Dance Archive: Capturing Memory in Time
Dance is highly dependent of memory, whether to learn something new or remember something that has already been taught. If some memory is faded or lost, the dancer’s flow is hindered. There are (mental) methods and (physical) tools that could be used to aid recall memory, but they are not dance-specific which aid recall forgotten steps or details. Creating a personal archival system will help my weakened memory to recollect routines whenever it is needed. Merging theory from psychology and neuroscience and personal practical experiments based on theory could shape a memory method for dancers.
Developing my previous work from perception of time in dance, ‘Capturing Memory in Time’ is an investigation into how memory and archival methods capture time and relations revolved around dance. Creating this personal tool to aid memory also touches upon a personal existential aspect: being in the moment with my dancing partner and holding onto memories.
This current work is a collaborative piece with Anna Lystad. It aims to archive the steps and capture the relationship between Sean, my dancing partner, and I while we dance different ballroom and latin styles. The piece is not meant to teach the viewers how to dance, but rather serve as a personal tool to refresh our memory of the steps. A combination of graphical dance notations and film become reference points to remind us as dancers the particular steps and their order to all ten dance styles: Cha Cha; English Waltz; Foxtrot; Jive; Paso doble; Quickstep; Rumba; Samba; Tango and Viennese Waltz.
Memory plays a key role in learning new steps, but also to strengthen and distinguish the ones we have already been taught. Since my MS diagnosis a few years ago, my memory has become weaker. After loosing something which is that personal, I put a lot more value to memory and how it works. I try to find other methods, such as the memory palace technique or viewing movement as geometric shapes from a birds-eye-view, to help my spatial memory in dance. Looking back at our filmed performances not only refreshes our memory, but also captures our steps and teamwork in time. As we are aware that we will not dance together forever, an existential aspect not only refers to memory, but also our relationship. This unknown amount of time we have left before we part creates an urgency which drives this archival process.
Our non-verbal communication and ‘goofy kids’ relationship between should also be emphasised within the film. Our aim is not to pretend to look professional, but show our pure nature. To do so, the film itself should not force a story within the choreography, yet focus on the dance technique and editing skills. For every dance style, the ambience will change accordingly with the use of: music; lighting; surrounding and outfits. The film footage will be supported by graphical dance notation which was designed in my previous work ‘Rock Step - Triple Step - Triple Step’ which was part of the ‘Terta Gamma Circulaire #3’ for De Player.
After creating my previous choreology notation, I realised how challenging it is to combine all aspects that need to be communicated in dance notation: speed; rhythm; direction; purpose; emotion, to name a few. Similarly to labanotation created by Rudolf Laban in 1928 (Hutchinson, 2016), I would like to investigate more into communicating more of these factors through graphics to expand my own notation and use it for other ballroom dance styles.
Anna suggested we could try to layer the graphical notation on top of the video. She would like to incorporate my previous work into this one. She has been very involved in ‘Rock Step - Triple Step - Triple Step’ since the very beginning. She helped during the testing period, hence understands the background, reach and its aim. Her film production, lighting and editing knowledge and skills would enhance the development of this project. Our personal drive might differ, yet that might enhance the collaborative brainstorming and creation. She is interested in experimenting with editing movement with the restriction of music and rhythm. Our collaboration will also consist of finding a balance between story-telling and documentation.
Both current and previous projects look at the aspect of flow and being lost in time while dancing, while working with the concept of archiving. While ‘Rock Step - Triple Step - Triple Step’ was a live performance piece, ‘Capturing Memory in Time’ is a documented (filmed) collection of dances. The previous allowed the audience to interact with the dancers through commands directing their next steps - it was a hands-on practical experience. The interaction within the film is more emotionally-based - it can be ‘felt’ more through vision. The biggest similarity can be found in the method: both works heavily rely on small experiments in the research stage. The experiments put theory within psychology and neuroscience into practise, like recognising Robert Levine’s time theory within dance or challenging Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow by trying to break it. My previous research looked mainly at the differences in perception of time. Event-time and clock-time (Levine, 1998) correlated with Bergsonian and Newtonian time respectively (Wiener, 1965). My current research expands the thought of time perception and looks into capturing time and memory.
