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IMITATION, EMPATHY AND DANCE Helsinki, March 20, 2010 Petri Hoppu Project Dance in Nordic Spaces Department of Music Anthropology University of Tampere Couple dances Group dances Dancing with the others: social dancing How does one learn to dance? others on the dance floor

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imitation empathy and dance


Helsinki, March 20, 2010

Petri Hoppu

Project Dance in Nordic Spaces

Department of Music Anthropology

University of Tampere

how does one learn to dance
How does one learn to dance?
  • others on the dance floor
    • dancing together, dancing similarly
    • collectivity vs. individual virtuosity (see Bollen 2001 & Anttila 2007)
  • learning social dances – learning what others are doing, learning from others
    • imitating other dancers (active)
    • letting other people move oneself (passive)
  • learning means transmission of movements, body attitudes, structures and style from one dancer or dancers to another
    • constant process in social dancing
a case learning the minuet
A case: Learning the Minuet

Dancers from the Swedish-speaking West Coast

a case learning the minuet5
A case:Learning the Minuet
  • orientation in two directions in longways formation:
    • partner (opposite sex)
    • line (same sex)
  • music as a cohesive element
    • music as experienced
    • structural frame for dancing
a case learning the minuet6
A case:Learning the Minuet
  • sources for imitative learning:
    • seeing others’ movements (quality and articulation of steps in relation to rhythm, movements of hands and torso) and body attitude
    • hearing clapping, stamping and other sounds of feet
  • kinaesthetic experience: experience of others’ dance
  • resulting action: imitation / trying out the Minuet
from imitation to empathy
From imitation to empathy

Imitation in dance:

    • self-other –relation
    • mode of intersubjectivity
    • not only mechanical mirroring but requires grasping foreign experience
  • empathy: experience of foreign consciousness in general (Stein 1989)
between and beyond self and other
Between and beyond self and other

Empathy creates a fundamental relation between self and other: they enact each other reciprocally through it (Thompson 2007)

  • self and other intertwine with each other as a dynamic system of reversibility (Merleau-Ponty 1968)
    • but they don’t merge to each other
    • empathy does not mean a total grasp of the other’s feelings and emotions, but the other is experienced as another being like oneself through appreciation of similarity (Gallese 2001)
  • empathy acts as a foundation for inter-subjective experience and community (Stein 1989 & 2000)
kinaesthetic empathy
Kinaesthetic empathy

How can one have kinaesthetic experience from others’ dancing?

  • kinaesthetic empathy (Parviainen 2006)
    • following other people moving (e.g. dancing), we can get the feeling of the movement
  • individuals have different kinaesthetic experiences, knowledge and skills: their topography and kinaesthetic map of the body differ (Parviainen 2006)
    • the act of kinaesthetic empathy is different depending on one’s topography and kinaesthetic map of the body, which entails that capability of imitation as well as learning to dance vary from one individual to another
kinaesthetic empathy10
Kinaesthetic empathy
  • kinaesthetic empathy is a matter of experiencing other’s movements through similarities
    • the closer one’s kinaesthetic map is to the other’s one, the easier it is to learn the dance
    • cultural and social differences affect learning

This does not imply that some dances would be inaccessible for someone

    • kinaesthetic maps can be changed and developed

In general, everyone has a potential to learn whatever dances


Anttila, Eeva 2007. Dance as a Dialogical Praxis: Challenging individualism in art and education. In Tidsskrift for dans i uddannelse vol. 1.

 Bollen, Jonathan 2001. Queer Kinesthesia. Performativity on the Dance Floor. In Dancing Desires. Choreographing Sexualities on & off the Stage. The University of Wisconsin Press.

 Gallese, Vittorio 2001. The ‘Shared Manifold’ Hypothesis: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy. In Between Ourselves. Second-person issues in the study of consciousness. Ed. by Evan Thompson. Exeter: Imprint Academic.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 1968. The Visible and the Invisible. [Le Visible et l’invisible 1964.] Northwestern University Press.

Parviainen, Jaana 2006. Meduusan like. Mobiiliajan tiedonmuodostuksen filosofiaa. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Stein, Edith 1989. On the Problem of Empathy. [Zum Problem der Einfühlung 1916.] Washington, D.C.: ISC Publications.

Stein, Edith 2000. Philosophy of Psychology and the Humanities. [Beiträge zur philosophischen Begründung der Psychologie und der Geistenwissenschaften 1922.] Washington, D.C.: ISC Publications.

Thompson, Evan 2007. Mind in Life: Biology, phenomenology, and the science of mind. Cambridge: Belknap Press.