Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dance as embodied philosophy

Re-reading Kimmel's article I came upon the following text about partner dance. As some of you know, I'm an avid partner dancer and have expounded its philosophic virtues in various threads (here as one example). Kimmel supports my thesis:

"Cultural learning also impacts our ability to engage in interactions and create intersubjectivity. Even mundane interactions typically require us to recognize meaningful affordances, i.e. enabling states for our next action perceived in real-time. In particular, we incorporate the dynamic flow of body signals (gestures, gaze, gait, etc.) from others into how we modulate our own actions. Just imagine a simple nonverbal negotiation of two persons sliding past each other in a narrow corridor. Sophisticated martial arts, dance, or bodywork skills that require years of apprenticeship equally highlight enactive intersubjectivity (Fuchs & de Jaegher, 2010). As Kimmel (2012) argues, dancers of tango argentino can fluidly improvise together only when they actively explore the partner at every moment and reciprocally make their bodies amenable to being sensed (e.g. a good follower strategically creates muscle chains allowing the leader to sense via her shoulder blade what her leg is up to.) Communication depends on a highly organized 'tango body' with ingrained postural, muscle related, and attentional habits. While complex intersubjectivity skills fundamentally build on immediate perception, they place the senses in a continuum with functional concepts and regulative imagery. For example, tango experts stick to basic enabling states by imagining a constant 'magnet' or 'torch seeking the partner’s sternum.' This helps maintain rapport in any situation. More complex regulators keep track of functionally important sensory coalescences, e.g. an 'energy ball' representing the couple’s joint weight at a given moment. Here, multi-channel sensory input gets blended 'into' the image, including proprioception, the partner’s body, and space. The current position of the ball summarizes system-level information, allows dynamic feedback to be felt in the flesh, and thus provides a control structure for joint action. Finally, the tango case sheds light on the hidden cognitive substrate of dynamic decision making. Accomplished tango leaders fluidly combine basic micro-elements without enacting scripted step sequences and without much remeditation. They simply recognize a large repertory of dynamic configurations that signal affordances to exploit 'on the fly' on a given trajectory or to nudge the couple to when still a bit away. Experts do this without enforcing anything, but by 'soft-assembling' the interaction within repertoire related as well as
sensory constraints (somatic feedback, music, available space)" (312).

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