The Relevance of Dance Atelier · Day 1 · By Lisa Reinheimer

The Relevance of Dance Atelier – EDN, Dansmakers Amsterdam 11-13 March 2016


In this documentation of the Relevance of Dance at Dansmakers Amsterdam I, the writer, would like to start to type down right away: I have been tremendously inspired during and by the three days.

Secondly. I’m so excited! Because all projects, lectures, films, performances showed and displayed the “special power of dance”. As Guy laid out in his lecture as well as the two scientific researches have pointed out, dance is a complex art form that directly confronts and interacts with(in) our bodies. It combines bodily and cognitive experience. This, for me, is why dance is so very exciting. And sharing this excitement is always my starting point.

Central theme and focus

The atelier focused on new audiences, participation and education, inviting speakers, artists and best practices to show what is already happening. However, we still need an atelier like this to empower the relevance of dance. And it might be funny as well as sad, that dance is ancient cultural heritage and we now have to ask this question of relevance. On the other hand, it is eligible to reflect, think and stay sharp as -part of- the industry. The central theme, binding the program together, is how these projects deal with or address social effect through dance. This effect is two-sided: sharing and receiving / experiencing. The core of what we spoke about during the atelier: the dance field itself needs to open up. When so, new audiences can participate, connect and commit themselves to dance and performance. But how do we do it? How do we make dance sustainable?


Day 1 stuffed our minds with 3 lectures: The Transferable Skills of the Dance Artist – Dr. Guy Cools in dialogue with Sara Wookey; Artist Talk on Dance and Museum Collaborations – MA Sara Wookey; Dancing Science: The relation between audience and performers – Prof. Dr. Tom Postmes & Drs. Kirsten Krans. Best practice: Dancing Museums. Sharings: Michelle Rizzo, International Choreographers Week, the film: Positions and to top it off: the performance Relic by Euripides Laskaridis.

This day zoomed in on choreographic practices and methodologies in the world of art and science. Presenting specific effects of choreographic skills and tools which can be used to trigger new audiences.

Mobile of thoughts

Guy Cools starts the atelier with a confession. Fifteen years ago, during the Swiss Dance platform in Luzern, he made a statement he now regrets. “A lot of craft, but little art”. But craft is just as important he states now. He says he is convinced that: The future of dance will be as much defined by its craft and the skill sets that come with it, as by its potential as an autonomous art form.

His lecture functioned for me as a framework that kepts suspending above my head, like a mobilie hanging from the ceiling.

Guy sketched a context and the Western paradigms wherein we can place the making of dance but also, as the above statement shows, what dance can/already contributes to society.

The de-skilled Society – Arts vs Craft

Guy led us through three stages.

* The Socio-economical organization – a philosophical framework.

How crafts developed into autonomous art forms. The crafts community vs. the individual artist. But, also the development of society’s organization. Taking sociologist Richard Sennet as a guide. Sennett states that most of our Western social and economical crisis’s are due to the fact that we have de-skilled ourselves. To say it boldly: we are no longer able to participate in this complex society. Artists however are unique, because they do train themselves in skills. The skills of a craft.

– For choreography this means: somatic skills, spatial skills, collaborative practice, ideal training ground to (re)develop social skills.

* The transferable dance skills.

There is a need for the transfer of these skills outside the scope of performing arts. Guy quotes from the interviews he did as part of his research for his new book he is doing in the frame of the Erasmus+ project INCLUSIVE (at the Fontys Dance Academy Tilburg). Erasmus+ is a European mobility and exchange program with a focus on skills for employment. The main concern of the INCLUSIVE program is how to increase the relevance of dance and dance education by showing how the skills the dance artist acquires and develops can also be applied outside the scope of dance as stage art. Crucial is that dance artists learn how to use this before the retire from a dance carrier.


– Therapy and wellbeing Dance for Health – Marc Vlemmix and Andrew Greenwood. Andrew gave a lively presentation about this project on Sunday.

– International Conflict studies – Dana Caspersen

– Spatial navigation and negotiation – in dialogue with Sara Wookey, who also gave a presentation on her work and experience with Tate Modern.

Linked to this last interview is also Dancing Museums. This project shows how dance contributes to the engagement of museum visitors with art and how it enhances their art experience. Kristin de Groot, director of Danstaleriers Rotterdam, presented this project on the first day:

* Training Dialoguing

In dialogue with Sara Wookey, who is like a space navigator. An archive example of Guy’s own training and of the skills Sara operates in her work. Sara is one of the founders of the reDANCE project, transmitting the dance archive between generations. By transmitting dance, we transmit knowledge, practice, skills, history and awareness.

After their dialogue, Sara shares her experiences of working in the Tate Modern with a group of young people: The Experience & Value of Live Art. With this group she worked on the question what they -young people- “get” from contemporary art. Using choreographic methodologies, form, notation and collaborative practice. Resulting in a performance created by the group itself.

