Dance Creativity and Research

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Dance research falls into several large groupings. The majority is theoretical and qualitative: (a) anthropological studies of world culture and indigenous dance practices; (b) descriptions of historical trends within specific dance genres such as ballet, tap, modern, African, or ballroom; (c) historical-biographical accounts that investigate individuals, how they were influenced by their socio-political environments and how they shaped dance; and (d) critical inquiry studies that analyze the shifting patterns of dance. Although important and rigorous scholarship has been produced, within the historical-biographical genre, a pattern of idealizing and glamorizing dance artists prevails. Despite this tendency many excellent biographical books, such as those written on Serge Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Martha Graham, Fred Astaire, or Tatsumi Hijkata, inform the reader of the unique creative gifts inherent in the artist and the specific contributions they made to the field of dance.

More anthropological-based and critical inquiry subjects on dance are included in essays found in dance journals. One of the major journals dedicated to such topics is the Dance Research Journal. It offers essays on issues such as transnational migration patterns in the arts, especially theories and methods for understanding patterns of individual and mass human movements across world stages and the social-cultural experiences that such movement migrations engender. In this journal topics are examined with great care and detail. For example, writings suggest that the effects of human migration on dance in particular, and the arts in general, help researchers investigate issues such as citizenship and statelessness, labor refugeeism, border wars, religious and political occupations, and environmental displacement. Anthropological fieldwork studies document how dance is integrated into religious and ritual traditions and how these traditions inevitably influence subsequent dance practices. This line of research provides contextual insight into today's urban street dance practices such as hip hop, popping and locking, house dance, capoeira, krumping, and break dancing. Critical studies, a field of study within aesthetics, provide a format to critically investigate new approaches to understand and interpret interdisciplinary dance performances. They claim that collaboration and cross-fertilization between forms of dance, theatre, visual art, film, and technology are growing. Researchers in critical studies suggest that increasing multi-layered performances demand new approaches to critically analyze dance and to frame new works in ways that will enhance awareness, understanding, and enlightenment in audiences, researchers, and performers.

Empirical and anecdotal research in dance therapy presents findings on treatment outcomes such as how dance contributes to (a) elevated mood in geriatric treatment centers, (b) promotes appropriate adolescent emotional expression in juvenile delinquent homes, and (c) augments physical therapy treatment practices in patients with neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease and related movement disorders. Scientific dance research investigates the implications of dance training and dance styles on the type, degree, and rate of injuries, as well as the psychological make-up of dancers working in this frequently brief and stressful profession. These investigations also examine the specific biomechanics and motor learning employed during the execution of dance skills. Research topics that remain at the forefront include investigations on the distinction between perfectionism and neurotic perfectionism; denial of pain and exhaustion that frequently cause career ending injuries; and body image and eating disorders, especially in the adolescent dancer who is vulnerable to disruptions in normal hormonal and bone development. Researchers such as Donna Krasnow, Linda Mainwaring, and Gretchen Kerr have demonstrated a clear link between excessive perfectionism and dance injuries and multiple articles address the need for dancers to maintain adequate nutrition to achieve optimal physical and psychological balance. The topic of effectively treating dancers as a population with unique needs and specific treatment approaches is another major focus of investigation. Dance practitioners, dance educators, and dance scientists all share similar concerns regarding the need for trained practitioners in performance psychology and dance medicine. They claim that effective treatments will only be developed with specific understanding about the physical and psychological demands of dance and how dancers respond to treatment interventions as compared to other patient populations.

A topic that has received robust research is the application of imagery and mental practice to improve performance. Consistent findings suggest that elite dance artists tend to use more elaborate images to improve the quality of their performances. When images are effectively used performance improves, in particular, when motivational mastery imagery is employed self-confidence is enhanced. Cognitive-specific imagery significantly predicts the direction of somatic and cognitive anxiety symptoms. According to Eva Monsma and Lynnette Overby, motivation-specific and motivation-general imagery improves performance. They recommend that motivation-general imagery practices should be avoided when linked to cognitive arousal images but not when linked with somatic arousal imagery. Other studies suggest that more elite dancers have more frequent experiences of working with teachers who offer metaphorical images. Although it is unknown whether imagery is the major factor for improving performance these dancers are able to engage in movement with more complexity, control, structure, deliberation, and sensory involvement. Further, findings suggest that dancers tend to be skilled and talented in a range of mental imagery strategies, hence they frequently engage in imagery as part of their training (to avoid overuse injuries) and for healing when injured.

