Dance In Intellectual Traditions
The idea of dance varies within intellectual traditions. Two ancient treatises serve as examples. Where ideas are treated as a function of language, and knowledge is derived from analysis of phenomena, the body is often written out of epistemological projects. Aristotle's Poetics (fourth century B.C.E.), for example, analyzes the plot structure, poetry, and ethical issues presented by fifth-century Athenian tragedies. The Poetics mentions only briefly the physical movement of the tragic chorus as a contributor to the effect (emotional or intellectual) of a theatrical experience or as a component in knowledge. In contrast, where cognitive processes, observation, and abstract thinking include bodily experience, physical movement is thought to generate and represent abstract concepts. The body and corporeal experience have a more prominent place in the formation of ideas. The Indian treatise Natyasastra (c. second century B.C.E. to second century C.E.), describes in meticulous detail how correct performance of hand gestures, eye movements, posture, steps, coordination with music, and posture will affect an audience's comprehension of the narrative and its meaning.
The Poetics and Natyasastra both assume dance to be inseparable from the performance of music, theater, poetry, and dress (including masks and makeup). Both treatises also assume that performance takes place in a ritual context, where form and content are already dictated by established conventions. Even so, the relationship between movement, emotion, and cognition is conceptualized differently in each treatise, which suggests the need for continued attention to the intellectual formulations that define the interpretation of human movement.
Until relatively recently, dance has been on the margins of the modern Western intellectual tradition. Dance appears as an object of study in two particular domains of modern Western thought: aesthetic criticism and anthropology. Aesthetic criticism, emerging in eighteenth-century dictionary projects and then taking root in nineteenth-century philosophy parallel with the development of the romantic ballet, considers dance to be an artistic practice. As performance, dance is distinguished from folk, social, or ceremonial dancing (though it may represent them) and requires formal training. The idea of dance as a formalized performance tradition is usually associated with industrial economies, urban societies, and a culture's economically secure or educated classes. Appreciation of technical mastery and performance conventions is considered evidence of cultural sophistication or artistic sensibility; meaning is communicated primarily in the visual realm of symbolic representation, mimesis, and technique. Dance criticism is an intellectual project involving analysis of choreography, performers' skill, aesthetic conventions, historical developments in dance styles, innovations in genre, and the success of performances.
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