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Essay On Music And Dance



The actual and possible relationships between music and dance are multifarious. It is not the purpose of this paper to attempt to chart their various permutations, nor to offer a general theory of them. Our aim is more modest. We shall try to provide a philosophical framework, amplified by speculation grounded on recent work in cognitive psychology, for characterizing the relation of one kind of dance to one kind of music.


The kind of music that we have in mind is the sort that inspires feelings of movement in listeners, as is the case with the music that propels most social dancing, such as the jitterbug. It is the kind of music of which Victor Zuckerkandl observes : “Hearing tones, I move with them; I experience their motion as my motion.” [1][1] Zuckerkandl, quoted in Francis Sparshott, A Measured... It is not our contention that all music is like this, but only that some is. Though we will have more to say on this matter, we trust that our hypothesis has some prima facie plausibility. Perhaps, those of you who have ever felt the urge to air-conduct or have found yourselves tapping your toe to a snappy tune can provisionally confirm our claim on the basis of your own experience. Of course, we do not pretend to have discovered this phenomenon. Rather, it is only our intention to place it within a useful philosophical framework in terms of its relationship to one sort of dance (though a sort with many different stylistic variations).


The question of what is meant by saying music itself moves is vexed. We grant that this usage may be metaphorical, and wish instead only to call attention to the various ways in which music is said to move, and to show how the motions in dance can relate to these. [2][2] The question of whether the notion that music moves... Moreover, music does not simply “move” as a result of its having a pulse that we can recreate for ourselves physically, but it also moves through configuring patterns of tension and relaxation, impressions of rushing forwards and pulling back, of advancing inch by inch or vaulting great distances, of expanding outwards and contracting, as well as many other larger scale patterns that are not merely a succession of pulses. Thus, an explanation of movement prompted by music requires more than the mere acknowledgement that we can keep time with the beat.


The kind of dance we have in mind is the sort that essentially involves a performative interpretation of and/or expansion upon the music that accompanies it, such as the music visualizations of Denishawn and the more complex endeavors of George Balanchine. We do not claim that all dance aspires to this end. Some dance, such as some post-modern dance, eschews music altogether, while the generally aleatoric relationship of Merce Cunningham’s choreography to the music is one of indifference. It is perhaps more apt to say that, with respect to Cunningham’s work, the dance co-occurs or is merely simultaneous with the music rather than that the music accompanies the dance.


Nevertheless, much dance has an intimate relationship with the music, as one might expect, since, in all likelihood, dance and music emerged in human history in tandem and, to a great extent, have remained that way since the beginning. In the twentieth century, from Isadora Duncan to Mark Morris, a great deal of dancing—indeed, probably most of it—has been coordinated with the music, rather than being detached from it. Furthermore, much of this dance has been dedicated to either performatively interpreting that music – that is, calling attention to aspects of its qualities and structures – or expanding upon it, by either reinforcing or completing structural or qualitative, including emotively qualitative, tendencies in the music, or by creating an altogether new accent by means of counterpoint and contrast.


The philosophical framework that we would like to mobilize to characterize the relationship between this sort of dance and this sort of music is, roughly speaking, a modification of the expression theory of art, especially as that view was propounded by R.G. Collingwood. [3][3] R.G. Collingwood, Principles of Art, (Oxford : Clarendon... That theory identifies the defining function of art to be the clarification of emotion. However, we believe that specifying the role of art in terms of emotion is too narrow. We wish to broaden the approach to encompass the clarification of affect in general – including affects that are not emotions properly so-called, such as moods, reflexes, and somatic feelings. That is, whereas emotions are often construed to involve essentially a cognitive component, there are realms of affect – feeling states – that are not mediated by thoughts. Bodily or kinesthetic sensations – such as movement impulses – are like this.


We have already asserted that some music inspires feelings of movement in audiences. In addition, we hope to establish that some dance does so as well, often by activating certain mirror reflexes in viewers – that is to say, certain muscular, motor impulses that correlate to the movements observed in the relevant dance. In this way, the movement in the dance clarifies, enlarges, or expands upon the feelings of movement already available in the pertinent sort of music. Thus, the dance enables the spectator to sharpen, deepen, or otherwise develop the intimation of movement she intuits in the accompanying music. This is fundamental to the aesthetic experience of this sort of choreography, which involves attentiveness to the movement-impulse qualities in the dance-cum-music. [4][4] These impulse qualities are aesthetic properties in...


In advancing this hypothesis, we are not endorsing the expression theory of art as a general theory of art. [5][5] For, we do not maintain that art necessarily expresses... Rather, we are simply adapting parts of it to construct a model of the aesthetic experience of certain kinds of concert dance. This is a model that isolates and accounts for one of the ways in which spectators relate to dance – they use dance, in many cases, as an entrée into the music, notably as a means of clarifying the feelings the music imparts, particularly the feelings of movement. Obviously, dance is naturally suited to this function, since dance is primarily a matter of movement – a practice whose basic elements are steps.