I would like to further experiment with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow and see how they can shape my piece, not only my research. He presented his research about flow psychology during a Ted Talk in 2004. He explained how our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second (Ted Talk, 2009). This would explain how new dancers cannot fall into flow when trying to think about the rhythm, tempo, direction and body movement. He constructed a list of factors that prove one has fallen into flow: focus; sense of ecstasy; knowing that the activity is doable; a sense of serenity; timelessness and intrinsic motivation. These factors may be a good backbone to create the structure the film.
Chapter 9: Memory Inc. in Opening Skinner’s Box (Slater, 2005) looks into the physical discovery of memory. In 1953 Dr. Scoville identified that memory has a specific location in the brain, in the hippocampus, not scattered around as thought before. Patient Henry Mollison was still able to brush his teeth after his hippocampus was removed, but wasn’t able to create new memories. Dr. Brenda Milner continued her research on Henry and was able to identify procedural, or unconscious memory. After another decade of research in the field of memory and neuroscience, what was previously seen as “learning theory” by Skinner and Pavlov was repackaged as “memory” by Kendel. The gained knowledge of the numerous types of memory triggered a thought about how they are connected and how this could be relevant to capturing memory, relations and time within one piece.
On the other hand, chapter 8: Lost in the Mall in Opening Skinner’s Box (Slater, 2005) focuses on Elizabeth Loftus’s False Memory Experiment. Her expertise shows that people are able to create their own memories and believe those events really happened. It would be interesting to find relations between false memory and flow. This research strand is still very open.
Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes is a personal experience of Barthes’s view on photography and memory. His reflections on photography from a sociological point of view flattens photography to a science of human behaviour and the need to hold on to an image and what it may represent. This will help me understand whether filming my dances is the best medium and what will its benefits and limitations be. What will really lie behind it, and is there a better way to communicate what I would like to? Is the archive, or act of archiving the essence of memory?
Apart from psychological theory, research is also collected from a practical source. After joining a new dance school to learn a new dance style - which was part of one of my previous experiments - I have shifted my focus from embracing the already existing memory of ballroom and latin styles, to understanding how memory and dance interact when the brain is given new information. Comparing the vastly different schools with regards to teaching styles, atmosphere and aims / expectations, will aid with understanding how effective learning and remembering (memory) are. Unlike van der Meulen-Wesseling ballroom and latin dance school, Swing in Rhythm dance school send an email to their students after every class with a recap video of what they were taught. Although comparing two different participant groups from different schools doesn’t provide a just outcome, the students’ expectations and atmosphere between the schools are vastly different. Those who are aided with recap videos reported being happy that they could practise at home and now are confident with the newly-learned steps. The students from ballroom dancing do now show that much enthusiasm and confidence. I would like to find a manner to scientifically back this observation and expressed opinions these participants.
Interviews with teachers sharing their expertise, or even trying to teach a class myself will also enrich my understanding of what the hurdles are and how to overcome them. I started planning a possible jive workshop lead by Sean and I in Autumn for Swing in Rhythm students, yet we would have to learn how to teach before that. Exchanging thoughts on what methods students use to learn and remember dance steps might guide my development of dance notation and documentation.
Barthes, R. (2000). Camera Lucida. 1st ed. London: Vintage.
Hutchinson, A. (2016). Labanotation dance notation. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/labanotation [Accessed 6 Mar. 2017].
Levine, R. (1998). A geography of time. 1st ed. New York: Basic Books.
Slater, L. (2005). Opening Skinner's Box. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury, pp.182 - 223.
Ted Talk, (2009). Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the secret to happiness. [video] Available at: http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow?language=en [Accessed 3 Mar. 2017].
Wiener, N. (1965). Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Pr.