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A Measured Pace

A Measured Pace: Toward a Philosophical Understanding of the Arts of Dance

Francis Sparshott
  • Book Info
    A Measured Pace
    Book Description:

    Although the theoretical importance of dance has always been recognized, dance has been relatively neglected in the philosophy of art. In this sequel to Off the Ground, in which Professor Sparshott focused on the concept of dance in general, A Measured Pace considers the recognized classification of dance as art, its values, and relationship to the other arts.

    Sparshott begins with an explanation of the philosophical importance of the major classifications of dance and their basis. He examines dance as a mimetic and expressive medium, and reviews the major dimensions of dance form. He then explores the relationship of dance to three related fields: music, language, and theatre. Sparshott also discusses the major philosophical problems of dance as an art: the specific values of dance; the relation between the way the audience perceives dance and the dancer's self-perception; the ways in which dancing and dances are learned; the division of artistic creation between choreographers and performers; and the ways in which dances are identified and retain their identity through time. A concluding chapter on how dances are recorded considers how the media may change the nature of dance. A Measured Pace is a wide-ranging and substantial contribution to a philosophical understanding of dance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7715-9
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xv-2)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    This book is a contribution to the philosophy of dance. But what is the philosophy of dance? Many answers are possible; here is mine. Philosophy, unlike science and history, enquires into meanings and the meaningful. Scientists, within a given theoretical framework, seek to establish what is the case; historians, within the framework of a general view of human affairs, seek to establish what really happened and why. Philosophers mostly accept what historians and scientists say, and what ‘everybody knows,’ and try to make sense of it – or to explain why it makes no sense. The specific things that philosophers...

  5. PART ONE: Kinds of Dance

    • CHAPTER TWO The Problem of Classification
      (pp. 13-24)

      What kinds of dance are there? All kinds of dances. The question makes no sense. One can hardly imagine a situation in which one would want to ask it, unless one were a librarian setting up a cataloguing system (see §2.2). Any characterization of a dance gives rise to a rudimentary classification. If I call a dance ‘difficult,’ for instance, I immediately establish a classification of dances into difficult and not-difficult (perhaps further differentiated into easy and moderate). If I say that a dance was danced after dinner, I implicitly classify dances into those danced before, during, and after dinner....

    • CHAPTER THREE Classification by Context
      (pp. 25-60)

      The primary context of a dance, as danced, is its historical and social setting; as choreographed, the historical and social setting of its creation. When we ask what sort of danceSwan Lakeis, what first comes to mind is that it is a ballet; when we seek to classify it by its context, what we first note is that it is a product of the imperial Russian theatre of the late nineteenth century. If we want to know more about it, we learn more of its history. But, if we pursue this enquiry long enough, we find that we...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Mimesis
      (pp. 61-83)

      Dances may be classified extrinsically, by the contexts they are referred to, or intrinsically, by the kinds of movement that make them up and the ways those movements are put together. This contrast between the contextual and the inherent is straightforward, but not so sharp as it sounds. Contexts are imputed rather than observed – they are not merely what happens to be in the neighbourhood, but what there is in the surroundings that we find it meaningful to relate things to. Now, movements of humans, and often of animals, are as readily classified by the actions they pertain to...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Expression
      (pp. 84-101)

      When I say something, my utterance has physical reality as a stream of sound, a wave formation in air. It has linguistic form as a string of phonemes, structured according to a linguistic code without regard to the meaning of what I say. And then there is my meaning, what I am talking about and what I am saying about it. But no matter what I am saying, my tone and gesture, and aspects of my choice of words, show, without saying, how I feel and what I am thinking. In a way, this is part of my meaning; in...

    • CHAPTER SIX Formal Principles of Movement
      (pp. 102-125)

      Dance movements may be mimetic, or expressive, or abstractly formal. They can be characterized and classified by which they (saliently) are; and, within each of the three, by the ways in which they are these, and by the operative distinctions within those ways. But every mimetic or expressive movement must itself admit of some abstractly formal description, though that description will not reveal what is mimetic or expressive about it, and it must accordingly be classifiable according to its formal properties, even when those are not salient.

