Myths of Meaningful Movement

Myths of Meaningful Movement
April 8, 2016 Andrea Muhlbauer

I believe that dance is an excellent way to communicate with the world for several reasons. Dance communicates using the most obvious commonality that humans share, the human body. Because we are all of the same species and share similar bodies, a human body in motion is something everyone can connect with. While the movements in dance may be more advanced than an average person could carry out, the fact that it is coming from the human body makes the movement more personal to the audience.

The human body helps in connecting to and communicating with others. However, a common misconception is that every movement is inherently meaningful just because it comes from the human body. Humans walk, sit, pick up things, and sneeze without the movements having any deeper meaning. On the other hand, it is alienating to audience members to see human bodies moving in ways that are completely inhuman, as is seen in the more abstract pieces. Dancers do not have the right to do whatever movement they want and call it art because they are doing it with a human body. Having a human body gives dancers the potential to create inspiring movement, but more work must be done to actually make that happen. To take advantage of this opportunity, dance artists need to consider three important things that every person experiences and understands.

The first of these universal human experiences is emotion. According to Paul Ekman’s theory of emotion (the most widely accepted theory of emotion) there are certain “basic” emotions that every human being understands. Ekman’s research spanned from remote, preliterate cultures to modern, literate, and industrialized cultures, and was so conclusive that it completely disproved the idea that emotions were learned and varied from culture to culture. By using the movement of the body to portray emotions, dance can communicate and inspire its audiences on a visceral level.

The second of these universal human experiences is causation, “the most fundamental connection in the universe.” Because of the way the audience experiences a piece of dance, causal relationships are vital to creating a dance. The audience members see the events of a dance unfold in a certain order, and with their innate understanding of causation, they will want to place meaning on the order of events and the relationships between events. To make the relationships between movements make sense to an audience, every movement must have a cause and an effect, and the two must be visibly connected.

Finally, every person on earth has a rudimentary understanding of physics. This means that while every audience member may not know how to calculate the precise velocity of a moving object, we have enough experience living to understand things like when a ball that was thrown into the air will fall back into our hands. The audience’s instinctive understanding of physics is important to dance, as it is such a physical art form. By following the laws of physics that every person understands, dancers and choreographers can ensure that the movements will be honest, and will not feel wrong or confusing to an audience.

We often take these experiences for granted. Of course objects fall to the earth because of gravity. Of course it’s his fault that the shelf fell over; he pushed it! Of course she’s smiling; she’s happy! However, these experiences are so important to communicating messages and stories and inspiring people because they are always there. People may have different beliefs and different ways of thinking, but we all share these experiences. By understanding the fundamentals of these universal human experiences and integrating them into works of art, choreographers and dancers can use the human body to its full expressive potential, and create works of art that inspire.

The universal human experiences are the foundation of my method of movement and choreography. If you are interested in learning more, contact me or check back for new posts!

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