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Tanzarbeit, Dancework (EK)

Tanzarbeit, Dancework

Dancework is an aesthetic event which involves physical movements. According to John Dewey an aesthetic experience is the work of art on its actuality. This actuality is a matter of perception (Dewey 1928). Moreover, in line with theories on Embodiment and Enactivism, perception always involves a physical activity. Perception is something we do (Alva Noë, 2004). As a consequence, dancework is primarily a perceptual process in different layers.

The definition of a dance in the term “Dancework” comes in order to develop an understanding concerning the aesthetic experience of a dance; its actuality as a work of art. Dancework is neither the choreography of a dance, nor merely its performance. However, Dancework is a combination of them both. The term marks the entailed relationship between the choreographer, the choreography, the performing dancers and the performance in one work. Furthermore, “Dancework” takes into account the receiver as an immanent participant of its aesthetic experience. There is need to say here that any dancework involves its own participants and its own dynamics as an aesthetic experience. In that aspect, music, lightening, set designing and costumes play immanent parts inside works’ dynamics. In the same way, a dancework might be improvisation based, thus its rules for improvising, rather than choreography, are inherent to its enaction of meaning.

The association of the words “dance” with “work” comes with the intention of spotting this complexity. The word “work” is both a noun and a verb. Accordingly, the more common term “artwork” carries a double meaning: (1) the work as a ”thing”, a product of a creative process, and (2) the work as a process in itself, which acts on its receiver as a vital form; a form in which a live impression of organic existence, of life, is developed (Daniel N. Stern, 2010, Susanne K. Langer, 1953).  The thing-like character of an artwork, as Martin Heidegger examines it, has three assets; (1) it is a subject matter, a substance with properties and predicates, (2) it is an embodied unity between the mind and the impression of the senses, and (3) it is the organization of the subject matters into form (Heidegger, 1964). In addition, as a work, an artwork is “a process essentially in the relation of its whole and its parts” (Theodor W. Adorno, 1970). Likewise, according to Dewey’s definition of art, the workhood of an artwork is the dynamic energies of its aesthetic organization. These dynamics evoke a procedure of perception, a new rhythmic experience of time and space among its receivers (and/or its creator/s) (Dewey, 1928). Consequently, the term “artwork” delineates the artistic object as a process of embodiment on its two aspects; providing ideas with a body, and a substance which is vital, mindful and alive, as it moves its receiver (and/or creator) to perceive, rather than to merely recognize it.

Following this delineation, the term “dancework” is an elucidation for a further analysis of dance.  Dance-analysis must to take into account that a dancework is much more than telling a story with conventional positions and movements, and rather to extract its play of vitality forces (Denby, 1949, Stern, 2010). As a work of art, a dancework involves the associations between its whole and its parts inside dialectic (from the whole to the parts and vice versa), dynamic processes. Its vital forces comprise transforming relations of time, space and intentionality, as they are embodied in movements of the dancing bodies and the compositions. The excitement of the audience of a dance is therefore its requested result. The receiver of a dance shares a complexity of immediate perceptual processes inside a work, through his own senses of time, space and proprioception. Organizations of time, space and proprioception are what convey intentionality and meaning in a dance; they function in it as sources for an aesthetic coherence. Therefore, they raise a sensual arousal of pleasure. Over the course of an operative dancework, the audience’s perception is bounded to the aesthetic experiences of the choreographer and the moving dancers.

As a conclusion, an analysis of a dancework should follow the vital forces and dynamics of (1) the properties of its choreography, as they are related to their history, their techniques, and their composition in the choreography as a whole, (2) the forces, efforts, shapes of the movements and the compositions, as the choreographer composed them into a coherent form (Laban, 1947), (3) the embodiment of these vital forces by the dancers’ bodies, (4) this embodiment in a particular performance, and (5) its encounter with a viewer. This analysis might use terms from the history and the techniques of dance, expressions of transforming images and feelings. Nonetheless the analysis should involve a reference toward the sensitivity of the dancework’s participants inside perceiving movements, shapes, forces, feelings, sensations, timings and spatiality. Hence, in order to regain the actualization of a dance as a work of art, it is necessary to relate to its act as a dancework.



  • Adorno, Theodor, W. Toward a Theory of the Artwork. In: Aesthetic Theory, NY: Continuum, 1997. Pp. 232-261. (Ästhtische Theorie, Frankfurt a.M: Suhrkamp, 1970).

In this text Adorno defines the autonomy of the artwork. Accordingly, artworks create their own truth content, which is a matter of its aesthetic coherence. Adorno’s aesthetic extracts the self consciousness of the artwork itself. In that sense Adorno’s text is basic in order to understand the active roles artworks have in aesthetic experience.

  • Denby, Edwin. Against Meaning in Ballet (1949). In: Dance Writings and Poetry. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1998. Pp. 188-192.

Edwin Denby was the first influential dance critic in the 20th century. In Against Meaning in Ballet, he describes the pleasure of dance’s viewers as a matter of human instinct. Accordingly, the viewers’ pleasure is based first and foremost on the human intuitive understanding of movement, rather than on decoding symbols.

  • Dewey, John. Art as Experience. NY: Perigee Books, 1980 (1928).

Dewey’s major work in aesthetics describes the primary role of perception inside an aesthetic experience. This work is an early fundamental text, which outlines the function of embodiment in aesthetics.

  • Goehr, Lydia. Being True to the Work. In: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 47 No. 1 (winter, 1989). Pp. 55-67.

Lydia Goehr is a philosopher of aesthetics and music at Columbia University NY. In this paper Goehr defines the work’s function in musical works of arts. Her description of the work content in music influenced the approach of this dancework definition.

  • Heidegger, Martin. The Origin of the Work of Art. In: Basic Writings. San Francisco CA: HarperCollins Publishing, 1992 (1964). Pp. 139-212.

Heidegger’s text is one of the most fundamental texts about aesthetics in phenomenology. Heidegger defines here the essence of the work of art as connected to its truth and to being. His definition of the thingly character of the artwork is highly important in order to understand the embodied principle of artworks.

  • Laban, R. & Lawrence F. C. Effort. London: Macdonald & Evans, 1947.

Rudolf von Laban was one of the pioneers of the European modern dance, and most importantly, an establisher of movement analysis. His movement analysis is focused on body, space, shape and effort. His effort theory, in that book, set tools to reflect and notate dance according to weight, flow, time and space.

  • Langer, Susanne, K. Feeling and Form. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953.

Susanne Langer’s expressive symbolism is important for a classification of vitality of forms as a living expression of human feeling. Langer’s philosophy has mainly influenced by the philosophy of Ernest Cassirer.

  • Noë, Alva. Action in Perception. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2004.

Alva Noë is a philosopher of embodiment and enactivism at UC Berkeley, his approach to perception as movement based is noteworthy to current studies in embodiment.

  • Stern, Daniel, N. Forms of Vitality. NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Daniel N. Stern is a psychiatrist and psychoanalytic theorist. In Forms of Vitality he explores the vital forces that manifested through movement by all living things. Accordingly, he examines in this book the role of arousal systems, as it is expressed in music, cinema, theatre and dance. His definition of vital forms in the arts is influenced by Susanne K. Langer’s Feeling and Form.