Our modest claim, then, is that some dance is best understood as the clarification or deepening of the feelings of movement inspired by the music, and that this clarification or deepening is secured, in part, by the activation of the motor reflexes in the body of the spectator; the body of the spectator, in a manner of speaking, is the vehicle through which the clarification or deepening of the pertinent feelings of movement is consummated. This process of clarification – about which we will have more to say later – is, in the first instance, a matter of making the feelings of movement suggested by the music more articulate. This transpires through the addition of a layer of affective stimulation—emanating from the bodies of the dancers—which either reinforces or foregrounds by counterpoint the movement impulses available in the music. The ensuing symbiosis of dance and music may result in the dance making the music more legible, the music making the dance more legible, or both, or in evolving a new feeling not available independently or antecedently in either the music or the dance but one that issues as their combined product.


Again, this is a claim about some dance in relation to some music. Other dance may be concerned to emphasize other aspects of the music, such as its emotive content, rather than its intimations of movement. And some dance, as already noted, abjures any relationship to the music. But at the same time, much dance works with the music for the purpose of clarifying the feelings of movement to be found in either channel of expression and/or in both in concert.


The philosophical import of this process will be adumbrated in the concluding section of this essay. But before reaching any conclusions, we must first make the case for a correlation between music and the impression of movement, on the one hand, and then go on to establish that dance not only has the resources to hone this impression of movement, but that it often does so.

Movement in Music ?


It is a commonplace that music moves. However, there is little consensus about how music moves, or what precisely is meant by “movement” with respect to music. Part of the problem lies in trying to reconcile what we know about sound waves and the way they move, with our subjective experience of music as moving. Many philosophers and music theorists would argue that these two things simply cannot match up. We know that sounds are created by vibrations that travel through the air as waves, and so clearly all music requires that there be something moving, but it is not the motion of these waves that we have in mind when say that music moves. Instead, we talk of scales that ascend and descend, of rhythms that march along, and of music’s pulse—something that we don’t just move to, but with. It is hard to deny the conviction that there is a way that music moves that we can imitate with the movement of our bodies, though it may be the case that in describing the movement of music, we are merely using a recalcitrant metaphor.


While the metaphysical niceties of movement in music are both interesting and important, for our purposes we need not claim that every case in which we can coherently talk of motion in music is a case in which something literally moves. All that we require is that the motion perceived in the music is often central to our experience of the music. For example, we often describe the musical structures we hear as expressive of feelings of movement, as if we detect those movements in the music the same way we detect the movements of the tide in the ocean. These feelings can systematically be traced to central features of the music itself. Music may not move spatially in any literal sense, but it does have sonic contours that are easily understood through spatial analogues, be they rising and falling melodic lines or jagged and smooth rhythmic motives.


There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that people do in fact perceive music as moving. That is how people frequently describe music. Indeed, research projects in the psychology of music take this as a basic presupposition. [6][6] Many articles that make this presupposition can be... Furthermore, even music theorists who have a specialized vocabulary with which to describe music use phrases like “oscillating triplets” and other movement terms to refer to musical events. Methodologically, we begin by presupposing that how people talk and think about a practice should have some initial authority for philosophers. So, rather than proceeding by advancing a priori arguments against the possibility of hearing movement in the music, let us begin by trying to discover reasons in favor of the common view.


The vocabulary used to describe the activity of music is perhaps even more closely linked to the vocabulary of temporal movement than to that of spatial movement. Music is said to “unfold” or “progress,” capturing the idea that part of the essence of music is that it travels through time. We talk of time flying, dragging, and marching, just as we talk of musical notes doing these same things through time. In fact, given the close relationship between music and time, it is quite possible that the reason we perceive music as moving is because it progresses through time, and we perceive time as moving. The similarity is not just a matter of movement simpliciter, but of directed movement. For, one thing that separates music from mere sound is that music is heard as moving towards its destination; it is directed. We experience time in the same way; it is always moving inexorably forward. [7][7] There are still debates in physics about whether or...


This fundamental difference between music and mere sound is not a new discovery. In discussing what is required to hear something as a unified piece of music rather than as a mere succession of sounds, Roger Scruton proposes that we must hear “the experience of a musical unity across time, in which something begins, and then moves on through changes in pitch—perhaps to an audible conclusion. A melody has temporal boundaries, and a musical movement between them.” [8][8] Roger Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, (Oxford : Clarendon... Edward T. Cone makes the same point about musical phrases, pointing out that “the typical musical phrase consists of an initial downbeat, a period of motion, and a point of arrival marked by a cadential downbeat.” [9][9] Edward T. Cone, Musical Form and Musical Performance,... The point is not only that we happen to hear a great deal of music as moving through time, but also that in order to hear sounds as music at all, we must in general hear these sounds as relating to each other in a temporal succession that is directed—which is to say : to hear music is to hear musical movement. [10][10] Some aleatoric music may be an exception to this claim.... That is, insofar as time, or at least the experience of time, is unidirectional, we will unavoidably experience a succession of musical notes as going somewhere. Music is closely tied to time, which it structures, and since time is experienced as moving, so is music.