      If the art of dance is based on, and essentially consists of, the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Anatomy
      (pp. 126-133)

      Mention of spinning as a basic type of movement led to the topic of handedness, and hence to the bilateral asymmetry of the body as a formal element in dances. This opens up a new topic: the use of different body parts as a prime resource in dance, the basis of a formal classification among dances.

      The difference between the parts of the body as instruments of dance is not only formal. The limbs and other parts of the body do indeed have distinctive formal (and material) characteristics. Legs are heavier than arms, attached to the trunk differently, muscled and...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Units and Systems
      (pp. 134-153)

      Are dances made up of movements? Not if a dance is an action, something people do. All proper parts of actions are themselves actions. If I am changing a car tire, that action can be broken down into smaller actions: jacking up the car, unscrewing the bolts, taking the wheel off, and so on. But the movements of the muscles in my fingers as I unscrew the bolts are not things I do, and are not parts of the action as such. Similarly, as I perform a dance, the parts of my action will all be things I do in...

    • CHAPTER NINE Rhythm
      (pp. 154-182)

      After discussing dances as kinds of movement in space, the next obvious topic is kinds of movement in time. The general word for that is ‘rhythm,’ an old Greek word: Plato (Laws665A) defined it as ‘the ordering of movement,’ and the word he uses for ‘ordering’ is the ordinary word for marshalling an army on parade.

      Stereotypically, rhythmicality is one of the two excellences of dance: poses should be graceful, movements should be rhythmical. The anthropologist Judith Hanna, as we saw above (p. 103), made intentional rhythmicality one of the defining characteristics of dance. But what does that mean,...

    • CHAPTER TEN One and Many
      (pp. 183-201)

      There are essential differences between solo and ensemble dances, whether or not they are performed for audiences. These differences might have been dealt with under the heading of ‘dance space,’ since the latter includes interpersonal spaces. But the ways people are, and are perceived to be, alone or together are not, on the face of it, a spatial matter.

      A soloist, dancing for an audience, dances to be noticed as an individual; but an ensemble member dances as one of a group, so that conspicuousness (even as the only competent member of the group) is an error. What makes a...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Modes of Dance Organization
      (pp. 202-210)

      The last of our chapters on the kinds of dance looks at the question: what are the significantly different ways in which dances, or dance entertainments, can be structured? The question looks pointless at first, because surely the different part/whole and element/complex relationships we looked at suffice to generate alternative structures. But that is not the whole story.

      The question of overall structure arises if a dance-maker, not content to be a miniaturist, wishes to emulate the authors of epics or operas, or if what is articulated as a single dance does not fill the time accepted as proper to...

  6. PART TWO: Dance and Related Fields

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Dance and Music
      (pp. 215-241)

      In principle, the meaningful relationships that can be found or alleged between music and dance are of daunting complexity. One would expect this to be the case, if music and dance are from some points of view obviously different – dancers are not musicians, and to learn music does not equip one to dance or to choreograph – but from other points of view have been often declared inseparable, if not identical. Of this unity-in-diversity one may hold that they are originally a single art but have diverged as practitioners became more sophisticated, or that they are distinct arts but...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Dance and Language
      (pp. 242-263)

      Nobody says you can’t have dance without language, in the way that many people say you can’t have dance without music. On the other hand, nobody says that dance is a form of music, unless they mean it as a metaphor. But it is common to say that dance is a form of language, and mean it – or think one means it. At the least ambitious level, what is meant is that dance, like all other cultural behaviour, is structured as a symbol system, and that natural languages are the paradigms of symbol systems, so that dance is just...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Dance and Theatre
      (pp. 264-296)

      The kind of dance we buy tickets to see, the kind of dance that writers on aesthetics focus on, is theatre dance. It is a special kind of dance. It exists as a kind of show, transformed from an activity into a spectacle. We do not go to watch people dancing, as we might go to kibitz at a festival; we go to see them put on a show. We join an audience, all of whom have come with us to see that show, with critics who have come to criticize it. There have been rehearsals, and perhaps previews, and...

