Ex-Scribing the Choreographic Mind – Dance & Neuroscience in Collaboration

Glenna Batson, PT, ScD, MA
Professor Emeritus (applied)
Winston-Salem State University

Today, one of the most compelling conversations in transdisciplinary discourse is the exchange between dance and neuroscience. Over the last decade, dancers and neuroscientists have come together to create live, synthetic artscience laboratories in which to explore the processes underlying “choreographic cognition” and the embodied mind. Whether creating, performing and viewing dance, complex multi-modal physical and mental processes emerge that manifest as high levels of creative thinking. Cognitive processes generated in dance making have potential benefits that stretch beyond aesthetic aims — practical, social, scientific and medical. Many formal dance-science exchanges and projects occurred, with key choreographers from Europe and Australia, such as William Forsythe (Ballett Frankfurt), Wayne McGregor | Random Dance UK, and Shirley McKechnie and Catherine Stevens, University of Melbourne. Each has generated projects close to home, with research extending several centers for cognitive neuroscience in the US (David Kirsh, University of San Diego and Scott Grafton, University of California at Santa Cruz). These projects have been examples of multi-directional research and creative practice, engaging a wide range of information technology and digital media, with nascent, but significant outcomes. Despite initial momentum, the field remains fragmented. Creative clusters have not advanced theories or methods to evolve a focused discourse. While major funding sources have fertilized the ground beyond the pilot level in Europe, US funding sources have little grasp of the importance of this topic. Although dance affords extensive opportunities for empirical investigation, projects face obstacles, such as constraints on time, access, training, and limitations within technologiges and digital media, as well as an underdeveloped strategic vision, commitment, and cohesion across disciplines, both within and outside of the academy. Several directions are needed to address these obstacles. Alliances need to be forged within educational and cultural institutions to create environments that support dance artists, media/technology designers, and scientists in cross-disciplinary creative research. This includes affording the means of structuring and managing projects; providing open source development and access to new tools of technology and media; providing training to enhance mutual dialogue and project participation; and philosophically and financially supporting creative cultures in local and global initiatives that advance new research methodologies in the synthesis of the art of dance making and the science of cognition.