It seems, then, that the most natural way to describe what music does is to say that it moves. We describe the ways in which it moves in the same terms we would use to describe physical movement. For example, a piece might be marked “andante grazioso”, indicating that the tempo should be a walking tempo, and that the style of walking should be gracious. Or the marking could be “sehr rasch”, meaning very hurried. These directions for performance are able to indicate both the tempo and the characteristic of the music at once precisely because it is so easy for the musician to understand how to play music in a way that is hurried, or is gracefully walking. If the performer heeds these markings, the listener will hear the music as hurried or as graceful. [11][11] There need not be a precise correspondence between...


Since it has been established that we do in fact mean something by saying music moves, it is important to distinguish all the different ways in which music can move, linking these to the various technical devices or features that can contribute to this movement. These devices include pulse, meter, phrase structure, changes in dynamics and instrumentation, patterns of accents and articulation, harmonic motion, and others. Pulse is perhaps the most fundamental element that contributes to musical movement, since it is the pulse that creates temporal order in music by establishing a pattern of beats which becomes a background against which melody and harmony play out. Pulse also contributes to the impression of musical movement, since it is generally the pulse we are enticed to move to. [12][12] One feature of pulse that makes it of cardinal importance...


But there are other elements of music less tied to pulse and time that nevertheless contribute to the experience of music as moving. In almost every culture, music consists of rhythms and melodies, and these melodies are constructed out of scales. As the pitches get higher one talks of ascending the scale, and of descending into the lower-pitched notes. [13][13] The exception is in Ancient Greek music, which is exactly... But it is not enough to combine a lower note and a higher note to produce upwards motion; we have to hear these notes in a temporal sequence. Once this is done, we hear the music as moving towards the higher note, and thus hear the melody or phrase as rising. [14][14] For an additional discussion of movement in music,...


Most classical pieces exploit a combination of elements in order to create highly sophisticated musical structures. For example, the graceful, swaying waltzing character of the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony is created by the juxtaposition of melody and rhythm. The melody ascends through one bar, and then turns back in the next, and this sequence continues in the next two bars, adding to the feeling that the waltz moves as a dancer would across the floor. The unusual feature of the Tchaikovsky waltz is that it is in five rather than the typical triple meter. We feel the first and third beats as emphasized, and so this rhythmic background confers a lilting feeling onto the melody. Of course, not every person who listens to this piece would be able to explain why the waltz moves in the way it does, in part because some structural elements adding to the motion of music are more readily identifiable upon hearing than others. Also, which patterns are felt will depend upon the attention and experience of the listener, and the particular interpretation put forth in performance.


Needless to say, as the preceding example illustrates, another reason it is natural to describe music in terms we use for bodily movement is that many musical forms were created for dancing. While it might be difficult to dance a minuet of a Beethoven string quartet, his minuets retain many of the characteristics of the Baroque musical form that developed along with the dance of the same name. Despite the fact that minuets by Beethoven were not written to be danced, it still makes sense to think of the music as “mincing,” a term that might better describe the steps of the original Baroque dance. The parallel developments of the music and dance make it impossible to tell whether it is the dance that lends the music its characteristic grace, or whether the gestures of the dance developed in response to the graceful character already perceived in the music. While the minuet is perhaps the most familiar example of a musical form developed from a dance, there are many other forms that have characteristic musical gestures that match their dance counterparts, including the Baroque Sarabande, Gavotte, Bourrée, and Gigue, the Polish Mazurka, the gypsy Czardas, and so forth.


So far, we have shown a way in which we can legitimately describe music as moving. At the same time, it is widely reported that certain music makes people feel like moving. This is obvious with dance music designed to encourage, regulate, and even propel the prospective dances. Here one supposes that there is some relation between the movement patterns in the music and the feelings of movement it inspires in the dancer. To a certain extent, the dancer tries to mimic the musical movement impulses where the imitation is guided by musical patterns. For example, her foot automatically taps to the beat, or her arms reach upwards with the rising melodic line. [15][15] This phenomenon is not unique to dance, as anyone who... Of course, not all music is made for dancing. Some is made for listening. But where the stationary listeners detect the impulse to move to music, it is likely that the same structures are in operation. They feel prompted in their musculature to mimic aspects of the perceived musical movement. It is this feeling of being prompted that we have in mind by referring to “movement impulses” inherent in the music. The relevant musical structures, that is, operate as sonic cues.


Despite what might by now be the obviousness of the claim that music does have these movement impulses and that in virtue of these we either imagine bodily movement or actually move in consort with the music, some philosophers balk at the idea of linking the motion of music with any other sort of motion. This stems from the belief that music is sui generis, and as a result those who think that what they hear in music has any link to the extra-musical world are merely confused. So, when we imagine movement as we listen to music, we are allegedly just letting our minds wander, as if we were using the music as an excuse for indulging in an idiosyncratic fantasy.


But while it is true that some people may use music as an excuse to escape into their imaginations, and are, in effect, flagrantly oblivious to the structural features of the music, it would be ill-advised to deny the link between music and imagined movement altogether. For as we have tried to show, there are features of the music itself that are heard as moving, and these features actually cue movements in both our imaginations and in our motor systems. The response is in a way automatic, and is simply a feature of how we perceive music.