  7. PART THREE: Aspects of Dance

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Dance Values
      (pp. 301-341)

      By what standards and values are dancing and dances to be judged? What makes them good or bad? It must seem odd that I have been able to talk about dance for so long without confronting this question. But in fact I have been dealing with it all along. Dance is a practice, something people do on purpose, knowing that they are doing it. And, in practices, facts and values can never be separated. One cannot learn to dance without learning what it is to dance well, to improve, to get things right and get them wrong in dancing. To...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Dancer and Spectator
      (pp. 342-349)

      One of the ways I classified dances was by their relation or lack of relation to persons, other than the dancers, for or to whom the dance was performed. Social dance does not require spectators, though part of the meaning of our social dances is that any pair of dancers may stop dancing and become part of the context, an informal audience, for the others, and those others dance as in the presence of these and other bystanders. French court ballets attracted masses of spectators, but they came to see the king and his court rather than as an audience...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Learning to Dance
      (pp. 350-372)

      What is it that one learns when one learns to dance? Thinking about this question may be the best way to understand what, in practice, dance is. Like most of the questions raised in this book, this one is two-sided. It is partly a question of fact. What do dancers actually do when they learn to dance in this or that way? What is their regimen, how are they recruited and trained? What part is played by peer pressure, what by formal drill and instruction, what by autonomous self-formation? How do the answers to these and similar questions differ for...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Dance and Choreography
      (pp. 373-396)

      This chapter is dedicated to the memory of George W. Beiswanger, who encouraged me in these enquiries. He died 10 September 1993.

      In theatre dance, or any kind of dance that is put on show, the following considerations hold good.

      An impresario, or anyone who plans and puts on a show consisting all or mostly of dance, operates within certain constraints. Some are physical: the time frame, the available space. Others are social: budget, available performers and publics, stylistic imperatives.¹ Within these constraints, the teleological articulation of practice requires at least three interrelated phases or factors, which I distinguished in...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN The Identity of a Dance
      (pp. 397-419)

      When are we justified in saying that two performances are performances of ‘the same’ dance? What are the conditions of identity of dances, and why are they what they are? It is the sort of question philosophers like to ask.¹ But it is only now, when we have discussed the choreographic hierarchy, that we are in a position to consider it.

      We can tell the dancer from the dance. The same dancer may dance both Odette and Odile inSwan Lake, but she must dance them differently; her audience will be specifically interested in how the one dancer expresses the...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Recording Dance
      (pp. 420-452)

      The lack of any reliable and generally accessible way of recording dance has given it a fugitive nature. It has rendered dances unstable, depending on generations of dancers whose uncertain memories are associated with their own styles and body habits. It has also made dance hard to study, because knowledge of specific dances cannot be widely diffused; very few people can grasp from their own experience the range of the art or arts of dance, even in their own time.

      This fugitive nature of dance is widely deplored. But at one conference I attended, a number of speakers independently insisted...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Conclusion
      (pp. 453-458)

      Dance is peculiar among the fine arts for the way in which it involves the humanity of the artists themselves. Dancers dance with their bodies as instruments, but they dance as people. In the theatre, they are seen as people as well as the characters and graceful animals they also are; in a social setting, they dance as participants in formal ceremonies, but also as their very selves. In the first volume of my investigations, where the emphasis lay on what it is to dance and to be a dancer, the theme became that of liminality: dancers do everything they...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO Afterword: The Three Graces
      (pp. 459-462)

      Wagner introduced his notion of a comprehensive artwork through the traditional emblem of the Three Graces, with their lightly touching hands. He used these figures to image the three sister arts of poetry, music, and dance – the three ‘time arts’ as some have called them, the arts that depend on relationships deployed through temporal modification and succession (cf. Sparshott 1988, 70). But no one else read the image that way, and it seems wrong: the sister arts combine in their difference to make a single art, but the Three Graces are all alike.

      The configuration of the Three Graces...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 463-544)
  9. References
    (pp. 545-560)
  10. Index
    (pp. 561-580)