Dance research is a strong international field of study but most dance artists and dance educators have minimal contact with these findings. One area that does have cross-over influence is the popular work on flow states. Findings suggest that dancers actually have more flow experiences in part because they have enhanced autotelic abilities (Greek word meaning something that is an end unto itself); dancers are able to become absorbed in the present-moment of dancing where autotelic experiences reside. They are also able to maintain an optimal balance between skill level and performance challenge. Achieving flow states is pleasurable and desired and most dancers, whether in professional, spiritual or recreational settings, seek and embrace them.

Research that specifically examines creativity in dance remains scant, although this is gradually changing. One of the challenges in studying creativity is determining the criteria that constitute a creative product and a creative individual. One way to manage this dilemma is to select artists or scientists that have been designated as creative on the basis of their level of achievement and success and then to compare them to individuals who have not worked or trained in these domains and who have not demonstrated any creative productivity. This approach has provided rich information about creative personalities, findings that can be generalized to some degree. What makes dance a challenge to investigate is that it is both an individual and group process. Hence, creativity in dance must be examined through a model that includes individual and contextual factors. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Howard Gardner proposed such a model, an interactive model on creativity, in which three elements or nodes are regarded as central in any consideration of creativity: (1) the individual artist; (2) the domain or discipline in which the individual is working; and (3) the surrounding field that judges the quality of individuals and products. They argue that creativity is best viewed as a dialectical or interactive process in which all three of these elements participate. Keith Sawyer claims that an integration of two approaches, contextualist (sociological, cultural, and historical elements) and individualist (personality, cognitive psychology, biology, and computational approaches) best explains the nature of creativity. Certainly, in the domain of dance, all approaches must be considered in order to acquire a deeper understanding about this art form. Any individual artist, either dancer or choreographer, operates within a dynamic group setting, which includes interactions with their audience. Perhaps because of the communal nature of dance, more contextual writings currently exist, especially in the disciplines of dance history, dance criticism, world-dance, dance computer notation systems, and dance education. Less is known within the individualist approach that examines the dance artist's personality, cognition and biology, although case study and phenomenological papers have attempted to capture the ephemeral nature of dance.

Although more limited in number, many studies do lend greater understanding about the creativity of dance artists and how they are influenced by the environments that surround them. Gregory Feist, a major figure in the creativity research field, noted that dancers, as well as other performing artists, scored significantly higher than control subjects on anxiety, guilt, and hypochondriasis, and that dancers were more achievement-oriented. Jane Piirto suggested that dancers tend to suffer physical injuries and psychological disorders, such as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and self-image distortions and that their personalities were more akin to those of athletes (discipline, high-standards, perfectionism kinesthetic, and emotional intelligence). PaulaThomson, E. B. Keehn, and Thomas Gumpel found that dancers and choreographers were similar in their level of fantasy proneness, a finding that reinforces the belief that dancers and choreographers are generally cocreators in any new dance work. This research team also found that dancers employed more dissociative absorption states, perhaps as a cognitive and somatic strategy to engage in heightened kinesthetic awareness, and that dance artists had elevated levels of pathological dissociation as compared to nonperforming artists. This finding supports the theory that performing artists are vulnerable to psychological disorders but the research team also found that dancers were significantly better able to tolerate and regulate intense emotions.

The diverse range, scope and volume of research in dance makes it an easy field to gather information but one of the major problems is a lack of integration within and between research fields and a fundamental lack of interest by the actual practitioners working within dance. In order to spread these rich research findings to the dancers and their audiences, research practitioners must explore new ways to engage wider audiences. Perhaps electronic media formats are doing just that. More viewers are now able to see dance and maybe they will read more articles if they are listed as links provided within the websites.

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