It is perhaps for this very reason that not just any movement will go with any music. In a recent psychological study, subjects were able to match a choreographed dance to its accompanying music at a far greater than random frequency. [16][16] Mitchell and Gallaher 1991, “Embodying Music : Matching... If the dancer’s movements were not somehow prompted by the motions we hear in the music, this would not be the case. Though we have no reason to claim that one piece of choreography is necessarily more suited to the music than another alternative, this experiment indicates that the movement we imagine with respect to the music is not a function of arbitrary woolgathering but is intersubjective and thus converging.


In meeting the wool-gathering objection, we do not go so far as to claim that specific musical gestures can be matched to bodily movements in something like a one-to-one correspondence. The relation between musical movement and dance movement is much looser. But despite the fact that no musical movement could entail a particular bodily movement, we can easily tell the difference between congruent and incongruent movements. Sharp, jabbing arm motions do not seem to make sense as an interpretation of soft, graceful music. In the case where a dancer chooses to lift where the music falls, the combination of music and dance creates a kind of counterpoint of rising and sinking lines. This is only possible because we really do perceive musical movement and bodily movement as subspecies of a wider class.

Dance, Music, and Movement


With respect to certain types of music, listeners report that they are able to discern movement in the sonic array – that is, listeners maintain that they can detect the feeling of movement of which the musical contour is expressive. This may prompt a listener to imagine movement consonant with the music – to imagine either that one is moving, or to imagine others moving, or, more abstractly, to imagine simply that something is moving. As well, such music can often inspire or encourage movement in the listener. The movement impulse expressed in the music may be felt literally in the percipient’s body. One may sway, clap one’s hands, or stamp one’s feet to the rhythm or, in the privacy of one’s living room, one might indulge in broad sweeping gestures as the music on the radio appears to soar.


That music has the power to infect our muscles in this way, of course, explains why music and dance appear together world-wide in rituals of all sorts and in social dancing. Though the specific dances differ from tribe to tribe and from nation to nation, the phenomenon of dancing to music that incites the associated movement is as nearly-universal as language is. From pre-modern rain dances through modern waltzes and onto contemporary breakdancing, dancing to or with or for the music is ubiquitous.


Professional choreographers and dancers often reaffirm their conviction that the dance they practice is inspired by the music. Moira Shearer argues “It is the music that has caused the choreographer … to want to compose movements and dances.”  [17][17] Quoted in Barbara Newman, Striking a Balance : Dancers... Alexandre Benois, summing up the project of the early Ballets Russes, asserted “For us it was the music which provided ballet with its centre of gravity. The moment had arrived when one listened to the music, and, in listening, derived an additional pleasure from seeing it. I think this is the mission of ballet.” [18][18] Quoted in Stephanie Jordon, Moving Music : Dialogues... And George Balanchine appears to agree : “I cannot move, I don’t even want to move, unless I hear the music first. I couldn’t move without a reason, and the reason is the music.” [19][19] Ibid. Hegel, for once, put it succinctly – the music “gets into our feet,” making, as the ancients believed, feelings visible. [20][20] G.F.W. Hegel, Aesthetics, trans. T.M. Knox (Oxford :...


With these artists, it seems fair to hypothesize that the movement of the dancers enables the participants to clarify the feelings of movement that they detect in the music by acting out those impulses. Suzanne Langer called dance “the gestural rendering of musical forms.” This may not be true of all dancing, especially not all theater dance. But it surely pertains to a great deal of social dance, as most of us can affirm on the basis of our own experiences. Indeed, Sixties post-Twist, free-style dancing was explicitly predicated upon incarnating the movement one heard beckoning from the music.


In cases like these, it should be unproblematic to say that the dancer expresses the feeling of movement that she derives from the musical contour. She brings outside, in a manner of speaking, the inner feeling of movement that the music excites inside her. She embodies the feeling, thereby clarifying it in the process of making it manifest. But what is the effect of this performance on spectators ?


It is our conjecture that the dancer’s activity can also serve to clarify the audience member’s intimation of the movement that he intuits in the music. For, in addition to the movement stimulation that the spectator receives from the music, there is also further stimulation streaming from the dancers’ bodies which can affect the receptive viewer kinesthetically.


How is this possible ? Here it is instructive to recall a readily observable, everyday fact of life. Who has not noticed that often when we are speaking to other people, we take on their behaviors ? They clench their face in a mask of high seriousness, and we do likewise. They look off to the doorway; so do we. They punctuate their sentence with a laugh; we chuckle in concert. If you have never noted this in your own behavior, just look at the people locked in conversation as you pass down the hallway. Quite often, they will appear as mirror images of each other.


Moreover, that which obtains with respect to facial expressions and behaviors also occurs with regard to posture. When one’s interlocutor bends forward to confide in us, we automatically follow suit and lean inward. When we watch a football player stretching forward in order to catch a pass that is just barely within his reach, we sense our muscles tugging slightly, but insistently, in the same direction.


During a boxing event or a television broadcast of one, scan the audience. Notice how many of them are gesturing in ways that suggest they are blocking punches or preparing to deliver one. They are, of course, not fully imitating the movements of the fighters. Their gestures are obviously truncated versions of what they are seeing. Nevertheless, it is clear that they are gleaning some measure of understanding of that which they are watching by mirroring it partially in their own bodies. Needless to say, they are not doing this as a matter of reflection or deliberation. It is a reflex, as were our previous, mundane examples, all of which were meant to substantiate the pedestrian observation that we humans have an involuntary tendency to mirror automatically the behavior of our conspecifics. Call this phenomenon the “mirror reflex.” [21][21] Sometimes this is also called emotional contagion....


