Dance and Post-Literacy (Farah Chung, D. Fisher, Andrea Grassi, Sarah R.)

Dance for the Mind and the Body

Each of the candidates we’ve looked at for post-literacy offers us something to transcend the limitations of alphabetic literacy. The idea of the hive mind, or telepathy as post-literacy rid of us the clumsiness of words, allowing direct, clear communication among people. Learning through drugs opens the gates of knowledge, allowing quick, painless and instant knowledge acquisition.

When we first consider dance as post-literacy, it is not clear that the results are quite as impressive. But suspending our doubts, we can explore the ways in which the body knows things that the mind cannot always express in words. Dance lets us access the deep mind-body connection.

Our body language and facial expressions reveal all kinds of things about what’s going on in our heads, from the obvious: seeing someone wince, cry, or smile, to more subtle changes in posture, we communicate with our bodies on a routine basis. The ability to pick up on these signals is essential to the ability to empathize with love and form relationships.

Dance is a way into all this knowledge that is happening in the body. Dance and Movement Therapy seeks to engage “the brain through the body” (Homann “Embodied Concepts of Neurobiology in Dance/Movement Therapy Practice,” 2010). Using dance, patients are able to express something, and using mirroring (mimicking the other person’s movements). This mirroring gives patients the feeling of having been heard, understood and accepted, without necessarily using language at all.

Collective movement: The Borg goes to a commune.

According to Michael Chorost (World Wide Mind: The coming integration of humanity, machines and the internet, 2011), a technological theorist and writer, the origin of dance may be rooted in collective movement to ward off predators. Imagine a whole group of people moving in sync and how a bear might interpret their singular movement as one heck of a large beast.  The idea of collective movement to accomplish a collective goal is an interesting one to Chorost who suggests that with the help of technology we might be able to capitalize on something he dubs ‘telempathy’.  Telempathy would be a kind of hive mind situation that is deeply rooted in the body and the mind. For Chorost, we are already acting as a hive mind with our use of Facebook and Twitter but since we are not able to feel other people’s emotions or reactions in our bodies (the way we do to a certain degree as humans in the flesh) these spaces can be the sight of great misunderstanding and cruelty.  If the technology were in place so that we might have greater awareness of other people’s feelings or know their movements or status in our bodies then there would be more empathy between people.  Basically, Chorost is saying that collectivity doesn’t have to look like the Borg.  Dance is a body centered way of communicating that is already in place, but according to Chorost, it is just the tip of the iceberg.  Technology that is deeply embodied could take us to a whole new level of communication.

Perhaps our cultural memories are in our muscle memories?

Dance is steeped in our culture – even farther than we probably know ourselves because for the most part, we can’t explain what moves us. Each cultural group has their own dance and within that dance, movement creating meaning. Cheryl A. Wilson, Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University, has written extensively on the relationship between dance and narrative; in fact, she posits that the dance is the text of the narrative itself. A former dancer, Wilson was annoyed by academia’s interest in dance in respect to Jane Austen novels, as they likened the dance to simply an exposition of courtship. Wilson’s research explores the “unconscious” integrations of dance into the texts in order to create these narratives, even when dance isn’t explicitly written about asserting that the culture of dance had a great influence on the stories themselves. In her book Literature and Dance in Nineteenth-Century Britain (2009), she writes “I think in connection to things such as courtship and mobility, dance offers a pattern for thinking about people… the way in which bodies exist in relationship to each other.”

Why are these, to borrow a term from scholar Malini Srirama, “cultural rhythms” so apparent in our narratives? Srirama describes Tamil dancing as one, acknowledged by the dancers, to be deeply connected to religious expression and spiritual content. In a 2004 review of “Cultural Rhythms in Emotions, Narratives and Dance.” in the Journal of Asian Studies, Srirama writes “the dance contains cultural ideals and deep cultural wisdom shrouded in accessories. I maintain that dance communicates culture to children, reinforces what is learnt from other sources, and trains them for adult life.”

It’s Showtime

At the same time that dance is recognized as an important form of nonverbal communication, dance as a replacement of visual literacy is hard to envision. For example, dance is highly interpretive and has a demanding physical aspect. Perhaps what is most important to realize is that we currently privilege one type of learning (reading and writing) over other forms of learning and perhaps everyone just needs their own appropriate outlet. Perhaps there is no one ultimate form of communication. Maybe post-literacy will be a world that involves more choice and more acceptance of different ways of knowing and communication, including dance which allows us the expressiveness of the body as a whole (and perhaps even explicitly so with the integration of a new technology).


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