Dances – like everyday physical interactions – are built from a constrained repertoire of possible bodily movements. It’s a useful activity to study because the performers, learners and audiences of dance can be observed managing the production and evaluation of movements specifically as dance.

This figure from a forthcoming paper on timing and balance in novice partner dancers compares how Jim stops dancing in a teetering upright position with how Paul stops in a more evenly balanced stance.

A Figure from a forthcoming paper on timing and balance in novice partner dancers. The figure compares how Jim (in green) falls over after ending a move in a teetering position with how Paul (in fuchsia) has a more balanced stance.

This presents participants with interesting and observable challenges. How do they move from dancing to non-dancing, and how do they show each other that they are making these switches? How do audiences decide when and how to applaud, and how do they demonstrate their sensitivity to particular parameters and relevant moments of evaluation during a dance? And what is distinctive about bodily movement that makes it function as dance?

This research forms part of an overall exploration of social/aesthetic practices and activities including learning, teaching, and performing dance, and body-oriented psychotherapies that involve people in doing and evaluating of dance movements. For example, Dirk vom Lehn and I have collected a large amount of video showing how novice  partner dancers learn during  workshops, and have been analyzing these alongside video of professional improvised dance performances.