One function of the mirror reflex is to gather information about the inner states of others. By involuntarily mimicking the facial disposition of our interlocutor – by furrowing our eyebrows ever so gravely when he does – we gain an inkling of what is going on inside of him. The feedback from our own muscles stirs our own autonomic nervous system in a way that is roughly parallel to what is happening in him (that is, as long as he is not dissembling). We get an inward taste, so to speak, of some of what he is feeling by feeling something very like it in our own bodies.


Mirror reflexes, it seems safe to postulate, afford a crucial channel of communication that is undoubtedly adaptive for social animals like us. In virtue of mirror reflexes, we are not only able to perceive the outer behavior of others, but we are also enabled to gain a glimpse of what they are feeling. Barbara Montero has introduced the verb “proprioceive” to label this phenomenon. [25][25] Barbara Montero, “Proprioception as an Aesthetic Sense”,... Through mirror reflexes, and their putatively subtending system of mirror neurons, we are able to proprioceive some aspects of what our conspecifics are feeling. They slouch and we slouch. The feeling relayed through our posture and ignited in our bodies alerts us, if only subliminally, to what is going on in them—that they are not, for example, in a state of ebullience, but are feeling something heavy weighing upon them inwardly.


Mirror reflexes are often activated in our responses to strenuous physical activity—not only to sporting events, but action movies. As the hero struggles to pull himself up over the edge of the cliff, we feel the muscles in our hands and forearms tightening. Likewise, dance movements of all sorts have the capacity to enlist motoric mirror reflexes from onlookers. Standing by, watching a lively group doing the Hora, one feels oneself leaning in the direction of the centripetal pull of the revelers, and even into their animated, circular pathway. Indeed, we learn social dances by mirroring the movement of our mentors until the feelings radiating from the motions of our limbs converge on the feelings of movement we feel to be excited by the accompanying music. [26][26] Those mentors need not be “live”. Consider the case...


Though this is an example of social dancing, it should be evident that mirror reflexes also have an important role to play in our reception of theater dance. Think of the way in which the rhythm of Lord of the Dance is contagious. Indeed, there is a recent (Sept., 2005) ad for Verizon Wireless that comically acknowledges this phenomenon. People, walking down the street, suddenly launch themselves into a dance pose. Then we are shown the cause. They are watching music videos on their cell-phones, and that inspires them to match the movement. Their mirror reflexes here are exaggerated for humorous effect, of course. But the laugh is predicated upon the expectation that everyone in the viewing audience will recognize the behavior, perhaps even to the point of recalling that one has done it oneself.


Much theater dance since the early twentieth century—undoubtedly, in part, in an effort to liberate itself from the demands of narrative—has been, in one way or another, about the feelings engendered by the music that accompanies it, either by way of drawing attention to or expanding otherwise upon these experienced aspects in the music. [27][27] See Jordan, Moving Music, Chapter I. This is true not only in the modern dance movement – including figures such as Isadora Duncan, Denishawn, Doris Humphrey, and, at present, choreographers like Paul Taylor and Mark Morris – but also in the balletic tradition, ranging from Michel Fokine’s Chopiniana through Leonid Massine’s Symphonic Ballet to George Balanchine’s abstract ballets, and those of his progeny (to cite only a few of the people interested in making dances that are intimately connected to the music). [28][28] Ibid.


Historically, when choreographers began to avail themselves of pieces of the symphonic repertoire which had not been originally created for the dance, they supplied themselves with a basis for sustaining evening-long performances without a whiff of narrative. [29][29] Ibid. Instead, their dances could be about the music or aspects thereof. And perhaps for fairly obvious reasons, one of the foremost aspects of the music to which choreographers mean to direct our attention involves the feelings of movement that the music engenders, in virtue of the kinds of sonic elements discussed in the last section.


In the pertinent examples, the music in question awakens a feeling of movement in the listener, who also sees the dancer literally moving to or with the music, thereby enabling the receptive listener to refine or enlarge upon that feeling through the addition of the somatic input derived from her mirror reflexes. Whereas in listening to the music apart from the dance, one relies solely upon one’s own imaginative resources, music-cum-dance ideally provides the audience with an image of appropriate movement which, by enlisting our mirror reflexes, heightens or extends our apprehension of the evolving feeling of movement. Abetted by our mirror responses to the image of movement created by the dancers’ bodies, the feeling of movement initiated in the music can be apperceived ever more precisely and richly due to the conjunction of a kinesthetic dimension in addition to the aural one.


To mention just a few of the ways in which choreographic movement qualities can further articulate – either by illustrating or by expanding upon – the feelings of movement of which the sonic profiles of music are expressive, recall that the dancer can move slowly, lightly, hurriedly, carefully, smoothly, softly, weakly, forcefully, flowingly, hesitantly, firmly, tensely, quickly, abruptly, gradually, tightly, jerkily, nervously, urgently, and evenly, where all of these movement qualities, and more, can echo, underscore, enhance, or contrastively modify the movement impulses manifest in the music.


