Dance, Perception, Aesthetic Experience and The Brain
Ever since I first saw a dance performance I have wondered why it is that I am sometimes both fascinated and touched by someone or a group of people moving about on a stage, in a studio or even on the street. At the same time I have wondered why it sometimes leaves me completely indifferent. This question I have tried to address by combining insights from cognitive neuroscience, psychology and aesthetics.
My research is divided into five strands: perception, attention and interest, anticipation, emotion and meaning. My current focus is on meaning and emotion. How can dance give rise to certain emotions? How does meaning emerge in dance? Why does much dance seem pointless, stupid and dreadful?
Our experience when watching dance is the product of a myriad of sensory, cognitive and emotional brain processes. It is not accidental but depends on the properties of the brain processes involved in the analysis of sensory stimuli and on the interaction of expectations, associations and personal preferences as laid down in the brain.
In so far as sensory processing is concerned there is no difference between an audience watching the finished work and a choreographer watching a work in progress: Choreographers and dancer(s) will continue adjusting a work until every aspect has been fine-tuned to its desired perceptual and emotional effect.
An artist, whether a choreographer, painter or director, can deliberately choose to as it were "upset" the visual system or simply ignore how the work is perceived altogether. However in composing a work an artist will again try to create a perfect "stimulus". If the purpose is to disorient the observer then this is what guides the composition. If the purpose is neutrality as it is in some conceptual art than fonts, clothes, spaces, movements etc will be composed so as to erase any preference or perceptual bias on the part of the observer.
I am of course an artist myself. This is one reason why I am critical of much psychological, neurological and philosophical accounts of dance. In my research I try to give an account that is consistent with current empirical findings, conceptual considerations found in philosophy and my own artistic intuition. This is one reason why I prefer to refer to my research as speculative...
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2012), Dance, Aesthetics and the Brain. The book that will explain it all.... Coming soon. The manuscript is finished. It's about 470 pages. It should be out later this year.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2011), Dance, Choreography and the Brain, in: Melcher, D. and Bacci, F. [eds.], Art and the Senses. Oxford University Press, 499-514.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2010), Dance, Language and the Brain. International Journal of Art and Technology, 3 (2/3), 221-234.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2008), Can Dance Be Disgusting or Is It Forever Doomed to Aestheticism? Culture Teatrali, Vol. 16, 161-166. Even though it wasn't published until November 2008, the publication date is "Primavera 2007".
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2005), Dance Perception and the Brain, in: McKechnie, S. & Grove, R. [eds.], Thinking in Four Dimensions, Melbourne University Publishing.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2005), Einige methodologische Bemerkungen zu einer künftigen Neurokritik des Tanzes, in: Fenger, J. and Birringer, J. Tanz im Kopf/Dance and Cognition Jahrbuch Tanzforschung 15.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2004), Towards a neurocritique of dance, BalletTanz Yearbook.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2004), ‘Some speculative hypotheses about the nature and perception of dance and choreography’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 11, 3/4 pp.79-110.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2003), The dancing brain, Cerebrum 5 (2), pp. 19-34.
Hagendoorn, I.G. (2002), ‘Einige Hypothesen über das Wesen und die Praxis des Tanzes’, in Tanz Theorie Text, Klein, G. en Zipprich, Ch. (red.) Hamburg, LIT Verlag, pp. 429-444.