the creative process for many other reasons. To ascribe a goal to a temporal tool seems a bit much.

To paraphrase Duke paraphrasing Quantz

An increase in the number of people performing reduces the proportionately the freedom to improvise – Quantz

Quantz, Johann Joachim. On Playing the Flute. Edited with introduction and notes by Edward R. Reilly. New York: The Free Press, 1966.(First German edition by Johann Friedrich Voso, Berlin, 1752.)

Labor and Dance

the edited phrase 

“Lukács emphasizes that in the course of history, the [critical], [theoretical] understanding of [dance] becomes more and more detached from the labor process, and less and less immediately bound to the immediate material constraints of the [dance].”

the original phrase

“Lukács emphasizes that in the course of history, the abstract, scientific understanding of reality becomes more and more detached from the labor process, and less and less immediately bound to the immediate material constraints of the real.” – Henry Staten


“However, for interdisciplinarity to have any meaning, it must be based on competency in at least one discipline.” – B. Spatz

Visual Presentation

“I think that, maybe unlike a lot of other improvisational people, I’m very visually oriented and very interested in presentation.”

from Kent De Spain’s thesis quoting one of the dancers in his study