danceonline/ kinesthetic response

Scott deLahunta (
Mon, 31 Aug 1998 08:11:04 +0200

A few weeks ago, Clarinda Mac Low wrote a short essay titled 'Dancing
Technologies' for Dance On A Line (go to
August 12 article).

I was pleased to a mention of the work of Cathy Weiss, a dance maker who
has been incorporating the physical 'apparati' and content of video into
her work in effective ways. I recall the simple 'construction' of a cow --
the video pans up the back legs across the body and down the front. The
video monitor (lifted and carried) follows the spatial contours where they
would presumably have been if the cow were actually standing live in the
space. To some this may sound like 'only' a simple illusion -- but I do
report it here out of context. It's been a long time since I have seen
Cathy's work -- Clarinda's essay reminded me of it. Anyone seen anything
lately (I know there was a NYC Kitchen gig sometime in February?) and like
to report?

C. MacLow made the comment that she is 'personally attached to the idea of
dance as a body-to-body communication between performer and audience, and a
great believer in the importance of the kinesthetic response.' [she follows
up with acknowledgement of the impact on our perceptions/ reactions of the
media -- please take a look at the whole essay for more]. I have been
wanting for some time to consider critically this widely accepted notion --
that the kinesthetic response is part and parcel of the dance viewer's

When it comes to dance, John Martin (dance critic for NYT 1927-1962) is
often credited with having provided the basic theoretical framework for the
construction of the notion of 'kinesthetic response'. In his *The Dance in
Theory* (part of *Intro. to Dance* pub. 1939) he wrote -- "We shall cease
to be mere spectators and become participants in the movement that is
presented to us, and though to all outward appearances we shall be sitting
quietly in our chairs, we shall nevertheless be dancing synthetically with
all our musculature". In all of my early education as a dancemaker,
Martin's claim here was pretty much accepted without question. While I
can't point to any clear references at the moment, without a doubt medical
science has proven the 'existence' of a kinesthetic response through the
application of electrodes and other measurements of bio-rhythms -- and
surely someone placed sensors on an audience member during a dance
performance to register his or her kinesthetic excitement, etc. But this, I
would argue, should not necessarily be the basis for accepting Martin's

I have been wondering about the dance audience's 'kinesthetic response' for
some time now -- and the developments in the last several years of sensory
immersive and simulatory environments (popularly referred to as VR) gives
some ground, I believe, for reflecting further on it. Before VR,
technologies were already evolving towards more individually controlled and
customizable media environments via intermediate technologies (the tv
remote control/ vcrs), followed by the internet, smart rooms, digital
playstations, etc. As these media environments and range of possible
viewing experiences (also IMAX, thrill ride simulations, etc.) have evolved
and expanded -- there must be a point somewhere in recent history when
fluxuations around the notion of viewing/ experiencing/ perception, etc.
have become agitated to the point of sufficiently dislodging this notion of
'kinesthetic response'... as theorized by Martin.

C. MacLow in the last sentence suggests that possibly through 'VR'
technologies "kinesthetic experience of the dancer can be actually even
more fully shared by viewers, right down to the ends of their fingertips".
Probably, and that is going to be really something wild and weird. And this
is also where I would argue that Martin's notion of the 'kinesthetic
response' finally dissolves. Once it is a 'felt' experience (via
technologies) and something which registers as tangible 'touch' or
vibration or pressure on one's body -- when the dancer spins and you
actually become dizzy -- this is a different form of 'kinesthetic response'
which should not be seen as the next measure of magnitude in relationship
to John Martin's thesis.

** these may be some of the environments where, in the future, you might
really 'sense' the dancers dancing...

a. The Floroom

The Floroom is a room which contains a number of networked Flostations
where people can explore immersive cyberspace together in groups or as
autonomous individuals. Flostations provide fully immersive vision, spatial
sound, vibration and motion cueing with hand control input, which provides
a high level of presence in a virtual space.

b. Electronic Visualisation Laboratory (the CAVE, etc.)

c. IMAX/ Simulation Rides

d. Philips Design Company's 'vision of the future' pages (a huge variety of
future digital smart products including ones which respond to touch and

Scott deLahunta and Susan Rethorst
Writing Research Associates, NL
Sarphatipark 26-3, 1072 PB Amsterdam, NL
tel: +31 (0)20 662 1736
fax: +31 (0)20 470 1558