The dancer can rise and sink, grow and shrink, circle and dissipate in response to the call of the score. Dance gestures may describe or depict comparable musical gestures : the dancer may turn abruptly, push, pull, sweep ahead, freeze, swell, oscillate, subside, flutter, swing, undulate, jerk, tap, jab, punch, confront, fight, prolong the moment or hasten it, float, spread, fluctuate, change cadence, retreat, speed up, reverse direction, slow down, recede, advance, crawl, fall, or suspend movement altogether. Moreover, the choreography can introduce these gestures in anticipation of the music, along with the music, or as a retrospective reflection upon it, or even as a counterpoint to the music. The dance movement can be heavy or light, ponderous or airy, staccato, syncopated, conflicted, tense, or equilibrated, either in synch with musical movement impulses or in contrast to the feelings of motion issuing from the orchestra. But in any event, the dance activity may serve as a provocation for a succession of mirror responses, which, in turn, can palpably refine or accent our grasp of the evolving sense of movement as it emerges in concert with the suggestions of motion intimated in the musical score.


In the simplest cases, the dance movement functions as a translation from one medium to another – from the musical movement impulse into flesh and blood movement. For example, the slow, restrained, processional music of Air for the G String is realized by the stately, regal movement of Humphrey’s dancers in her choreography of the same name to this piece by Bach. As the intuited musical lines of movement blend into each other cyclically, the accompanying dance phrases seamlessly interlace – the continuous feeling of the movement in the music captured in evenly flowing gestures whose energy vibrates quietly and softly inside the receptive viewer.


The dance, in examples like this, is, in effect, a performative interpretation of the movement impulses expressed by the music. [30][30] On the notion of performative interpretation, see Jerrold... Just as a dramatic performance of a play is an interpretation of the text – one which draws out and makes evident some of its various qualities – so the performance of a piece of choreography can function as a further articulation and amplification of certain qualities that are inherent in or that supervene upon the music.


As we have seen, dance and music can be correlated across a number of dimensions. Thus, a choreo-performative interpretation of music can elect to make visible many different features of the music from the association of the sounds of various instruments with certain shapes, or even body types, to the imitation of musical movement (however that is explained). Of these dimensions of correspondence, of course, the ones that interest us most are those that involve the embodied translation of the musical motion impulses into moving choreographic forms and figures (for example, climbing toward a climax matched by a grand jetée which is then caught and frozen mid-air with dramatic finality). Or, as a musical phrase is passed sequentially from one group of instruments to another, a corresponding dance phrase moves from one group of dancers to the next.


A great deal of choreography is best thought of as a performative interpretation of the music that accompanies it. It is a performative interpretation, rather than a critical one, since it is a sensuous realization of the features of the music, rather than a propositional elucidation. It is an interpretation, at the very least, in that it only selects some of the features in the music for bod-ily emphasis instead of all of the features it could embroider through overt action. That is, as a matter of fact, no choreo-performative interpretation of music has, to our knowledge, ever attempted to visualize every element of its corresponding piece of music which could be illustrated, and, furthermore, perhaps no piece of choreography could. Choreo-performative interpretations are perforce selective practically and maybe even theoretically.


Moreover, the dances or parts of dances we have in mind are choreoperformative interpretations of the music, since they are about the musical experience (even if they are also involved in simultaneously advancing some story line, character trait, atmospheric mood, or theme). And lastly, undoubtedly related to their selectivity, a very large number of choreo-performative interpretations of the same piece of music are equally tolerable, since different interpretations of this sort may highlight different features of the music.


The choreo-performative interpretations we care about are those that cast into bold relief – those that literally give added dimensions to – the intimation of movement available in the music. Such choreo-performative interpretations realize the movement impulses of the music by finding bodily gestures and behaviors that correspond to or augment them. In this way, the dances make the impressions of movement proponed by the music more accessible and more perspicuous to audiences by providing the opportunity to us to fill them out or to color them further with the activity of our own mirror reflexes, as those are thrown in gear by the dance.


Of course, a dance may not just interpret the movement impulses expressed by the music by way of selectively imitating or echoing them. The dance may go beyond merely translating the intuited musical motions. The dance may expand upon the feelings of movement suggested in the music by either completing some sonic movement tendency in the music or by counter-pointing, complementing, supplementing, or evolving a contrast to it (as Balanchine does in Agon where the regular dance beat is posed against Stravinsky’s jerky rhythms). [31][31] Marcia B. Siegel, The Shapes of Change : Images of... In any dance, the music may stop, and, in the silent interval, the dancers may stamp out a brace of steps that either resolves, subdivides, or colors what we have just heard. This too counts as a choreo-performative interpretation, inasmuch it goes beyond the musically given.


