DOC Journal: July/August 2011, 1st Article

Dance, Film, and Kinesthetic Response – A Call Toward Action by Jen Edwards

Nearly a year ago, I had the opportunity to make a short video, for distribution on a large online platform. The assignment was to teach a relaxation technique through the piece. I knew that dance needed to play a part for two reasons: 1) because it would be helpful in conveying the message of the work, and 2) this presented an opportunity to expose a very large audience to dance. The piece, which will be featured in the DFA / Solar One Festival on September 7th, is now being integrated into an iPhone app. Through my work on this project I discovered that technology can be a fun and fluid medium in which to play. Additionally, it can function as a natural stage on which to exhibit dance and explore what we know innately when sitting by the ocean or studying a bird in flight: watching movement has a profound kinesthetic effect. It may even be calming. Grounded #6 from Jennifer Edwards on Vimeo. This phenomenon has been studied in the context of dance performance in a study which was recently released, entitled Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy. As stated on their website, the study uses audience research and neuroscience to explore how dance spectators respond to and identify with dance. It had been supposed that “dance audiences can experience physical and imaginative effects of movement without actually moving their bodies.” The preliminary results of the study indicated, among other things, that former and current dancers – those whose bodies hold the muscle memories of actually performing the movements they watched – had the strongest neurological response. Additionally, a study conducted by Wolf Brown entitled Engaging Dance Audiences, found that a majority of dance viewers have some dance training. In fact, not only are those who dance more likely to respond biologically, they are also the majority of ticket-buying audience members. This is not to say that the results are positive across the board. Watching others dance can be quite stressful for dancers. This too is an issue that can be addressed head-on through going beyond merely documenting the harshness of training (think A Beautiful Tragedy). It may behoove the field of dance to generate dance films that bolster the value and expression of kinesthetic intelligence rather than focusing only on the sacrifices of striving for perfection. This will entail a cultural shift from within the community starting with the simple admission that the sacrifice approach perpetuates a certain acceptance of abuse extant in the dance world. Aside from the essential sadness of this situation, the real conundrum arises when we consider that a large part of the audience for dance is either missing from theaters or missing out on the benefits of watching dance. Continued viability of the field and the capacity to ignite the interest of future generations of dance audiences may depend on developing a healthier relationship with how we view dance. This begs the question of how to engage a broader audience. According to the NEA study Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation a mere 7% of the US population consumes live dance across genres. Dance on film is a clear entry point. Displayed in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and offices, these films could have lasting effects on the culture at large. Many of us – and not only dancers – often recollect past moments like images from a short film. In my memory, such a scene opens in a field. The camera pans left and zooms in on a small, tanned girl lying face up, captivated by the moving world around her – the swaying trees, tall rustling grass, and the clouds shifting through the sky above. What is not seen is the way I felt – peaceful, engaged, energized, and comfortable in my skin. If there were an audience in my mind-theater, they would also feel these things if the filmmaker conceived of it that way. This, for me, is the beauty of dance and film – two media that allow for often-wordless personal experiences that draw us to deep recesses of our inner landscapes and connect us to ourselves. If we in the dance world can clearly define and highlight this connection, we may be able to carve out new spaces and a larger, more purposeful place for the art form.
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