Metaphors we dance by: on ‘falling’ and kinaesthetic experience

Sarah Pini, Doris McIlwain, John Sutton

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    This paper addresses the practice of Contact Improvisation [CI] as a fruitful example of intersubjectivity. It provides a philosophical account of the kinaesthetic experience of being “off balance”, highlighting the role played by socio-cultural and historical factors in shaping skilled movement experience. Influenced by the civil rights and anti-war movement, CI was initiated in 1972 by members of the Judson Dance Theater. Emerging from the encounter between two or more dancers, it is deeply grounded on improvisation and collaboration. Several comparative dance studies addressing the issue of agency have emphasised that CI presents some distinctive features characterised by the privileging of certain sensory modalities. Some authors referred to it as internal awareness, or the predominance of the sense of touch over sight and a more proprioceptive attention over vision. Nevertheless, apart from ethnographic and biographical works, very little attention has been given to the active first person description of bodily perceptions in play within this dance practice. This work highlights how experts in CI articulate their diverse forms of agency in relation to the physical experience of “falling”, elsewhere described as disorientation. Attention is given to contact improvisers’ vocabulary and the extent to which such metaphors arise from performers’ kinaesthetic experiences in terms of how they are produced, shaped, enacted and performed. This paper will contribute to the understanding of skilled bodies’ forms of intelligence in novel ways. Specifically we embrace an interdisciplinary program to inform the study of embodied cognition and skilled movement; we consider the intersubjective component as well as the cultural and historic context in which this dance form has developed. The overall aim of this exploration is to shed light on the role played by aesthetics and politics embedded in culture-specific technologies of the body in shaping the perception of world and self, among skilled movement performers.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2014
    EventEnacting Culture: Embodiment, Interaction and the Development of Human Culture - University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
    Duration: 15 Oct 201417 Oct 2014


    ConferenceEnacting Culture: Embodiment, Interaction and the Development of Human Culture
    Internet address


    • intersubjectivity
    • contact improvisation
    • ethnographic method
    • metaphors
    • embodied cognition
    • dance practice


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