It is a very noble thought that dance is relevant outside the domain of the performing arts and I my view we do need to cherish and develop this like the above examples, but it calls for an other very relevant question:

Relevant to whom?


The Hamburger Brain

Neuro-scientist Christian Keysers and Valeria Gazolla (authors of The Empathic Brain very rightly asked us as they ask themselves: relevant to whom?

The Choreographer, the Performer, the Audience? Communities, Governments, Economies? This question is as practical as it is complex.

For their research on kinesthetic empathy they zoom in ou the audience. What happens in our brain when we watch movement? Do we simply see dance, or do we feel dance? This research shows that while watching movement the brain parts that are engaged while moving ourselves are active. So watching dance, makes our brain move. Mimicking the movements in our head and connecting it to our personal movements, emotions, sensations and memories.

The Hamburger, with something juicy in the middle  = Visual receptor – Auditory receptor, these signals go to the prefrontal lobe where we process thinking and interpretation. But the motor for this process to happen = ACTION.

Action: We are able to see and hear action (mirror neurons). Hearing alone can bring the tendency to take part in the actions of others.
Sensations: We feel both the intention to move as what it would feel kike to move this way.
Emotions: We slip under the skin of the dancer, move with them, feel what they feel.
EXPERIENCE is a crucial point of understanding movement. We fill things in with our own experience.

But in watching and, let’s call it, indentifying lies a very social aspect. The fact that concerts work very well is because people feel invited to be part of a group. They are getting involved.

What tricks can we use to involve people watching dance more or feel more engaged? The more channels you open: see, hear, smell, feel, etc., the better!

– Before talks

– Confront audiences with their emotions/experiences before, or, let them think about episodes in their own lives

– Audiences who have taken part in a practice linked to a performance, experience the performance stronger than audience-members who haven’t

– Involve people more on forehand, not only before the show: how?

This social aspect, belonging to a group – to be acknowledged, is a very valuable effect in community dance: Stitching PRA, who works within elderly homes and young children

Dansnest, a young collective making dance in public spaces, inspired by people in the streets and public spaces and inviting these users to join in. Ongoing, a dance performing group for people over 45, because you’re never to old to dance and share.

Intermission – Dance can be experienced in solitude

Michele Rizzo is a young dance maker working in Amsterdam. In the foyer he sits down on a talbe, takes his phone out of his pocket and starts his introduction.

He shares with us his notion on dance as a contemporary ritual and explains how his performance Higher was created.

He takes the social as well as the individual enjoyment of dance, focusing on the club scene. A contemporary ritual, the cultural and social role of dance, the craft.

Higher evolves around a trance making beat. Building up from the pulsating lights, the vibrant darkness, music and three men, dancing together alone. Performing the same steps, lifting the space and the audience into trance.

Uncontrollable… Dancing Science!

First, let’s go back to Guy Cool’s transferable skills. Body awareness, navigation and social skills. Keep this in mind.

Tom Postmes, professor of social psychology at the University of Groningen and Kirsten Krans, Drs. and programmer Studium Generale at University of Groningen and director of Random Collision, joined forces in a very special research: The relation between performer and audience.

So, for the scientist, what is dance? Dance is functioning as the expression of culture and the self – similar to Michele Rizzo’s notion and Guy also referred to the cultural historical function of the craft. However, in order to start a research, we need a hypothesis. Deriving from this notion they formulated the following hypothesis:

Society on stage = shaping society off stage

So, does watching dance influence our social behaviour outside the theater?

They executed two experiments, A and B, showing choreographies based on three archetypes of social organisation and solidarity: Mechanical, Organic and No Solidarity. In order to be able to really measure something, Tom and Kirsten decided that all choreographies show the same dancers, same lightning, same music, same costumes on the same stage.

The execution of the first experiment was done in a very limited time of 5 days. They not only had to create and prepare the choreographies etc. for the experiment, but also deal with Tom’s limited knowledge of dance making, which lead to rather funny anecdotes (arts and craft).

In their trial and error, they found out, audiences don’t understand but experience performance. However, as seen in the research of Christian and Valeria, when they experienced parts of the movement from the performance beforehand, they were responding more positively to experiencing the performance. Further they found out, that the audience responds as a group to what they saw on stage. After seeing one of the performances, the audience was led into a room. On one end of the room there were objects. A voice-over asked the audience to bring all the objects to the other end of the room. They got a time-slot and, when lifting an object, they were not allowed to move. It was surprising that all groups, in the end, stood in straight lines across the room, but the way they came into this position mirrored the group organization on stage. Mechanical – the audience almost immediately lined up following a leader. Organic – people started to spread and lift objects, no leading figure. No Solidarity – it took very long before people started to move, no one wanted to be responsible.

Lisa Reinheimer
15 April 2016