Mark Morris’s L’Allegro, il Penserooso ed il Moderato is, first and foremost, a performative interpretation of the oratorio of the same name by Handel. Notice how in the second movement, initiated by the introduction of the male voice, the choral entrances are marked by the entrances of dancers; as more voices enter, more dancers enter. The leg movements imitate the orchestral ornaments. As the music delivers the impression of speeding up, the dancers appear, exaggeratedly, to be running in place exaggeratedly. Throughout the section, the music has a lively, highly animate character, ingeniously implemented by the dancers in a way that can touch viewers kinesthetically. When a skipping laugh rhythm punctuates the singing, two dancers bounce up and down like pogo sticks. Obviously, the audience does not follow suit precisely; we stay seated. But the receptive spectator also feels a ripple of that enthusiasm swell in her legs, thereby integrating what she sees and hears in her own body, undoubtedly as a result of the synthesizing powers of the central nervous system. Of the piece in general, Joan Acocella observes “When the music, runs, plods, skips, sweeps, glides, meanders, so do the dancers” [32][32] Joan Acocela, Mark Morris, (New York : Farrar, Straus,... whose gamboling we track as our own mirror reflexes are awakened.


Perhaps needless to say, the idea that choreographers may dragoon the mirror reflexes of receptive spectators for the purpose of honing our sense of the movement impulses available from the music is compatible with the fact that the feeling emerging from the integration of the dance and the music may also have additional purposes to perform. For example, during the first appearance of Death in Kurt Joos s The Green Table, the forceful, percussive piano music, pounded out in a minor key, is articulately embodied by consistently powerful gestures jabbing arm movements, and legs arrested in air so that bulging muscles pop forth as the foot is about to hit the floor with great weight. The mechanical repetitions of the music are matched by stylized, somewhat rigid, and automaton-like marching which engenders a feeling of gathering momentum in our bodies. However, here, of course, the point of the choreography is not just to illustrate the movement impulses in the music, but also to use those musical impulses in conjunction with the kinesthetic feelings erupting from our mirror reflex-responses to the dancer in order to characterize Death as unstoppable. The sense of implacable propulsion we feel in our bodies, that is, is not just a reflection upon the musical experience, but is intended to serve a dramatic function as well. Choreographers may recruit mirror reflexes in order to articulate the movement impulses in the music at the same time the feelings engendered are woven into broader artistic tapestries.


On our view, one way of understanding the relation of dance to the music is to regard the choreography as a performative interpretation of certain aspects of the music, viz., its movement impulses, which then activates the mirror reflexes of the receptive spectator in such a way that we are able to clarify the feeling of movement that we intuit in the music. In this way, we come to have a better sense of certain aspects of the music.


In response, an objection might be raised of the following sort. For those who understand the music already, what need have they for this kind of choreography ? On our construal, dance seems to be nothing more than a crutch for the musically illiterate. What value can the antecedently musically informed audience member derive from dance of this sort ?


But surely everyone agrees that musically literate audiences value the performative interpretations by musicians and orchestras of the musical works they already understand. This is because it is widely acknowledged that musical works have indefinitely large numbers of alternative ways in which they can be performed legitimately alternative interpretations that emphasize different aspects of the work, bring out different qualities, and so forth. Musical connoisseurs are interested in the exploration of the range of ways in which a musical work can be inflected. A new performance can always disclose a hitherto neglected feature of the work.


Yet, why should it be any different when it comes to choreography ? Different choreographers draw attention to different facets of the experience of the musical work. Each choreographer of this sort assembles a different package of possibilities regarding how the music can be framed. Like the conductor and his orchestra, the choreographer and his dancers are exploring the different accents that the work can speak. Music lovers are interested, at the limit, in learning all the things a piece can say in all the ways that it can say it. In this regard, choreographers are performative translators of the relevant aspects of the music on a par with conductors and musicians. If the musically informed devotee does not regard the musical performance of a work to be a crutch, then he need not suspect a comparable choreo-performative interpretation to be such. For the two kinds of interpretations perform roughly the same service. [33][33] Another more technical objection to our view, posed...

Concluding Remarks


The purpose of this paper has been to place the aesthetic experience of one very prominent type of combination between dance and music in a philosophical framework ramified by speculations suggested by research in cognitive science. The framework we propose is a customized version of the expression theory. Needless to say, we are not endorsing the expression theory wholesale, but only helping ourselves to parts of it and even those parts are being modified to suit our purposes.


Let us be clear : we do not believe that the expression theory succeeds as a theory of art, nor of any particular artform, neither music nor dance. Furthermore, whereas the expression theory concerns the clarification of feeling on the part of the artist, we are primarily concerned with the aesthetic experience of the spectator. Moreover, where the classic expression theory sees the work of art as a mere vehicle for the expression of the artist s feelings, we make no claim about the nature of the musical artwork. We have no commitment one way or the other about whether the composer or the performers are expressing their feelings in the music.


One concept of the expression theory that we are exploiting is the notion of clarification. However, we are extending the application of that concept beyond the domain of the emotions to realm of feelings, specifically somatic impulses toward movement. It is our contention that receptive spectators automatically use the movements of dancers in the pertinent works to clarify or otherwise deepen and enrich the feelings of movement available in the music. Undoubtedly, the music and the choreography co-determine the feelings of movement the receptive spectator comes to intuit. But since the topic of our paper is dance, we have opted to concentrate on the contribution that the choreography makes to the spectator s aesthetic experience of the responsedependent movement qualities she detects in the music.


