Can George dance? Biosemiotics and human exceptionalism with a lyrebird in the viewfinder

Hollis Taylor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Are the movements of the Australian Albert’s lyrebird “George” best identified as dance, “dance,” proto-dance, or functional gestures? I draw on the tools of biosemiotics to shed light on human signifying practice vis-à-vis dance – specifically, how humans make sense of avian dance, how they compare and contrast it with human dance, and what a definition tells us about its makers. In both the natural sciences and humanities, competing discourses abound to the contention that animal movements could fruitfully be considered as dance. A trend emerges in some definitions of dance (which may also invoke human exceptionalism) of characterizations that ignore extant reports of animal abilities – of a classificatory rather than an evaluative posture. I argue that in overcoming the limitations of human exceptionalism in analytic frameworks by explicitly incorporating animal efforts into theory development, validation, and revision (theories often dominated by human and elite Western concerns), we will arrive at a less-distorted version of the multimodal behavior we call dancing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-76
Number of pages17
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • animal aesthetics
  • Biosemiotics
  • defining dance
  • human exceptionalism
  • lyrebird
  • zoösemiotics

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