Dance and Science

I know I've written about the virtues of art-science interactions, but I never imagined that the AAAS would sponsor a "dance your dissertation" competition, and that one of the winners would feature an interpretative dance inspired by the "cerebral activation patterns induced by the inflection of regular and irregular verbs":

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While I appreciate the effort made to integrate art into science, this seems to just be a mockery of dance as an art form. Examples like this seem to trivialize both the idea of integrating art and science and the art form itself. While I like jumping around in front of my mirror as much as anyone, someone has to recognize that calling these videos "dance" and pretending that this is illuminating anything about dance or science is just full of it. As a dancer, this is sort of depressing...

Ok, I just read the prize for the competition and the end result of collaborating with a choreographer does make it a little better. At least dance won't seem completely amateur throughout the competition. I look forward to seeing the finished pieces...

Oh man, Rachel, bit of a dance snob don't you think. Who cares if dance seems 'amateur' or not? Since when is dancing something that only professionals can do? I have never taken a dance class in my life but I dance every weekend, like crazy awesome dancing, and it's beautiful and it makes me feel beautiful. I thought this performance was AWESOME.

Not a "dance snob" just pointing out the difference between the rigor of participating in dance as an art form and the physicality of dancing for fun. Both totally valuable but not to be confused- and I think it is similar to someone journaling and an actual writer, someone who studies and articulates in language for a living. Just because dance as an art form is less supported or understood doesn't mean that the expertise that it can produce and cultivate shouldn't be acknowledged in contrast to it being done in a very viable but amateur and fun form. They can and do certainly inform one another but lets not pretend that an AMATEUR dancer is really contributing to either the science or dance being enriched. At best, it might be giving someone with a less physical life a nice kinetic experience.

So I'd like to ask you to clarify something, Rachel. It sounds like you're saying that an amateur dancer is not an artist. Are you saying that non-professional artists, i.e. those that do not make a living from their art, are not artists?

Or maybe you are using the word 'amateur' to mean 'unskilled.' If so then I'd like a different clarification. Are you saying that that when an unskilled artist performs or displays their work, that they are not enriching or contributing to the arts? I might disagree with that as well.

I guess maybe a more important question is: Did you get it? Did you understand the translation of neuroscience into movement? Maybe a little bit of text to accompany the dance would have helped.


I think Rachel is making the perfectly legitimate point that flailing oneself around a room for fun is not the same as dedicating one's life to a discipline. (and I'm someone who loves to flail.) It sounds like you're making the argument that all effort is equally worthwhile, and that definitely belittles the dedicated dancer.

Yes, of course an "unskilled" artist is probably not contributing much to "the arts". And why should they be? We just said-they're not skilled. That means they don't have the ability and control that those who are skilled have, so their work is probably not as powerful. That doesn't (necessarily) mean only the highly skilled should participate, but it does mean that people who actually work towards and achieve certain high standards are definitely in a different category than those who don't.

Of course what those "skills" and "standards" may consist of is certainly arguable. However, even, say, the participants of the notoriously nihilistic, amateur-embracing punk rock scene of the late 1970's still had definite ideas about some people being more adept at expressing themselves within the medium than others. (Joy Division became a classic, beloved band whose music many consider still powerful today; Crispy Ambulance didn't. One band was probably "better"- yes more "skilled" than the other, even considering the punk rockers' own values of what constitutes "better".)

Not everyone can do every expressive form equally well, and it is indeed insulting to those who do dedicate their lives (professional or otherwise) to getting better at their art (or to any work) to claim that all efforts are equally valid, regardless of ability.