Dance Cognition: Echo Without* Delay
*Or Almost Without…
I bought a book, The Neurocognition of Dance, of which I’ve read only dribs and drabs, and which I’ve lent to my friend B. (not Ms. B or Mr. B — Blogging-By-Initials gets confusing sometimes), and I’m burningly curious right now about whether any of the chapters within touch on this. I’ll have to find out when she’s done with it.
As dancers, we learn to mirror or echo the actions of other dancers extremely well.
When we’re learning a combination, we mimic right along as it’s handed out — abetted, no doubt, by whatever formal vocabulary of movement (and its associated shorthand) is appropriate to the context, but in a way that’s still rather remarkable for its almost complete lack of delay.
I’m sure that there is a delay — some fraction of a second that passes between the action of instructor or repetiteur or choreographer or group leader or what-have-you and its echo by the rest of the dancers.
It must be eerie to watch this as it happens: to someone on the outside — especially, perhaps, to an observer who is not a dancer — it must look for all the world as if the congregation of dancers, rapt in its attention, is a kind of hive-mind.
In a way, maybe it is.
There is an element of “mind-reading,” of highly-educated guessing, involved in this process. I say that because once in a while we get it wrong: what looks like it will be tendu turns out to be jeté (a distinction so slight, when indicated with hand gestures, as to be essentially invisible to the untrained eye), or the anticipated turn is sublimated into a kind of caesura followed by a contretemps. Sometimes, this happens, and someone, unconscious of his own voice, says, “Oh!” even as he adapts on the fly; even as he continues to absorb the combination by that strange combination of habit and apparent clairvoyance.
But mostly, eerily, uncannily, we get it right.
At barre, we stand there in our array, watching with the unblinking eyes of gun dog or panther, flapping our hands or our feet in synchrony with the hands and/or feet of our leader.
Mostly, the human eye does not perceive any delay.
I found myself thinking about this yesterday while we were all absorbing one of Ms. B’s long and complex barre combinations. There was a moment during which I was participating in this process and glanced back to make sure that I wasn’t blocking the view of anyone on the wall barre behind me (I was on a wobbly center barre) and noticed that we were all like live wires of attention, all in perfect sync, and that we all appeared to be silently performing some kind of well-rehearsed ritual or carrying out a program.
Only we weren’t. We were learning a new combination, one made up of elements we all knew, but combined in a novel way.
Very cool stuff, there.
Once again, I have more thoughts, but I’m tired. I woke up this morning (morning? I mean afternoon, feh) after another thirteen-hour sleepathon with a sinus headache, a sore throat, and a general feeling of mild malaise, so I decided to give myself a day off. Rest day FTW! Tomorrow, we have a conditioning class in the morning, then I’m going to a semiotics workshop in the afternoon, which should be awesome.
I’ll try to assemble my More Coherent Thoughts on all this soon.
For now, though, I’m going to take a bath, finish reading the article for tomorrow’s workshop, and then go to bed.
À bientôt, mes amis!
Posted on 2016/01/28, in balllet and tagged ballet is weird sometimes, dance and mirror neurons maybe, dancers are the world's best mimics, neurocognition of dance. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.