Another paper could be written elucidating the ways in which the impressions of movement emanating from the music modify or mutually determine the feelings of movement the receptive spectator proprioceives in the choreography. However, we suspect that that will be a somewhat different story than the present one, since, on our view, a key to proprioceiving the movement impulse of the dancers in our body is the activation of the felt impulse to move as the dancers do. That is, the dancer s movement triggers our mirror reflexes in such a way that we derive a kinesthetic sense of what the dancer feels as she moves in a manner that is appropriate to the music. And this, in turn, provides the viewer with the opportunity to experience a more articulate and defined feeling for the movement impulse she detects in the music.


In short, the dancer nurtures the movement impulse she finds in the music she visualizes, articulates, expands upon, completes or otherwise develops it. The receptive viewer, moreover, is likewise involved in clarifying the feeling of movement she intuits in the music, but also takes advantage of the matching choreographic movement which further parses the musical movement impulses by energizing our mirror reflexes. The choreography functions to focus and define the feeling of movement which fixes the feeling in the receptive spectator and assists her in clarifying both it and the musical structures that prompt it.


Here the concept of clarification, inspired by the expression theory, is crucial. So let us try to suggest some of the components involved in the receptive viewer s experience. First of all, it is a participatory experience : the viewer makes an active response to the dance-cum-music, though part of that activity is automatic. In the process of response, the spectator s experience of the movement qualities become more articulate the selectivity and emphasis of the choreo-performative interpretation afford a more simplified, inflected, oriented, and, therefore, more graspable characterization of the movement qualities than that which is available solely through the music. This abets the clarity of the experience by rendering it more coherent in outline.


But the dance not only makes the feeling of movement clearer. It also makes it more distinct, because it connects the aural impression of movement with a visual and kinesthetic image or interpretation of it. Thus, the dance quite literally makes the movement quality more concrete by embodying it externally. In this way, the impression of movement we imagine we hear in the music is integrated with our visual system, yielding a more embedded and unified experience than what may be procured from the music alone. And in virtue of this unity this integration of sight and sound – the receptive viewer develops firmer hold on the relevant feeling of movement. Through reflecting upon these perceived motion impulses, the viewer may discover just which structural elements in the music are responsible for them, thereby deepening his grasp of the music itself.


Undoubtedly, to a significant degree, this experience is part of the legacy of our biological inheritance. Our tendency to detect movement in the music is at least in some way connected in a manner yet to be explained to our sonic motion detectors. These detectors were indispensable to our evolution. In order to be alert to predators and prey, these detectors evolved with hairtriggers, since that would be the optimal insurance policy in the context of the prehistoric savanna for sussing out predators and prey. But music works a strange magic on those detectors when it stimulates them with inputs they were never adapted to evaluate. The question of how the movement qualities, grounded in the temporal structures of the music, act as sonic cues or prompts for our motion detectors, needless to say, is one for another day and, most probably, for a discipline other than philosophy.


On the other hand, though still speculative, we can say a bit more about the mechanisms that enable us to proprioceive the feeling of movement in the dance. These are mirror reflexes that are likely to be connected to a system of mirror neurons what dancers have alluded to for decades in terms of the kinethestic medium of choreographic address. These reflexes prompt cognate movement impulses upon exposure to the actions of conspecifics. These mirror reflexes are means by which we glean a sense of what others are feeling and, for that reason, a vehicle for communicating feeling.


They are also a way of coordinating group activity. Since way back when, group cohesion has been secured by ritual, dance, and drill where mirror reflexes have not only most often in concert with music kept the community in step, but also suffused the group with a glow of fellow feeling. Through mirror reflexes, orchestrated in the context of ritual, dance, and drill, human societies grew in scale in ways that were decidedly advantageous in the competition with other species. For the type of organization mirror reflexes fosters imparts feelings of solidarity as well co-ordination in space and time.


Unlike the religious, ritual, courtly, and otherwise communal dance from which theater dance evolves, when choreography reaches the stage, professionals take over, and the rest of us are not invited to the dance. We sit and watch. Nevertheless, it seems plausible to suppose that those mirror reflexes that are so deeply ingrained in our being are still at work communicating the kinesthetic feeling of the dancers to us and perhaps even instilling a momentary impression of solidarity among the audience or, at least, an intuition of fellow feeling for the nonce. In this way, an important aspect of the aesthetic experience of dance-cum-music is a cultural enlargement upon our naturally evolved (and perhaps still evolving) endowment.


Though with our emphasis on the spectator and our speculative invocation of cognitive science, it may seem that we have drifted far afield from any recognizable version of the expression theory, it should be noted that we have remained committed to one of the traditional aims of expression theories of various stripes. Such theories typically presume, as we do, that there are strata of human feeling for which we lack linguistic symbols and which we find virtually impossible to describe with adequately with satisfying specificity. According to many expression theorists, the role of art is to find ways of grasping those feeling by other means ways of marking them or showcasing them for reflection. On our view, that is one function that dance in consort with music discharges. It is a way of making the ineffable, if not effable, then, at least, a little more perspicuous.

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